With the announcement on 4 January of a third national lockdown, the majority of students at the UEA have been unable to return to the University following the end of the Christmas holidays. However, a campaign was set up several days before the lockdown announcement by a group of students calling for a rent strike at UEA.
The world is on the brink. A shattered environment, gargantuan inequality, a burgeoning mental health crisis, fascism openly spreading across Europe, public services at breaking point… but also the possibility of more radical and progressive change than we’ve seen in decades. Higher education specifically also faces two radically different paths ahead of it: continued marketisation, eroding academic integrity, burdening a generation with enormous debt, crushing academics under enormous workloads, increasingly insecure employment and workplace stress – or publicly funded higher education that opens up space to imagine and create a different sort of campus.
The only way to make the word ‘politics’, that great indicator of all manner of corruption and trickery, more contemptible is to plonk the word ‘student’ in front of it. It almost feels like you‘re not pronouncing ‘student politics’ right if you do it without a sneer, or at least a shudder. Student politics has an image problem.
By Robyn Banks
Over the last few weeks, UEA Students’ Union has received a number of comments from certain students on social media, complaining about it being ‘political’ and choosing to take political actions such as organising boycotts and funding students to travel to rallies. The SU is also being accused of acting undemocratically for taking these actions. Whilst these accusations are nothing new, in these recent cases the accusers are creating an obscure binary on what the SU can and can’t be seen doing, with a particular focus on only serving certain students’ needs.
By Robyn Banks
Amatey Doku is right: student activism isn’t dead. In a recently published interview with the Guardian, the NUS Vice President of Higher Education proclaimed that students’ response to Brexit and their engagement with the People’s Vote campaign has shown that student activism is thriving anew, after years without a “unifying cause”. But what about the fight for free education that has been active on our campuses since 2012? For many activists in the last few generations of students, it was the issue that brought us together and gave us the skills to take the fight to the powerful. But for Doku, it was too “inward looking” to inspire a “genuine” movement.
Make no mistake – higher education in the UK is in crisis. After decades of uncertain policy and three successive Tory-led governments with a clear desire to marketise and corporatise our campuses, we’re left with a generation burdened with debt, with an explosion in mental health issues among students, with universities bereft of democracy and increasingly fuelled by precarious labour, with Students’ Unions that are often little more than marketing arms of their universities, and with continuing inequalities in educational attainment. The passionate learning, debate and inquiry that should be the soul of education has become little more than a thin veneer pasted over profiteering and corporate-style expansion.
By Robyn Banks
Last week, the news broke that three universities in the UK are facing bankruptcy if they don’t receive financial help from the government. One institution in the North West and two in the South of England, all unnamed, are having to survive on short term loans in order to function on a basic level. Most concerningly, one of them is already in talks with insolvency lawyers, suggesting that it could be filing for bankruptcy before the academic year is out.
By Robyn Banks
Grade inflation is back in the headlines this week, with universities minister Sam Gyimah announcing that it will be incorporated into how universities are ranked under the Teaching Excellence Framework. There is statistical evidence to back up this policy change – according to the Higher Education Statistics Agency, the number of first class degrees being awarded has grown by 18% between 2012/13 and 2016/17. Whilst it is statistically true that grades are inflating at the university level, there are a number of issues with the current discourse around grade inflation that are not being properly addressed by HE decision makers.
By Robyn Banks
CW: mentions suicide.
Sometimes targeted adverts reveal to you more than you wanted to know. I’ve recently been experiencing facebook ads for Future Finance, a company that offers loans of up to £40,000 to students, with an interest rate of 17.45% APR for all the time that you’re studying. To put that in perspective, if you borrowed £7000 over 5 years, you’d have repaid a stonking £11,223 by the time you’ve paid it off. This eye watering example reveals both the current state of Higher Education financing and a frightening future that is increasingly intruding on the present.
It is a time of extraordinary potential for change in UK Higher Education. Labour’s promise to end tuition fees has defied the critics and united many behind Corbyn’s political project. In this series, the Norwich Radical and Bright Green have brought together perspectives from across the sector to explore the possibilities of post-fees HE. In the final instalment, the series editors summarise the visions for the next chapter of UK HE that the series has laid out.
There is more energy, debate and innovation on the left now than there has been for decades. Capitalism’s multiple crises, and the inability of its defenders to respond to them, are beginning to translate into tangible political opportunity. This series sought to capture the essence of some of this historical moment and direct it towards thinking about what we want our university campuses to look like, beyond the staple progressive policy of scrapping tuition fees. A project in unashamedly utopian thinking, it recognised the very real possibility that free tuition might be a reality in the near future, and sought to explore how this requires the left to think practically about what comes after and where our energy should be focused next.