Socialist Worker

Student protests as coronavirus sweeps through universities

by Sophie Squire
Issue No. 2725

Protesting in Manchester

Protesting in Manchester

As Covid-19 outbreaks in universities spread across Britain, students and staff are gearing up for a fightback against universities who have put profits before safety.

More than 50 universities have confirmed cases of coronavirus. Around 2,600 students and staff have tested positive for Covid-19, according to a survey conducted by the Press Association.

Northumbria University confirmed on Friday afternoon that 770 students have tested positive for Covid-19 and they are all now self-isolating.

And 11 staff members had also tested positive for the virus.

And 50 students are currently self isolating at the Royal College of Music in Hammersmith, west London.

One student at the Royal College of Music said, “It’s a bit scary, you never know if you’re doing the right thing or not —whether you should be here or not.”

In Manchester, a crowd of around 40 gathered outside accommodation where students were in isolation on Friday.

Profit

A group of students held inside also joined them from behind a fence and held up a banner that read “students before profit”.

One student in university accommodation told the crowd, “not only are we upset about how we’ve been treated in lockdown, we’ve received emails really slowly about guidance.

“Provision should have been put in place before we came to university, yet nothing was planned.

“And we are still paying nine grand for second class education. Online lectures are nothing like the real thing and yet they expect us to pay the same. We’re angry about it.”

Members of the UCU union at Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU) have called for the vice chancellor Malcolm Press to “resign immediately” for his “bungled handling of the Covid-19 crisis at the university”.

Callum is a college student and member of Socialist Worker Student Society in Manchester. They told Socialist Worker about the situation at MMU.

“People were definitely pissed off about the way in which the students are being kept in lockdown. And as well, MMU keeps changing the rules without much notice.

“The overall message of the protest was to put students’ health and education before profit. That includes scrapping fees.

“The other demand and message was for the Tories to stop scapegoating the students for the growth of Covid-19.”

Isolating

In Glasgow students organised a protest—that up to 30 people attended—outside Murano halls of residence on Saturday, where students are currently isolating.

Those who came along brought snacks and drinks for the students— which the university is not currently providing.

Roger, a student at Glasgow university told Socialist Worker, “Today’s protests were a display of solidarity, which many students felt that they needed.

“The chants, banners and interventions demonstrated solidarity to the students in the halls, many of which have tested positive for the virus.

Students locked in at universities as system profits
Students locked in at universities as system profits
  Read More

“As the protesters were leaving one of the flats put up a ‘thank you’ sign on their window.”

And members of the UCU Solidarity Movement and students held a Zoom call on Saturday to talk about building solidarity with students.

They also pointed out that the situation in FE colleges is a recipe for disaster, that is largely going unreported, with many continuing lessons with face to face teaching as normal.

Callum who is a college student added, “Thousands of teens are still attending college in person.”

The members of the UCU and students on the call plan to hold an online student and staff assembly meeting on 10 October.

Universities and colleges are gambling with students’ health in the pursuit of profit. Only a collective response by students and staff will challenge this.

Callum added that, “it's extremely important now that we have a movement on the streets due to the current lack of opposition from, for example, Keir Starmer’s ‘new leadership’ in Labour.

“It’s also important to keep up the momentum because I think that the whole A-Levels scandal proves that when there are protests and a fightback big enough then the Tories will concede.”

 


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