The boycott of lectures and seminars on 17th November truly was a day of solidarity, mobilising a number of home and international students, but was anybody watching? The success of the NUS, and of our own union, to rally a mass protest through various walkouts and stunts is commendable; nonetheless, it is outweighed by the distinct lack of interest shown by this government. Aware that they have very little to lose concerning the student and immigrant vote, the Tories continue to squeeze students in its quest for deficit reduction. They didn’t listen to the countless protests against the tripling of tuition fees; neither did they listen to the students who joined the Labour party to condemn the scrapping of the maintenance grant.
The government’s most recent assault on students, however, has taken a sinister anti-immigration turn, which panders to the right wing of the party and to its traditional voters. International students already are already facing tuition fees that can be up to four times higher than that of a UK student, and now, tighter visa restrictions mean that the parapets to incoming students are getting higher.
Two weeks ago, renditions of John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ were heard around the Square, in another solemn display of student solidarity in response to the Paris attacks. One line from that humanist anthem, “imagine there’s no countries”, resonates with the NUS’s opposition of this new wave of anti-immigration measures. This set of restrictions puts the global nature of our universities at risk, and is symptomatic of an elite political establishment out of touch with the real student experience.
As a vital part of the political process, students could look back to Solidarnosc in Poland for inspiration. Starting up in 1980, this ground-roots trade union brought together a swathe of citizens ignored by the Communist regime, and affected a seismic shift towards democracy by civil disobedience and cooperation.
The activism of the NUS will come to nothing without wider student solidarity, and vice versa. It is clear, therefore, that more action needs to be taken, in order to shake the walls of Whitehall. The boycotts may have created a stir, but they have not yet forced a response.
The Minister for Universities, Jo Johnson, has made no comment in the light of the protests. Neither have Theresa May, George Osborne, Michael Gove, nor David Cameron himself. Students are paying more, receiving less in grants, and our international friends are, it seems, being punished for their decision to come and study in the UK. What’s more, it would appear that, at the moment, our actions are having little effect.