Students across Europe fight COVID-19 and the neoliberal state

Progressive student and youth organizations across Europe have initiated several campaigns to raise the concerns of students during lockdown.

April 18, 2020 by Muhammed Shabeer
The student community across Europe has landed in distress due to the lockdown and the students from the poorer sections stand more vulnerable.

As of April 16, more than 2 million people have contracted coronavirus and around 144,104 people have died. Countries across Europe have been devastated by the pandemic and all sectors of society have been impacted. However, the working class and migrant communities across Europe are those facing the brunt of the crisis. They have been pushed to the brink by sheer negligence and insensitivity of the governments amid this public health crisis.

Students and youth in these countries are particularly in distress due to the shutting down of schools, colleges, and universities as part of the lockdown. The majority of institutions both of secondary and higher education have turned to online learning to replace in person classes. However, students from working-class families, who have limited access to internet and devices, have been deprived of the online classes that have started across Europe.

Student groups have now assumed a new struggle, to demand that all students are granted access to the necessary materials to participate in online learning. Another major demand is to waive tuition and other fees and to provide direct allowances to students and their families to pay rents and their other expenses. Various groups have asked for the distribution of scholarships without any delay and at places freezing of rent payment. They have also highlighted that many stuck in dormitories and hostels during the lockdown have inadequate access to medical care and food and called for these essential services to be provided.

Other demands include the free distribution of study materials, loosening up on restrictions regarding course credits and extra semesters to compensate for the loss of working days during the lockdown period, and facilitate the completion of degrees by students in light of the obstacles.

Student organizations have organized different campaigns and initiatives to highlight the grievances of the student community during this lockdown.

In Italy, one of the countries worst hit by COVID-19 in the region, the state had decided to begin mandatory online classes for school students starting on April 6. The Communist Youth Front (FGC) declared that the move would exclude millions who do not have internet access. FGC had also initiated a petition #EmergenzaUniversità, demanding support and protection for students across the country during the ongoing emergency. In that petition, the organization has demanded that the government enhance the accessibility of online courses, ensure availability of research papers and journals online, freeze university fees and rents, and disburse scholarships. Another youth group in the country Giovani Comunisti (Young Communists) asked the government to create a fund in order to finance the purchase of tablets, PCs, headphones and free internet connection for the students.

In Greece, the Students Struggle Front (MAS) has demanded that the government provide a direct housing allowance of 800 euros (USD 868.63) to all student families who pay rent for the months of March and April in order to relieve financial distress inflicted by the lockdown. MAS has also asked the government to waive tuition fees and fees for postgraduate and other programs for the period and to ensure the wellbeing of students who are confined to hostels and dormitories. Members of the university students group Panspoudastiki Kinisi Synergasias (PSK) helped organize a voluntary blood donation drive in Athens to meet emergencies in the hospitals due to COVID-19.

In France, the Union of Communist Students (UEC) have alleged that the French government has abandoned an entire generation of students during the pandemic without means. UEC has demanded an immediate freezing of rents during the lockdown period, free health services for students and allowances for every student to permit economic survival.

Cypriot students movement PEOM requested that the Ministry of Education provide clear guidelines regarding the online classes during the lockdown. They have also raised concerns that there are a large number of students don’t have access to the internet. PEOM has also demanded the government to facilitate the repatriation of Cypriot students stranded abroad due to the lockdown.

The RedFox youth movement in Belgium has gathered over 200 volunteer teachers to assist secondary students online for their studies during the lockdown.

The Communist Youth in the Netherlands (CJB) had demanded to stop collecting the tuition fees from students during the lockdown. CJB also sought relaxation of the Binding Study Advice (BSA) which is a qualification criteria based on the number of credits one has completed in a year and to ensure the availability of Student Finance (DUO).

Jeunes POP which is the youth movement of the Swiss Labour Party has demanded compensation for all self-employed workers and financial support for employees and trainees who are in a precarious situation. “At least 75% of students have a job alongside their studies. For some of them, the loss of it jeopardizes their subsistence and the funding of their studies,” the organization stated.

The Serbian students’ group Studentski Front, has joined a campaign to stop the eviction of the students from the students center in Belgrade. They allege that their eviction is in order to carry out maintenance of the building for the accommodation of the participants of the 2020 European Universities Games scheduled for July 2020.

In Austria, the Communist Student Union (KSV) released a petition wherein they raised a set of demands to the government and university authorities. They include no delays in graduation, suspension of tuition fees, an unconditional and automatic extension of study and family allowances for all students without exception, goodwill regulation for internships, additional tolerance semester for all students, a refund of USI contributions, an extension of deadlines for academic theses, no dismissal or “exemption” from university staff and no disadvantages for extraordinary community service providers.

KSV also criticized that, in an announcement on April 8 made by the country’s Education Minister, primary concerns of students such as lack of digital teaching resources, deteriorating financial situation of the students, compulsory internships, tuition fees, home rentals, and semester tickets were not raised.

In Germany, the Socialist German Workers’ Youth (SDAJ) has raised a set of demands including no delays in graduation, suspension of tuition fees for the summer semester, unconditional and automatic extension of the student financial aid for all students without exception, regulation for internships, extension of deadlines for academic work, among others.

The Young Communist League (YCL) of the UK has stated that Britain’s youth need proper support during the COVID19 crisis. No young worker should go without essential services and no students should have their future jeopardized. YCL has demanded free school meals and social help contacts for vulnerable young people, maintain student bursaries and loans and write off the loan repayments, clear advice on canceled exams, free online and offline resources and mental health support.

The Connolly Youth Movement (CYM) in Ireland has resolved that workers should be paid and the students on placement in the private and public sector deserve wages.

Swedish students group Marxistiska Studenter have echoed calls for the government to distribute grants to all students who are forced to stay at home because of the COVID-19 lockdown.

The Portuguese Communist Youth (JCP) endorsed the demand of the Portuguese Communist Party’s (PCP) that public schools must ensure that every student in the country has access to education and education degrees and no one should be left alone at this time of lockdown. JCP has also initiated online programs to cater to the concerns of youth and students in the country.

In Europe, like the rest of the world, COVID-19 has revealed the savage face of neoliberal states and the anti-people priorities of the leaders. Their policies of austerity and privatization have significantly weakened public services and compromised their capacity and quality. These services are desperately needed to support the working-class and marginalized populations amid this crisis. The pandemic has reactivated and sharpened the class divisions in Europe and is likely to pave way for more popular uprisings in the coming days.