Socialist Worker

Debt, stress, no jobs—the reality of student life

As students return to universities and colleges, Raymie Kiernan looks at how the Tories’ austerity is affecting them—and the continuing battles against it

Issue No. 2373

The Tories are wrecking young people’s lives. Record numbers of young people can’t find work. Higher fees have made it harder for many to get an education. Yet even those who make it to university can’t escape the impact of austerity.

The Tories raised tuition fees to a maximum of £9,000 a year in 2010. They claim that student debt doesn’t matter because graduates get well-paid jobs.

Yet the latest figures show that up to a fifth of graduates can’t find any work at all. And some are 20 times more likely than others to be unemployed simply because of where they studied.

Amal and Sadiya are medical students at Kingston University. They chose a course that pays them an NHS bursary because they were worried about debt. But it’s still hard to make ends meet.

Amal said, “The bursary is good but I’m scraping by with prices going up. After paying for transport and my phone I’m left with £60 a month. But I have to buy books and they’re expensive.”

The impact of austerity on students’ families affects them too. Sadiya works part time—to help fund her own studies and also her sister’s.

“My sister has just finished A-levels,” said Sadiya. “She went to Westminster University but she has to pay fees. 

“My family don’t want us to be in debt for religious reasons. So I’m working to help her out. 

“And she works all weekend in a supermarket.”

Sadiya’s mum is a single parent. She lost her benefits after the Tories cut welfare spending and now works as a care assistant on a zero hours contract.


Sadiya said her mum has turned to a community savings club to pay money towards her sister’s fees.

Amal and Sadiya both hope to work in the health service. 

But Amal said, “With the cuts in the NHS I’m worried there won’t be any jobs for us.” 

Sadiya agreed. She said, “Where I live they have closed the A&E at the local hospital and got rid of all those jobs.”

Sapphire is starting a course at Goldsmith University in central London this year. She said that university admissions were governed more and more by money.

“Poorer students don’t get enough help to cope financially,” she said. “Our opportunities are being narrowed by increasing debt.”

She remembered students from her school in Portishead, near Bristol, joining others to go to the national education demonstration in November 2010. 

Sapphire said the protests made a difference. “If they didn’t protest things would be so much worse than they are now.”

Fight racism and the cuts

Students and supporters celebrate after forcing college bosses into U-turn

Students and supporters celebrate after forcing college bosses into U-turn over their attempted niqab ban (Pic: Geoff Dexter)

Massive student protests in 2010 helped to spark wider resistance to Tory austerity in Britain. There isn’t a student movement on the same scale now—but its impact can still be felt. 

A new generation learned how to organise and are now putting it into practice in campaigns across campuses. 

“I got politically active when a group of us at La Swap sixth form occupied against cuts and fees in 2010,” said Ben, a Labour Party member and Stop the War activist at Goldsmiths University in London. 

He is helping to build the Student Assembly Against Austerity in central London on Saturday 2 November. 

“It’s important to bring everyone together, from the campaign against privatisation in Sussex to the fight against banning the niqab in Birmingham. Anti-racism has to be part of the fight against austerity.”

Backlash over raunch culture

There has been a resurgence of anti-sexism campaigns at universities in recent years. More and more students have taken up the question of women’s liberation on campus.

This was particularly because of the growth in prominence of sexist lads’ mags and student club nights objectifying women. 

Campaigns are underway to remove lads’ mags from student union shops. 

Earlier this year around 200 Glasgow University students joined a march against sexism. 

It was in response to sexist heckling during a debating competition at the Glasgow University Union.

More recently several students’ unions have banned the song Blurred Lines from playing in their buildings. 

Activists had argued that the song promotes myths about rape.

Students face steeper rents 

Nido Student Living  is a 33-floor tower in Spitalfields, east London. A studio apartment on one of the top floors costs £433 a week.

Cheaper rooms start at £219 a week for apartments with shared “kitchenette” and bathroom.

This is steeper than the British average monthly rent of £851.

Debating ideas on campuses 

Around 200 students at Sussex university protested against privatisation last week. The protest built on last year’s campaign against privatisation.

Lewis is a Socialist Worker Student Society (SWSS) member there.

He said, “We held a SWSS meeting of 25 students after the demonstration. We had a great discussion about alternatives to capitalism.”

Bosses are raking it in 

The number of university applicants rose by 3 percent this year. Non-European Union (EU) students make up nearly 20 percent of the increase but only 

10 percent of applicants. Many universities want to recruit non-EU students because they pay higher fees.

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