This article is more than 2 years old

Students are striking for a new vision for education

As NUS coordinates a national student day of action, Hillary Gyebi-Ababio explains why
This article is more than 2 years old

Hillary Gyebi-Ababio is the vice president for higher education at NUS.

Against the backdrop of staff on strike, students are facing astronomical living costs, the government’s proposals in their response to the Augar review, and racism, classism, and ableism that are still rife within our education system.

That’s why NUS is holding a national student strike. For too long students have been exhausted by established methods of change. We have expended our energy on board meetings, committees, and campaigns that have been ignored by government, institutions and the HE sector.

The student movement wants a new vision of education, and the only way we can build it is by returning to our collective roots of solidarity and transformation. Standing with staff is the most meaningful route to do it.

Root and branch

The power of direct action has long been overlooked as a means of reclaiming power for the student movement. Many have been stifled and silenced by the responsibility, burden and complicity that accompanies fighting for change in spaces that are not our own, but rather owned and shaped by those responsible for creating and upholding the current system.

Withdrawing one’s labour as an act of protest and as a call for wholescale change has been a longstanding tradition in the union movement, and students have a proud history standing in solidarity with staff unions.

We’ve called a strike because it takes us back to the roots of what it is we are fighting for, without trying to prescribe solutions to this broken education system. It allows us to take a step back and focus not on surviving in this system, but rather building and creating an alternative system we can thrive in.

The strike will present an opportunity for the student movement to feel the power of our collectivism. But it also allows us to come together to build the fully funded, lifelong, accessible, and democratised education system that we’ve been fighting 100 years to see come to life.

These aren’t the complicated goals this current system makes seem impossible and far away – these are the basic, fundamental foundations that every education system must be built on if we are ever to see students and staff freely enjoy and exchange knowledge, and a society that is just, fair, and liberated for all.

Walk out, teach in

The concepts behind our action are simple. While it is very difficult for students to strike in the same way staff do – most can’t withhold their fees for a variety of reasons – it is important that students have a similarly powerful route to protest.

Walking out is students’ way of rejecting the spaces that restrict them rather than free them. But even more powerfully, teach-ins are the spaces where staff and students can collectively exchange knowledge and ideas and build the alternative.

Students aren’t coming together to beg for universities to use their “goodwill” and tinker with the system in the way they feel is best. Students are coming together with staff to build the alternative and make sure that it’s irresistible compared with what we have now.

Our complicity, through committees and even attendance, has only fed us crumbs of change. Our resistance is the only thing that will force change, before students and staff are forced out of education.

As students descend on London, or onto their campuses tomorrow, one thing will be clear. The student movement, the trade union movement, and movements for change and justice stand united against settling for this sorry state of affairs.

The government must be held to account, the sector must step up and do better, and we, the student movement, will continue to stand, fight and build until we see the justice and transformation we desire so desperately come to life.

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