Students and university workers have called a day of action for Friday 16 October to defend jobs and safety. It comes as Covid-19 continues to spread rapidly in university accommodation across the country.
The University of Leeds reported that more than 500 students had tested positive for the virus last Wednesday. In the same week, over 1,600 students at Newcastle university and nearby Northumbria University tested positive.
In Bristol over 300 students were forced into isolation after 40 people tested positive for the virus on Friday.
Students stuck in university accommodation are also having to spend hundreds of pounds for basics such as food.
At the University of East Anglia, a food package for two weeks of isolation cost £252.Students said they had to fork out for the package because they weren’t allowed to leave their halls to get food deliveries.
The catering service that provides these food packages, the campus kitchen, is an in house food provider for the university. So the university is cashing in on students who have no other option but to pay up.
Students at the University of the West of England said they had to pay £25 for a food box that was meant to last a week but only lasted three days.
Other students have reported receiving inedible food, or food they were unable to eat because of dietary requirements.
But students and workers are determined to fight back.
In Manchester over 60 people joined a protest outside a University of Manchester halls of residence last week.
Student Fran told Socialist Worker, “We were there to demand rent refunds, the scrapping of tuition fees and justice for those in isolation.”
She said the university has shown class prejudice towards students in lockdown.
“Those stuck in isolation in cheaper halls were provided with no food from the university,” she said. “Whereas students in the more expensive halls were provided with food packages.
“This is not only blatant discrimination but it shows that the university only cares about making money and keeping it.”
In Liverpool over 30 people gathered for a protest. Students made banners and signs that read, “You just want our money” and, “Keep us safe, but keep us sane.”
Ben is a second year student in Newcastle. He and a group of students in the Socialist Workers Student Society had made a banner reading, “STUD£NTS B4 PROFIT.”
“We want to demonstrate that the lives of students should be valued more than the rent they pay,” he told Socialist Worker.
“It is clear from angry posts on Facebook and messages in windows that students are fed up with the amount of money being drained from them.”
The UCU union solidarity movement held a zoom meeting on Saturday to discuss how university staff could support students. Over 200 people attended the meeting, which was addressed by Labour MP John McDonnell.
The meeting called the national day of action on 16 October and discussed demands to be put to universities. These include that universities move to online learning with immediate effect, except where students must have face to face teaching, such as in labs.
The group is also demanding that students be able to safely leave their university accommodation and that jobs must be protected.
Students in the meeting said support from staff was crucial.
Mattie, a student from Manchester Metropolitan University, said, “It was so important for us to come out to support UCU staff on strike in March. Now I guess the students need your help.”
The crisis has exposed how universities are prepared to put profit before people’s health. But students and staff together are beginning to build a fightback.