Meet the LSE student who just went on hunger strike for a whole week
‘I needed to take drastic action, and a hunger strike seemed like the only option to me’
Davit Svanidze has just eaten for the first time in seven days. He’s been on hunger strike over what he terms LSE’s “completely arbitrary deferral policy for postgraduate students.”
So far, 2022 hasn’t been the best year for the MSc Econ student, who started January by testing positive for Covid and isolating for 11 days. Being sick and isolated took a toll on Davit’s physical and mental health, but LSE’s current deferral policies for postgraduates forced him to defer his winter exams not just until the summer, but all the way until next January. This will also delay his graduation.
“Not being able to graduate as planned this coming summer causes many severe disadvantages for us,” Davit told The London Tab, mentioning issues such as being unable to find jobs, keep student visas and scholarships, and sustain himself financially. A survey he conducted found that 97 per cent of fellow Econ postgrads also think the polices are unfair.
On January 14, Davit decided that he’d had enough. So he stood outside, cold and alone, beside the uni’s globe statue, holding a cardboard with big block letters saying “HUNGER STRIKE.”
It’s been a week now and Davit is eating again. The London Tab caught up with him to find out more about why he chose to take such a drastic action.
What is the issue?
“It is impossible for me to sit at home, eat, and sleep well when I experience such unfairness against me and my fellow postgraduate students,” Davit said.
What he found so unfair is how LSE’s deferral policy for postgrads “states that if one cannot sit January exams and is forced to postpone them (through no fault of their own – for instance, if they fall ill), the next available date to sit these exams is the next January, after a year.” This causes those expecting graduation this July or November to delay it to March 2023.
Being unable to graduate on time leads to many issues, with finances being the most problematic.
Davit explained that postgrads who delay their graduations might “be urged to apply for jobs for which we are overqualified and accept a significantly lower salary [than] those who have completed a similar level of studies,” or need to pay back the total amount if they’re on a scholarship.
“As most of us finance their studies by loans, if we cannot work here, we can barely pay back our loans,” Davit claimed, supporting it with his own £43,000 debt.
And with “such a situation [already being] absurd in normal circumstances,” Davit felt “it borders on being farcical in the context of Covid-19 and Brexit.” While the pandemic makes more students need deferrals, Brexit increases the number of students on student visas that would have expired before graduation after a deferral.
“This leaves students ineligible to apply for the graduate route visa, which would allow them to stay in the UK for two more years to work, and is something that many students expect to use when coming to study in the UK,” Davit said.
It also affects international students from developing countries disproportionately: paying back loans for a UK education will be difficult if they are forced to work in their own countries “due to the lower levels of salaries there.”
Why a hunger strike?
“We have tried everything,” Davit said. From providing survey results, collecting nearly 400 votes in a petition, and lobbying alongside his department and LSE Student’s Union for change, all they got from the uni was “the standard reply – that such changes take time, and cannot be done at such short notice.”
But Davit can’t stand the lack of change and “willful ignorance on the part of the LSE” anymore, not when “everything in the world changes” with Covid and Brexit.
“The LSE is a celebrated institution, known for free and clear thinking. It seems, however, that its academic board cannot think clearly on this very simple matter of student welfare. People have even considered dropping out in these circumstances.
“I believe that all the stakeholders have tried everything to reason with the academic board; that is why I felt that the best way to express how much we suffer under this unfair policy, and to help the academic board understand how much we suffer, is a hunger strike in this cold winter.
“We don’t need this change next year, we have the problem now, and we need a solution also for now,” Davit said.
A wider change
Besides directly aiming at the deferral policies, Davit hopes this hunger strike will also make the uni’s decision-makers “aware [of] what their votes cause for students.”
“One vote can change our future and this is something very valuable,” Davit said.
He also reflected on how “LSE performs extremely badly with its student satisfaction” due to “overly centralised and complicated structure and organisational process.” So another of his aims is to change this structure for one that leads to “an improved experience for students and an increase in the attractiveness of the LSE to students worldwide.”
When asked what he really anticipates from his hunger strike, Davit said: “I am realistic, and therefore, I am not 100 per cent sure that they are prepared to deliver fast and valuable solutions.”
“However, we expect from them to do so as soon as possible, because we pay exorbitant tuition fees and we need exceptional decision-makers who will find perfect solutions in difficult times to avoid disadvantages for students and not just deliver logistically more comfortable solutions for them. If there are structural and organisational problems, it is the best time to revise and adapt these structures to modern times, so that the LSE can remain one of the top academic institutions worldwide.”
What would you like to say to LSE?
“The students and the school should work together and not against each other,” Davit addressed the uni.
“If it is too difficult and complicated for you to solve this problem, use the experience of other universities who solve it perfectly and if you don’t know how to solve it, hire great people who can deliver perfect solutions. Generally, listen to students more and understand why they are worried. Often, the problems that students face can be very serious.
“It was already very difficult to study under Covid-19 conditions; don’t disadvantage us even more with unfair policies,” he concluded.
In response, Professor Dilly Fung, LSE Pro-Director for Education, said to The London Tab: “We are extremely pleased and relieved that Davit has ended his hunger strike. We encourage him to pursue his protest by working with the Students’ Union to put forward his concerns through established channels.
“As we have explained to Davit throughout our ongoing discussions with him this week, changing our current postgraduate resit/deferral policy would require consultation across the LSE community and development of processes that do not currently exist.
“It is not possible at this point to set another postgraduate assessment sitting for current students in Summer Term given the scale of such an undertaking. Robust assessment that delivers a fair reflection of students’ achievements requires extensive input from LSE academics, external examiners and School staff.
“In addition, such a policy change would require consensus through LSE’s academic governance arrangements.”