By Deep Sohelia
With schools in Leicestershire opening a week before the rest of the country, the Prime Minister visited the East Midlands in what can only be described as a glaringly transparent PR attempt in an attempt to boost his flagging support as schools prepare to open for the autumn term. Unfortunately, the sabbatical officers at Loughborough Students’ Union have been all too willing to facilitate this charade, as if they have forgotten the very purpose of a Student’s Union entirely.
The Tory record on education has been truly abysmal. Since 2010, they have converted primary and secondary schools to academies, thereby deregulating and bringing corporate and financial interests into schools. This is not to mention their detrimental impact on Higher Education: the raising of tuition fees and abolition of the maintenance grant has harmed the poorest, and the the Teaching Excellence Framework has further marketised the education sector.
However, this all pales in comparison to the A-Level and GCSE fiasco of recent weeks. Despite Boris claiming he was against the algorithm all along, the Tories showed no remorse for their blatant, shameless, systemic discrimination of working class youngsters, and only eventually overturned the decision after mass pressure was put on the government from furious students. Combine all of this with the insistence on opening up schools against the wishes of the unions and experts, and one thing is clear: the Tory party – as the political representatives of the ruling class – are a real and dangerous threat to the future of higher education, and to the health and wellbeing of all young people.
Given all this, it seems incredible that a Student’s Union, the embodiment of student organisation, would even for a second consider hosting such an insidious individual, and yet, unfortunately, this is exactly what happened. And what’s more, despite widespread anger among the student body, the President of the Union has now doubled down on the decision to host Boris Johnson on campus and has announced that the executive team have written to him to ask to meet with him again!
Perhaps this is a controversial opinion, but we say a Student’s Union should stand for the interests of students! According to the President of the Union, this is exactly why they hosted Boris Johnson: to discuss “key issues facing the Higher Education sector. These included: wellbeing support for students returning to campus following the COVID-19 pandemic; the Black Lives Matter movement; academic misconduct and the current legality of essay mills as well as the current government’s stance on niche activism.”. Aside from the naïveté of believing that personal discussions with this reactionary, anti-student Tory Prime Minister will lead him to ban shipments of riot gear and rubber bullets to the US or to provide funding for student wellbeing, these issues don’t even begin to scratch the surface of the issues facing Higher Education!
Student Unions should be leading the fight on key issues such as the need for free education, an end to parasitic landlordism, equality on campus, an end to higher management bureaucracy, and for staff and student control of Universities. Moreover, in a post-COVID-19 world, they should be standing shoulder to shoulder with staff fighting back against redundancies and cuts while higher management continue to pocket bloated wages and money continues to be spent elsewhere. This will not be achieved by cosying up to a Tory Prime Minister who opposes each one of these demands with every fibre of his being. As GCSE and A-Level students have shown us, militancy is the way to force this government into U-turns.
Instead of playing nice with this Tory government, Student’s Unions up and down the country should be organising staff and students with the broader labour movement in a militant fightback to bring down this government. They should fight for a government that will ensure not only free education, but also the nationalisation of the commanding heights of the economy, bringing them under workers control with the profits used to fund other public provisions (health and social care, transport, education, etc), a decent standard of living for all, and a plan of production to tackle environmental crisis and to stop the periodic crises we see under capitalism.
Something is fatally wrong if student’s union sabbatical officers can agree to such a PR opportunity. It is unacceptable for any student’s organisation to cozy up to management and the ruling elite. Clearly, the students of Loughborough, and of all universities, must hold their unions accountable. We need a real fighting leadership of student unions. With that, we could link up our struggles with that of lecturers, cleaners, admin staff and more.
Loughborough Students and Alumni can call on the Student’s Union to issue an apology and commit to becoming a fighting union by signing our open letter!