Meet the student who got ‘kicked off’ his programme at Goldsmiths after a fee strike
‘Students withholding fees seems to be the only way to force them to change’
Some London unis just saw up to 10 days of staff walkout as another round of UCU strikes rolled across the nation.
There are many ways students have shown solidarity with staff: some have attended teach-outs, joined picket lines, and even occupied their uni management’s offices to demand changes for better working and learning conditions. But David Labi, a Goldsmiths student studying a master’s in Art & Politics, decided to exercise his protest rights on a fee strike that resulted in him being “kicked off” his programme.
The London Tab caught up with David to speak about his goals and thoughts.
Why do you support the strikes?
Soon after joining Goldsmiths in 2020, David noticed that “associate lecturers were being let go, and admin staff too, ruining many lives and putting the remaining staff under more pressure.”
He found this unjust because “when teachers are the ones who are doing all the work and building the value of a university,” they are working under “terrible and worsening conditions” while managers at the top of the uni are earning “very high salaries.
“This reflects a broader process of commoditisation and neoliberal reforms across services and sectors. Top managers get huge bonuses as they drive institutions into the ground,” he said.
When Goldsmiths’ UCU declared action short of a strike last year, an agreement was reached between the management and them that David thought “didn’t seem too optimistic.
“Then this year, the second year of my part-time MA, managers went against all agreements and announced they were continuing with their restructuring.
“They clearly had no interest in meaningful dialogue or compromise with unions, and a nationwide strike showed that the same is happening at universities all over the UK,” David claimed.
Why a fee strike?
When strikes happened again this year, David felt like he needed to take action.
“Universities are in a special position because they depend on students and teachers, so unions should have some kind of power to negotiate. But what’s happening now is that managers are trying to break strikes and show that the majority of the university community is fine with what they’re doing,” he said.
While he supported the strikes last year through other “creative actions,” David thought this year that “students withholding fees seems to be the only way to force [the uni] to change their actions, but it will only work if more people step up.
“That’s why I decided to withhold my fees. I made the university aware of this along with many others but they never acknowledged our right to protest in this way, and just sent threatening letters left, right, and centre.
“Then suddenly with no warning I received notice of withdrawal from the course.
“Obviously I feel very upset and unsettled by this. Goldsmiths managers can’t have it both ways – cash in on the reputation of an enlightened critical university, filled with active minds, and then ignore the thought their institution is producing. They are destroying their own reputation and brand in favour of short-term personal gain,” he said.
And he is not the only Goldsmiths student to be on a fee strike: a Twitter account (@GoldFeesStrike) seems to represent students protesting the same way at the uni.
The account tweeted an exchange between them and the uni, in which the warden’s office said “engaging in protest actions does not relieve a student of their responsibility to pay their fees” and warned any student on a fee strike that they “are not shielded from the consequences of not paying their fees.”
While David seems quite critical of the uni, he didn’t embark on the strike in the first place in spite of his experiences at Goldsmiths: “I was blown away by the quality of the education, especially by our course convenor Bernadette Buckley.
“Professors had worked so hard to get education online, at short notice and in changing conditions. I was delighted, stimulated, and inspired to be in such an environment of criticism and mutual learning,” he said.
A fee strike was an effort by David, and other students, to make sure those giving them such positive experiences are working in equally positive environments.
But unfortunately, his way of showing solidarity came with harsh consequences.
Responding to David’s strike and claims, a Goldsmiths spokesperson said to The London Tab: “As at other universities, students at Goldsmiths are obliged to pay their tuition fees if they wish to continue their studies. Payment of fees is essential so that we can continue to deliver our courses and services for students and pay our staff.
“Goldsmiths has repeatedly invited Goldsmiths UCU to join the College at ACAS for talks with no pre-conditions on either side to help find a shared way forward. So far this offer has been rejected but we remain ready to meet.”