Student halls and lecture rooms are currently quiet, with UK universities emptied out for the summer break. But the new academic year is just around the corner. And just like previous years, discontent is set to erupt on campuses up and down the country.
Staff in the University and Colleges Union (UCU) took their action to new heights over the last academic year, with more days of consecutive industrial action, alongside a marking and assessment boycott (MAB).
Students have also joined the fray: joining picket lines, staging occupations, and organising rent strikes – both in solidarity with staff, and to raise their own demands too.
University bosses will no doubt have been happy to see the summer holidays arrive, bringing a temporary reprieve to a year of strife. But with the term soon starting, and freshers arriving, they will now be worried about the potential for further explosive movements on campuses in the weeks and months ahead.
No rest for the wicked
With anger building amongst staff and students, there will be no rest or relaxation for the bosses.
For starters, the UCU has announced that it will embark on more strike action before the end of September.
There has also been widespread indignation at the harsh tactics used by the bosses to get around the marking boycott. Scab markers have been brought in, invariably leading to poor quality assessment and feedback for students, who have poured their heart and soul into their essays.
Consequently, a number of graduation ceremonies at the end of the last academic year were disrupted by protests from graduating students.
At the University of Edinburgh, for example, students chanted “pay your workers”, expressing their solidarity with the UCU.
At the University of Liverpool, one student received raucous applause when she revealed white cloth sewn into her gown which read ‘I Want A Refund’.
UCU Stirling, meanwhile, called out the “wee editing goblin” that removed footage of a student crossing the stage in a pink sash in support of the union from the university’s graduation recording. Luckily, the local branch posted this clip on Twitter for all to see.
Eeeek @StirUni looks like a wee editing goblin has been at the graduation videos from yesterday and at about 49:00 you’ve “dropped” a clip of a graduating student! Luckily we’ve got an unedited version here for anyone who doesn’t want to watch the #stirgrad director’s cut: pic.twitter.com/VB0NvZQjaa
— UCU Stirling (@UCU_Stirling) June 28, 2023
In response to this anger, some university bosses have resorted to offering £500 to students that have been affected by the MAB.
This money will offer little consolation to students who have never paid so much for their education, whilst receiving so little in return. As one student told The Tab, “It’s laughable…I’m £60k in debt with no degree to show for it.”
Tories on the attack
On top of this, the Tories are continuing to attack access to higher education. The government has announced that in the coming academic year, freshers students will have the repayment threshold for their loan reduced from £27,295 to £25,000.
The period in which graduates must repay their loans before they are written off, meanwhile, will be extended from 30 years to 40.
In other words, future graduates will have to fork out more money, for a longer period of time, in exchange for poorer quality education and worse prospects on the job market. What a bargain!
Having managed to find some time off from lounging around his heated pool, Rishi Sunak has announced plans to axe what he calls “low-value degrees” – those offering fewer job prospects.
These attacks on higher education reveal how the bosses view the education system under capitalism: a means for equipping and training the next generation of wage-slaves; and for preserving the current system of exploitation.
The children of the super-rich – who have no need for loans and bursaries – will of course be able to study what they want, when they want. But the Tories clearly don’t want workers and their families to enjoy such privileges.
There isn’t any hope coming from the opposition benches either. Starmer has been busy trying to prove to the bosses that his Labour Party will happily defend their interests, against the interests of students and workers.
From scrapping his pledge to abolish tuition fees, to announcing the Tory-lite policy of lowering monthly student loan repayments, to coming out against the MAB: it is clear that students cannot rely on Starmer’s Labour – or any of the other establishment parties for that matter – to challenge the marketisation of education.
Time for struggle
Students can only rely on their own strength and – above all – the strength of the working class. We must unite with workers on and off campus to struggle against marketisation.
The contradictions that have produced strikes and discontent on campuses have not gone away. The mounting pressure on staff and students is only going to intensify as capitalism goes deeper into crisis.
The bosses and their representatives are in no position to offer concessions. In fact, the opposite is the case: further attacks on higher education are on the agenda.
To end this crisis, we must fight to kick capitalism out of higher education, as a part of a wider revolutionary struggle to overthrow capitalism entirely.
By expropriating the wealth of the banks and monopolies, we could provide the funding that education and other public services require. Under the control of staff and students, universities could be transformed from cash cows into real centres of public learning.
Free education from cradle to grave; maintenance grants; free, high-quality accommodation; a truly flourishing academic environment: this is just a fraction of what society stands to gain from doing away with capitalism.
That is the programme that the International Marxist Tendency is fighting for. If you agree, then join the communists on your campus!