We pay £9,250 a year in tuition fees. We live in overpriced accommodation, whether owned by profit-hungry universities or private landlords who don’t expect us to stand up for our rights. Our teaching is palmed off onto underpaid doctorial candidates. When we graduate, we can think ourselves lucky to earn over £21,000 per year, particularly if we’re not STEM students. The Student Loan Company, to whom we probably owe more money that we can really imagine, like to keep us confused about interest rates, how much debt is outstanding, and whether they’ve been stalking us on social media. Plus, if it all gets too much whilst we’re still studying, the wait for university funded mental health support could be months long.
It’s really not a great time to be a student in the UK. Not only are we the generation screwed over by the coalition’s tuition fee hike, but we’re studying at a time when the student experience is valued less than ever. No more education for education’s sake, a degree must primarily be a pass to a job. And, with 42% of the working population graduates, more and more of us are finding we need a postgraduate qualification too if we want to pursue our dream career. But the student voice has been far from crushed by this pressure; in fact, our action and dissent speaks louder than ever.
This year we’ve supported our lecturers as they went on strike to protect their pensions. Even when our seminars were cancelled and office hours called off, we recognised that there was more at stake - 61% of students supported the industrial action, with higher levels of support at striking institutions. Students stood up to management that tried to undermine academic careers. Then, students lobbied for compensation for the contact time that had been missed due to strikes; because if universities weren’t paying striking staff, but we were still paying our fees, surely that money was just lining the universities pockets? Universities found out that marketisation of education could cost them, as well as us.
Students have also stood up for their friends facing deportation and have railed against the role universities have been made to play in the Prevent anti-terrorism legislation. Universities are not an extension of the home office, and academic discussion should not be censored in the name of ‘good practise’.
Students have also engaged with issues that go beyond our campuses. Unjustifiably high rent has been tackled with rent strikes, and student tenants being exploited by their landlords have been supported by a growing network of renters’ unions. Groups like Plan B, who sued the government over their inaction to combat climate change, included many student activists, whilst People and Planet’s on-campus campaigns for fossil fuel divestment have showed how university finances are complicit in wrecking the planet. Whether its small scale action, like setting up a food co-op or a networking group for minority students, or its going all the way and taking on the government, students are fighting not just for their own futures, but everyone’s.
This may not be the best time to be a student, but that doesn’t mean students won’t do their best to make the world great again.