Students and Locals Protest University over “Exorbitant” and “Unsafe” COVID Measures

Tuition fee reimbursement and an Emergency People’s Assembly were among the demands.

Protester shouts into microphone, with placards on shoulder, on Greg's Place
(Image: Iwan Stone)

Tuition fee reimbursement and an Emergency People’s Assembly were among the demands set out by students and local residents during a protest on Greg’s Place last Friday.

Anger ranged from beliefs that the University are “lining their pockets” as students are left on a “fundamentally unsafe campus”, to allegations that students were “lured” back to the University “under false pretences”.

The event, organised by the newly formed Student Solidarity Network (YSSN), attracted followers from a coordinated social media campaign, alongside members of eleven separate groups, including UoY Labour, the Trades Union Congress, Extinction Rebellion, Socialist Students, People and Planet Society, and the local Labour Representation Committee.

The event coincided with another graffiti attack by Revolution Society, although the YSSN denied any affiliation between the organisations.

“The University chose profit over protecting our physical and mental health,” an organiser, Patrick Thelwell, told Vision

“We’re trying to bring together a coalition of different groups across campus, staff, and unions, as well as students, to say that we are angry. We are angry at the way that the government and this university have handled this pandemic. We were told that we had to come back to campus so we could get a mixed learning experience, but the reality is that we are going to have to move online.”

While Thelwell asserted that this was important, since any other scenario would put staff in “an incredibly vulnerable position”, he maintained that: “We’re still paying £9,000 tuition fees every year for a course that is not what we were told we would be getting, whilst paying exorbitant amounts of rent, so we can be on a fundamentally unsafe campus”.

The demonstration cited three main demands for their action:

  • Reimburse students’ tuition fees and rent. This includes a defence for deposits and against penalty fees for students who decide to go home, so students are not “forced to stay here, so the University can keep lining their pockets”.
  • Protect our physical and mental health. The YSSN suggest a way forward, in “mass testing and a complete mass reform of the mental health provision on campus”.
  • Hold an Emergency People’s Assembly to hold the University to account and provide direct deliberative democracy to students. Thelwell asserted that this decision “needs to be in the hands of all students and all staff”.

The Socialist Party, also present at the rally, pushed further asking: “why should students be paying tuition fees anyway? … If it was in your hands, you would not be choosing to prioritise building new buildings to attract businesses – you would put your learning conditions and staff working conditions first.”

However, while the protesters alleged that the University are “paying hundreds of thousands of pounds to senior staff”, Vision can reveal that according to the University’s renumeration report, 52 individuals were paid more than £100,000 by the University in the academic year ending 2019, of which only 14 were senior management. None were paid more than £180,000.

Students were joined by local citizens in “solidarity” to their cause.

“Stand in unity, and fight back against this appalling government, and this incredibly careless regime that runs this university… on neo-liberal lies”, said a representative of the Trades Union Congress. He stated that they have “no interest whatsoever in you as students – the only thing that matters to them is the profits at the end of it”.

Julie, a primary school teacher from York, and a member of York TUC, further told Vision that: “We think it is really important that different movements all join together, and make a stand against what’s going on.”

This was echoed by a representative from the York Labour Representation Committee, a group founded in 2004, in an attempt to follow the original mantra of the Labour Party before the “delusion and despair” caused by New Labour. 

“We feel it’s important to show our support for the students who have been sold a raw deal. The students who were promised a university experience and education were lured under false pretences, and now they’re having to pay exorbitant fees and accommodation costs for an education that they can no longer receive.”

The University of York has been contacted for comment.