University students in England are being exploited by a continuing trend of marketisation. In 2019 The National Union of Students carried out a survey on 2,000 students that exposed poor living conditions and exploitative relationships with landlords.
The survey reported that 42% of students renting privately lived with damp and mould on their ceilings. More worryingly, 16% lived with electrical hazards and 9% with gas safety issues. The survey also exposed the exploitative relationships between students and landlords.
A quarter of tenants reported that their landlord had entered their property without prior consent, a breach of the 1977 Protection from Eviction Act. Further still, the 2002 Housing Act states that security deposits must be protected in government backed schemes, but only 63% of students were presented with the paperwork proving this safety.
A student from Portsmouth university explains her experience from her second-year house: ‘My contract included a ‘fair usage’ policy for water, gas, and electricity up to a maximum of £1056 combined. At the end of the year, we were told we had overspent by £978.70.
It turns out that our water spending had been calculated off a rateable value for the property, meaning it was not based on our usage of the water but instead was based off of a value decided for the property in the
The rateable value for our property was £921.47, so we only had £134.53 leftover from our maximum allowance of £1053 to use for gas and electricity. We took this matter to the student union, but it was only when we threatened the tenancy agency with small claims court that we got
our deposits back.
The 2019 survey shows that more than half of student renters limited the amount of time they had their heating on to save money on their bills
A similar story was reported by a student at Liverpool University: ‘Our house received a set rate for bills, so we tried to use as little energy as possible. We used sleeping bags downstairs and piled blankets on our beds, but the set rate still expired by Christmas’.
The 2019 survey shows that more than half of student renters limited the amount of time they had their heating on to save money on their bills and 17% reported that they did not have control of the heating in their home.
The student from Liverpool also had their deposit withheld, the landlords
justified their complaint with photographs of a small weed in the front garden and crumbs in the oven. The student house took their landlord to small claims court but received just over half of the £900 deposit back.
For students that recorded having their deposits withheld, a quarter (27%) challenged the deductions formally but ended up paying them anyway in a similar proportion, whilst 24% disagreed but didn’t formally challenge the decision, largely because they thought they would lose their deposits or get charged.
This suggests that landlords are witholding deposits under the assumption that students are too inexperienced to challenge their decision. These examples are indicative of the rising trend of marketisation that has shaped university policy since the 1970’s.
Margaret Thatcher’s market ideology enforced tax cuts as political orthodoxy, in 1985 selective funding began which separated the teaching and research parts of the student grant.
Tony Blaire radicalized this process in the 90’s by increasing fees and converting the loans onto an income contingent basis. By 2010 student fees reached £9000. Despite Blairs claims, this was a radical departure from the history of higher education.
The international competition from World War One pushed the state to double their spending on university education from £1 million to £2 million between 1919 and 1939
A paper written by Robert Anderson explains how State aid for universities predates 1919 (when the University Grants Committee was established). As early as 1889 universities received a Treasury Grant, which was raised to £150,000 in 1911.
The international competition from World War One pushed the state to double their spending on university education from £1 million to £2 million between 1919 and 1939.
After the Second World War, there was a more significant shift away from elite to mass higher-education, endorsed by the 1962 Anderson Committee and the 1963 Robbins report. These two laws abolished fees and entitled students to a maintenance grant.
Reminding us of this history, Anderson holds the institutional amnesia of state involvement in higher education, to account. Anderson explains that
universities forget state aid before 1919 because this allows them to align the beginning of state aid with the UGC: an institution that resembles university autonomy.
Anderson’s paper provides the evidence that higher education has been transformed from a social right to a product in a market, embracing the modern mode of market rationality that is Neoliberalism.
Neoliberalism requires the self to be seen as an enterprise and transforms human goals into types of self-investment. This means that the image of a student in society is no longer associated with education but has been
recast as a vital part of the market and therefore vulnerable to its exploitative forces.
Whilst struggling with basic finances, students are subject to the same £9,000 annual fee despite a dramatic decrease in the quality of teaching they receive.
Covid-19 has exposed the neoliberal agenda driving government policy on education. In a new survey conducted by the National Union of Students, 6% of students admitted to having used foodbanks and institutional hardship funds during the pandemic.
Whilst struggling with basic finances, students are subject to the same £9,000 annual fee despite a dramatic decrease in the quality of teaching they receive. Nevertheless, the pandemic has forced the debate around student fees into public discourse. Because of this, ideas on how to reform the system have developed.
Before the pandemic, many students saw the solution as abolishing student fees, however, the Liberal Democrats ran on this promise in 2016 only to abandon it once they achieved a coalition and it featured in the Labour manifesto for the 2019 election which they lost.
During the pandemic however, many students have changed their mind, opting for a decrease in student fees. Breaking down the history of government policy on education shows that lowered fees combined with core state funding is the most practical and effective opposition to marketisation.
This solution resembles an effective balance of interests between universities and students as well as aligning with the history of state aid in higher education.
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