In the midst of the ongoing Brexit chaos students may be wondering what is going to happen to their European friends and colleagues. Will we retain the same rights? Will we be still considered equal?
Well, let’s be clear: our rights were never “equal” in the first place. Yes, we are subject to the same tuition fee rate and can get a loan for it from the Student Loans Company (SLC) which makes us a lot more privileged than the non-EU students. But that’s about where our equality ends.
From the beginning of our study in the UK we’re subject to a Kafkaesque entanglement in Student Finance’s bureaucratic regulations. For the arbitrary reason of being born on the wrong side of the Channel, from our very first encounter with the SLC our university experience differs greatly.
Firstly, we are not able to receive a maintenance loan or grant unless we’ve lived in the UK for five years. The logic behind that remains unexplained. Are our daily living needs different? Are students from Italy, Poland, or Estonia significantly richer than the others? For working-class students, especially those living in the dystopia of London’s exorbitant rental market, maintenance loans are the only thing that allows us to survive.
For those lucky enough to fulfil that requirement, things can be easier. But for those less lucky, like myself who had, for example, lived in the UK for four years and three months, we’re told that to obtain any loans or grants we need to find part-time employment. We’re working-class folks – we have nothing against finding part-time work, which we would probably have had to find anyway. But it is then that we enter a dense, frightening, bureaucratic jungle if we wish to claim the money to which we are entitled.
We ring up Student Finance (SF) and are told to call a different, special SF EU Migrant Workers Team. We receive another application form, fill it in and send it off. After a week we call to learn about any progress. “It may take us up to six weeks to process your application”. In the meantime, the rent is due, and all our savings have gone on a flat deposit.
We manage to borrow money from our friends, or for those who are happy enough to have them around, parents. We cover our rent. After two more weeks, a letter: “You need to send us the following evidence of your continuous employment.” We copy our payslips and contracts, and send them off (by post of course because the Migrant Workers Team doesn’t provide you with an email address). Then we wait again, with paralysing dread, because the rent is due again soon.
“It may take us up to three weeks to process your evidence” we hear on the phone. We look to the future with fear, all while we’re supposed to be keeping up with our studies like everyone else. We can’t focus because we’re tired from our part-time work, and we can’t get any more work to pay the bills because we need some time to sleep. That doesn’t come easy either, because at night we’re fighting with our fears.
“There has been some problem with your evidence.”
“We need you to send us payslips for the last three weeks”
“It may take us up to…”
“We don’t seem to have received your evidence for…”
In the end, in my first year of study, my maintenance loan was confirmed on 21 January – four months after I started my studies. But by that time, I was too exhausted to celebrate.
Over the course of my studies I’ve had my tuition loans arbitrarily withdrawn, faced possible expulsion from my university, and received eviction letters. All the while my British friends, made of the same flesh as me, could take their loans for granted.
We were never equal because inequality is inherent to this abhorrent system of capitalism, which, through privatisation, is creeping further and further into the fabric of university life. It is designed to drive wedges between fellow students, and between fellow workers, especially along lines of nationality.
Setting up different social and economic conditions for this or that group has always served only one aim – to deepen the divisions between people. We mustn’t fall for it – we mustn’t pit ourselves against each other as the system wants us to. Instead we need to stand united against all the injustice built into the foundations of this capitalist system. Students and workers together can fundamentally transform society so that the logic of privatisation and profit-making doesn’t rule our lives any longer – we can run educational institutions and the economy as a whole on the basis of need, irrelevant of national, gender, racial, or other differences.
Even before Brexit, EU students haven’t been equal in this country. If we want equality, Brexit or no-Brexit won’t make the difference. The only thing that will is the fight for socialism.
- Scrap all fees for all students!
- Full living grants for all students regardless of national background!
- End the privatisation of education!
- Universities to be run by students and staff in the interests of society’s needs – not profits!
- Nationalise the biggest businesses under workers’ control and form a coordinated national plan of education and economic development for the benefit of all, not the profits of a few!
- Student and workers, unite and fight!
by Peter Kwasiborski, SOAS Marxists