Emma Hardy stepped down from her role as shadow minister for universities on Monday 8th March. Replacing Emma Hardy is Matt Western, MP for Warwick and Leamington. Western, married to Rebecca Earle, Professor in the Department of History at the University of Warwick, is described in his They Work For You profile as having consistently voted against a stricter asylum system, yet there isn’t much information about his votes on higher education policy to ascertain his views on the current untenable situation in UK universities.
It’s not surprising that Hardy stepped down when for the past few weeks URBC along with Liberate the University and Pause or Pay UK have documented her incompetence as shadow minister for universities. And just to be fair, URBC has also documented the deliberate incompetence of Michelle Donelan, Conservative Minister for Universities a number of times and even had a online protest, #MichelleMocksStudents, on the 3rd December 2020.
Yet, it is equally disturbing that the Labour opposition has done no better in holding their Tory counterparts responsible for the shambolic situation in UK higher education affecting university staff and both international students and home students during the global pandemic.
While Emma Hardy has indicated that she has stepped down as shadow minister owing to the COVID situation in her constituency, URBC believes that our consistent call outs regarding her silence concerning international students being left destitute while others are being withdrawn off of their degrees and having visas curtailed for being unable to pay their tuition fees, have contributed to Hardy’s recent resignation.
A Timeline of Incompetence
On Monday 10 August 2020, URBC CCed Emma Hardy in a letter sent via email demanding tuition fee amnesty. This letter was endorsed by over 500 university academics, university staff, students (international and home), in addition to union representatives and student union (SU) officers. You can read the full letter here.
For months URBC tried to engage a response from both Minister for Universities, Michelle Donelan and the Shadow Minister for Universities, Emma Hardy to no avail. It would take Donelan three months to respond to our letter. As URBC has chronicled, while Donelan’s response was horribly inadequate, ignoring the dire situation that international students are facing during the pandemic, it would be over six months and a lot of online shaming for Emma Hardy to respond.
Here is how it all started.
On the 3rd February 2021, members of Liberate the University along with SU officers attended a Zoom meeting with Emma Hardy. During the meeting, Hardy was asked about the situation concerning international students and she said:
“international students have been ignored which is bad because they contribute so much; not just fees but also diversity and cultural richness”
URBC along with Liberate the University regard Hardy’s remarks as wholly unacceptable and utterly deficient. At a time when international students are being made destitute as URBC has written about here and here, as a result of marketised/neoliberal higher education structures and the hostile environment policy, Hardy reduced the international student experience to the contribution they bring to UK higher education. And by contribution, ministers on both sides of parliament really mean money, reducing international students to cash cows instead of students in need of assistance and support.
Therefore, on the 5th February, URBC tweeted to Emma Hardy in an attempt to call out her patronising tone on international students and to alert her that she has failed to answer to the over 500 lectures, students and union representatives that signed our tuition fee amnesty letter. Read the twitter thread here.
To the surprise of URBC, Hardy responded to our tweets and even privately messaged us on Twitter requesting that we resend the letter we had originally sent on the 10 August 2020.
On Monday 8th February, we re-sent our tuition fee amnesty letter to Emma Hardy, CCing her office assistant.
However, after additional week of waiting, URBC failed to receive a response from Hardy’s office. That is when on the Monday 15 February, URBC launched #EmmaHardlyWorking, and gave Hardy a deadline of the end of the day to respond to our letter after waiting over six months for a response.
On the same day, Hardy’s office emailed URBC an official correspondence at 4:39PM. However, Hardy’s response to our letter was an absolute insult that completely ignored the merits of tuition fee amnesty for international students facing financial problems as a result of the global pandemic. As for the offer of a meeting, it seemed an entirely inadequate response when Hardy was unwilling to acknowledge the many problems that international students are facing that was meticulously unpacked in our letter.
From Bad to Worse
URBC found Hardy’s response truly disappointing given the extremely long wait coupled by the lack of a real tangible response. But things were about to get worse. Hardy’s behaviour on Twitter would show how little she was concerned about the dire plight of international students forced into destitution, accessing food banks and being forced off their degrees for the inability to pay their tuition fees because of the financial precarity that they are experiencing both in the UK and in their respective country of origin.
On the 24 February, Hardy tweeted shock over international students queuing up at a food bank in London, asking what universities they go to. URBC found Hardy’s tweet hypocritical, given that we warned her of the problem of international student destitution in our tuition fee amnesty letter in addition to the many interviews we have conducted both nationally and internationally on the matter. URBC has consistently stated that marketised higher education along with the hostile environment policy are to blame for the situation that international students are facing during the global pandemic. Therefore we responded to her tweet with the following reply, (read here and here).
Then Hardy blocked URBC on Twitter following our Twitter satire poll mocking her woeful incompetence as shadow minister for universities.
Therefore, it was unsurprising that Hardy resigned from her shadow minister position earlier this week. Hardy has shown both home and international students how little she cared or was willing to fight for our respective problems in Parliament. If the Labour response under the new shadow minister for universities, Matt Western is more of the same, he can expect a thorough challenging from URBC, along with other student activists involved in rent and tuition fee striker, many of those who are taking part are both international and home students.
What student activists and international students can learn from our dealings with Emma Hardy, or any politician for that matter, is not to compromise your demands for a few crumbs. If a politician wants to meet with your group but has consistently failed to show an understanding to the situation at hand and continues to take the side of the university, your group is wasting time in trying to reason with someone (politician, VC, university manager, yes even SU officers) who is championing a marketised/neoliberal higher education agenda that has gotten us into this mess in the first place. The only way we can truly transform and stop the violence & inequalities emanating from marketised/neoliberal higher education is to participate in rent & tuition fee strikes as so many students are doing all over the UK. Even staff at Goldsmiths, University of London are engaged in a marking strike to stop 700 jobs from being cut. It is important to note that if we are going to be successful in stopping further abuses within marketised/neoliberal higher education, student and staff solidarity will be crucial to the struggle and the work ahead.