university strikes hostile environment

University Strikes and the Hostile Environment

As UCU (University and College Union) members initiated the UK’s biggest ever (ongoing) university strikes last month, staff and students alike have expressed frustration regarding both the portrayal of and attitudes towards strike action.

In recent years, university strikes have been depicted as no more than a fight against pension cuts and workloads – which, of course, warrant strike action in and of themselves. Yet one student has demanded an end to this tendency to diminish the true causes underlying the strikes, stressing that they are representative of a wider struggle against exploitative conditions in higher education.

And these conditions, student Sarah Lasoye writes, disproportionately impact migrant academics, staff and students.

As a result of the Conservative government’s hostile environment policies – implemented in 2012 by Theresa May, and rebranded by Sajid Javid as the ‘compliant environment’ – migrant students have suffered significantly.

It serves as a clear reminder of the ways in which the hostile environment has relentlessly pervaded every institution and faction of society

In 2015, international students were accused by the government of cheating in English language tests which constitute a pivotal aspect of the visa renewal process. In a move which emulated the Conservative government’s orchestration of the Windrush scandal, thousands of students had their visas revoked and were immediately deported from the UK, with many more detained and/or expelled from their university courses.

It serves as a clear reminder of the ways in which the hostile environment has relentlessly pervaded every institution and faction of society. NHS staff and landlords have described how their roles have become increasingly warped by duties which replicate those of border guard officials, in that they are made to carry out stringent immigration checks. The same can be detected across universities.  

Students show solidarity for striking university staff [Image: The Gryphon]

Lasoye notes that the Home Office demands universities to monitor Tier 4 visa holders (migrant students) by ‘recording their attendance and retaining copies of their identity documents.’ They are then compelled to share this data upon request with UK Visas and Immigration.

What’s more, in 2018, University College London introduced spot-checks of migrant students’ ID, sparking outrage which led to the policy being scrapped.

“We resist the encroachment of the hostile environment because we know that migrant struggles are inextricable from the struggle for the public university.”

And it is not only migrant students who are burdened by the hostile environment within universities – migrant staff perhaps suffer most acutely.

Cleaners throughout universities have previously been deceived into believing that they are attending ‘emergency meetings’ held by their employers, which have transpired to be immigration raids organised in collaboration with the UK Border Agency. In 2009, this saw nine cleaners handcuffed and deported immediately.

Lasoye suggests that the overwhelming presence of migrant staff, students and academics on picket lines across the UK is due to their recognition and direct experience of the exploitative conditions permeating higher education institutions:

“We resist the encroachment of the hostile environment because we know that migrant struggles are inextricable from the struggle for the public university.”

[Header image: Times Higher Education]

Written by
Holly Barrow