A member of Unis Resist Border Controls (URBC) shared this response they received from Caroline Lucas, MP for Brighton Pavilion. This response follows taking part in our #MichelleMocksStudents action where we asked supporters to send this template letter to their MPs demanding #TuitionFeeAmnesty for international students affected by the multiple UK COVID-19 lockdowns.
Lucas’s thorough message is nothing like what we received from Minister for Universities, Michelle Donelan, whose response to our letter misgendered founder and URBC member, Sanaz Raji, while failing to address the substance of our #TuitionFeeAmnestyNOW letter. By ignoring the shocking evidence presented in the #TuitionFeeAmnestyNOW letter, Donelan, in effect, mocked the hardships faced by precarious international students, many of whom have been withdrawn from their studies, left in penury, and now face visa curtailments and eventual deportation without the prospects of being able to finish their studies.
However, if Donelan’s response was bad, former shadow minister for universities, Emma Hardy, would take it to an absurdly worse level by having to be shamed online by URBC for waiting seven months to write a response to our letter. Hardy’s response was significantly worst than her Tory counterpart, indicating that the opposition equally cares so little about the dire plight of international university students in the UK. URBC meticulously outlined the incompetence of Emma Hardy, who resigned from her position on the 9th March 2021, following consistent call outs by URBC on social media after Hardy failed to properly respond to the merits of our #TuitionFeeAmnestyNOW letter.
Therefore, it was good to read the response by Caroline Lucas who thoughtfully engage with the demands from the #TuitionFeeAmnestyNOW.
Some take-aways from the response by Lucas
Lucas, who is the Vice-Chair of the All Parliamentary Group for Students, indicates the following in her letter:
1. Lucas urges the Government to find a solution so that student rents can be forgiven and universities can reimburse tuition fees.
2. The All-Parliamentary Group for Students is looking into creating a hardship fund for students who faced poverty as a result of the global pandemic. Lucas was “gravely concerned” to find that 56% of international students are either destitute or a risk of destitution”, following the joint study that URBC conducted with MRN on the the effects of COVID-19 on international students.
3. Lucas agrees with URBC that marketised higher education is exploiting international students, stating:
“It is cruel for the Government to simply abandon international students and, as you say, they should not simply be seen as a source of revenue for universities. In fact, one of the arguments I have made over and over to Ministers is the extent to which that pandemic has highlighted once again the flaws in our HE funding model, a model I have repeatedly campaigned against.”
4. Lucas is against no recourse to public funds (NRPF) for migrants, and wants to see an end to the hostile environment policy and to exorbitant university tuition fees.
5. And finally, Lucas states, “I will continue to look for opportunities to press the Government to suspend NRPF restrictions and offer financial compensation, including to protect international students.”
While many of the points that Lucas mentioned in her letter are ones that URBC also agrees with, we disagree when Lucas states that “students have not had anything like the teaching, experiences or supervision for which they have paid.” Lucas risks implying in this comment that teaching has been lackluster during the pandemic. URBC reminds Lucas and others that many lecturers, particularly migrant lecturers, and PhD students, along with those on zero-contract hour lecturing positions, especially those who are cis and trans women, and Black and women of colour, have bent over backwards to provide the best possible teaching in difficult circumstances, also providing unprecedented levels of pastoral support, while at the same time facing job cuts and on-going threats of redundancies by university managers.
Currently staff at Goldsmiths, University of London are engaged in a marking strike to stop 700 jobs from being cut. And we know all too well how universities are using the excuse of the global pandemic and supposed “income loss” to usher in job cuts, such as at the University of Manchester during the start of the pandemic, and most recently the University of Liverpool, University of Brighton, and the University of Leeds are among nine universities in the UK instituting job cuts during the pandemic. URBC expects that Lucas will direct her ire at university managers and Vice Chancellors for putting students and university staff in unsafe conditions with a complete lack of support during this pandemic that continues to endangered our lives.
What you can do
URBC has resent our letter on #TuitionFeeAmnesty to the new shadow minister for universities, Matt Western. We don’t hold out too much hope, given the bad track-record that Western has had in his Warwick and Leamington constituency on university issues, particularly in not giving full support to the Warwick University rent strikers and championing blended-learning rather than moving online, which led to a significant rise in COVID-19 cases across UK university campuses. That said, if we put enough pressure on Western and all other MPs on the All-Parliamentary Group for Students, we can make a dent in getting #TuitionFeeAmnestyNOW.
Therefore, it is import to continue to send this template letter to your MP and al the MPs on the All-Parliamentary Group for Students in demanding #TuitionFeeAmnestyNOW.