By Robyn Banks
In these days of marketisation and democratic collapse, it’s rare that a piece of news comes out from a university that is so fucked up it leaves me lost for words. But the University of Liverpool managed it, with the news that they’ve been handing down academic sanctions to students who cannot pay their rent.
Reporting by The Tab revealed that 687 students, a whopping 16% of those in university accommodation at Liverpool, were slapped with these sanctions. The penalties included losing access to their university emails, to the university library, and to Vital, the site where Liverpool students gain access to their academic work. As a direct result of these sanctions, the students targeted were twice as likely to resit an exam or an entire year, and 13% more likely to fail to progress at all.
Pontificate as the university might, there’s no getting around the obvious: forbidding students from accessing vital parts of the academic life will have a direct effect upon their ability to study. The university must have known the effects of these actions, and made the premeditated decision that it is acceptable to coercively force students to pay the rent or risk failing part of their degree. It is no coincidence that this news comes at a time when the University of Liverpool, like almost all universities across the country, is sharply increasing the rent it charges for halls – students can currently expect to pay a minimum of £138 per week for their room.
Clearly, the university has failed to take into account the welfare of the students involved. There are many reasons why a student might not be able to easily access the money for rent. Perhaps they had a family emergency, or a sudden illness. Perhaps they found themselves recently unemployed, or simply come from a poorer background. Whatever their circumstances, this punitive approach leaves these students with a hopeless set of options: either pay the rent and starve, increase your personal debt and have long term debt issues, or risk academic sanctions.
Now whilst I have never been threatened with academic sanctions at UEA, I did have to face a combination of other hardships. I couldn’t ask my parents to pay out for the extortionate rent I faced, which led to me scrimping and missing out on meals, as well as maxing out a credit card in order to make sure I didn’t fall behind. The effect it had on my mental health was massive, turning me into what could be considered a social recluse and often keeping me awake at night out of anxiety and hunger. This went on for the best part of two years, until I eventually admitted there was a problem and sought help.
Fuck you for putting profit before students and their welfare
The one thing that kept me going throughout this was the ability to retreat into my essays and into working on campus. It sounds sad, but spaces like the library allowed me to have somewhere warm I could go to work and momentarily escape from what was going on around me. If I had ever faced sanctions like those students at Liverpool, I would have more than likely dropped out simply because I would have nowhere else to go. In issuing these sanctions, the University of Liverpool are effectively shutting students off from any escape they may have from their issues, all in the name of profit, putting the welfare of the students that they are meant to be looking after at serious risk. This is unjustifiable behaviour, in any context. It’s one thing to be simply ill-equipped to deal with student welfare, like UEA is for example. It’s quite another to actively put students in this situation. Its bullying, pure and simple.
All I have to say to the University of Liverpool on this matter is this. Fuck you for putting profit before students and their welfare. Fuck you for coercively, intentionally putting students in a horrid situation. Fuck you for targeting students who are struggling to afford your fucking ridiculous rent. Until you change the policy and lower your rent so students don’t miss their payments in the first place, you should hang your heads in shame, because you clearly couldn’t care less about your students.
Featured image credit: Ian
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