“We’re not powerless”: Postgraduate students want you to withhold Summer term fees

By Beatriz Silva

On the afternoon of Thursday 31 March, a banner in blue capital letters reading ‘Fee Strike Now’ was displayed on the staircase of the LSE Library. The banner was placed by a group of postgraduate students from the Government department, as members of the University and College Union (UCU) at LSE go on strike for a fifth week this academic year.

The idea was prompted by a letter sent to the LSE Directorate on 18 March by students based in the International Development department. In it, students underlined the reasons why they are withholding the payment of their fees and expressed solidarity with LSE teaching staff resorting to industrial action to protest pension cuts and working conditions. A postgraduate student involved in making the banner told The Beaver: “We want to both help solve the dispute [between LSE management and UCU LSE] by giving our power resources to the Professors, and to make it clear that students do not accept what happened this year and will not accept it further.” 

By displaying it in the LSE Library, the heart of campus life, the students aimed to draw attention to what the student body can tangibly do to bring an end to this stalemate and to show that students have a stake in academics’ working conditions: “We find that students have been far too quiet and accepting. The more we accept this horrible status quo of five weeks out of twenty of teaching lost, the more strikes and actions like this will happen, which is already being detrimental to our education.” Another interviewee put it simply: “It’s our only leverage. Lecturers can withhold their labour, we can’t do that. But what we can do is withhold the money.”

The students expressed frustration with the Students’ Union’s lack of decisive action to protect them in light of recent events. “I find that the Students’ Union has been in practice very accommodating of the Directorate. In words, ‘we are in solidarity’ but that means very little to me.” As a result, they are taking matters into their own hands: “We don’t [just] stand in solidarity with some abstract ideas, we make it very clear with an action like withholding fees.” 

Master’s students from departments where staff are striking have been particularly affected by industrial action as they lost five out of twenty weeks of teaching, which amounts to 25 percent of Michaelmas and Lent terms combined. In addition, because many students had Covid during the year and many lectures in Michaelmas remained online, postgraduates missed out on dozens of in-person contact hours –⁠ hours that they are expected to pay for regardless. 

Although the banner was quickly removed by Library staff on Thursday, pictures of it were immediately shared on social media, including by the LSE UCU branch on Twitter. Our conversation ended with a suggestion that the student body is not powerless, regardless of what the LSE management might want us to think: “That we are too busy because we are here to study, especially master’s students, and that we are powerless.” The kind of impact withholding fees might have will depend on how many students adhere to the initiative.

Read more about why students are withholding fees and the letters written to the LSE Directorate:

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1B8vgJFnrrV0Ty0G1OzS3rVDef0fe3v0J42z9RkEr0QM/edit
https://mailchi.mp/1b795ac23df9/lse-student-compensation?utm_campaign=student_comp

Read more about the UCU strikes at LSE:

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