YCL statement on student COVID-19 lockdowns

The Young Communist League has issued a statement condemning the shameful lockdown of thousands of students at universities across Britain and calling for increased support for students affected.

The YCL condemns the actions of universities and Boris Johnson’s Tory government which have led to the entirely avoidable crisis taking place in university campuses across Britain. Instead of prioritising the safety of students, universities have prioritised profit.  Classes are taking place online, and this has been known for months. Cambridge announced in May that there would be no in-person lectures until the summer of 2021. Across the country, students have been told that classes were to be held online.

Despite this, Vice-Chancellors and University Heads have promoted the use of student halls and private lets to ensure students get ‘the entire student experience’. Despite their claims otherwise, it is abundantly clear that their only motivation was to maintain profits. Universities have already been hit hard as the number of international students has fallen dramatically.

Rather than accepting lost profits or appealing to the government for support if needed, vice-chancellors instead decided to bring students from across the country, and beyond, into cramped accommodation in the middle of a pandemic. This crisis has also highlighted the marketisation crisis at the heart of education. Rather than ensuring student safety and learning, university heads have made decisions on the basis of profit alone. This cannot be allowed to continue and efforts from the University and Colleague Union (UCU) to fight against this are welcome.

Furthermore, the role of private lets has further highlighted the role of landlordism in dictating the UK’s economy. The capitalist economy is reliant on students having the majority of their income siphoned off to parasitic landlords, exploiting generations of young people, restricting their ability to enjoy their lives, forcing them into poverty, hardship and harsh working conditions.

In an entirely predictable situation, the coronavirus has spread like wildfire throughout campuses with significant outbreaks taking place in London, Glasgow, Dundee, Aberdeen and Manchester already. The UCU and others said this would happen months ago, yet universities disregarded them and instead chose to funnel students back into accommodation.

In response, both the UK and Scottish Governments have responded with entirely unworkable measures in an attempt to prevent any further spread of the Virus. In Manchester, students in halls were given no notice of lockdown and have been offered little to no support to self-isolate. Unaffected students have therefore been restricted, unable to work and those without cars cannot get tested. Similarly, students unable to get food in the short window they were given have simply been told to live off deliveries, entirely unaffordable for the vast majority of students.

Meanwhile in Scotland, all students have been told not to visit bars or restaurants in the coming period. Not just all students in halls, but all students en masse. This is a slap in the face to students who have kept the country running over the pandemic, working in supermarkets, in the NHS, in hospitality and volunteering in their communities. Worse than this, the Scottish Government’s proposal includes everyone from students living at home, to PhD students who are also university staff. It is entirely unworkable.

While some young people have been responsible for spreading the coronavirus, in part due to breaking social distancing rules, it is entirely disingenuous to attribute the blame to young people. The blame rests with this Tory government. Young people have been the ones working continuously, often in customer facing roles, most at risk of catching the virus. The government’s attempt to disregard this, is merely an attempt to sidestep the blame which ultimately lies at their door for failing to properly deliver on promises to enact an effective track and trace program.

Young communists are calling for:

  • Priority testing to be introduced to end the local lockdowns which have been imposed at many universities as soon as possible.
  • Government guarantees that all students who have tested negative for COVID-19 will be allowed to return home over the festive period.
  • Rent refunds for students and an option to have a penalty free cancellation of all rental contracts, inclusive of university halls and private lets.
  • Government financial support for students who have been forced to lockdown and for those students who choose to return home for the semester.

Executive Committee
Young Communist League

27 September 2020
London, Britain