The #QMFurloughNow campaign by the Students’ Union has been at the forefront of student paper and social media posts these past few weeks. But it appears that student-staff aren’t the only group to be impacted by university decisions. A crowd of organisations, students and unions are calling for change from Queen Mary, University of London, all for a variety of reasons including the literal matter of life and death.
While QMUL have been absorbed by the adaption of the university to an online setting and have even begun to email about gradually opening campus facilities, such campaigns have subsequently failed to make any agendas. The following article will seek to explore examples of these cases, and in doing so, the university have been contacted for a statement.
Tuition Fee Reimbursement
At this rate, it is fair to state that the 2019/2020 academic year has not been straightforward. With students’ contact hours being heavily disrupted by two main factors, the UCU strikes and Coronavirus, it is not surprising to hear calls of frustration. But this is exemplified by the fact that a standard annual education at QMUL for home students costs £9,250 and is even more so for international students. Therefore, with students largely feeling that they’ve not received their money’s worth, this sentiment was largely expressed through the medium of a classic Change.org petition.
As strikes have taken place since the first semester, the petition technique has certainly been tried and tested. This even resulted in a survey being sent to students by QMSU in January about what shape the reimbursement should take, with options including a graduation discount or a physical refund. However, Colin Bailey later destroyed any chance of financial compensation in February as he asserted that “it would be incorrect… to define the tuition fee only in relation to contact time”.
Fast forward to the latter half of the second semester, where after weeks of strikes by members of teaching staff, Coronavirus comes into the picture. The move to online lectures and seminars led to some students becoming dissatisfied with the quality of education they were paying for- calling for the return of the Change.org petition. At the moment it is just under 500 signatures, but this was made following a government petition (which received over 300,000 signatures) not being sufficiently considered. Nonetheless, this was still enough to catch the attention of QMSU, as in an email sent in the middle of May they declared that they “are continuing to push the University to re-start this conversation and make a decision on compensation as a matter of urgency”.
With many final year students beginning to finish their degrees, time for any reimbursement is starting to run out. Will QMUL act?
An international animal rights organisation, Animal Justice Project (AJP), are currently leading an online campaign called #UniLockdownChallenge, one which directly involves Queen Mary. In seeking to draw attention to animals contained in university laboratories, the campaign is one particularly designed for the current setting of self-isolation, providing an opportunity for people to learn about such injustice, while also being able to take action all from home.
The founder of the Animal Justice Project, Claire Palmer, told The Print that:
“At Queen Mary, University of London, scientists maimed 24 rats to inflict traumatic brain injury and spinal cord injury so that they could simply test a recording system for behaviours exhibited by animals. The extensive damage caused by researchers during surgeries led to aggression, difficulty moving, and signs of depression and/or pain as the animals completely stopped grooming themselves. The 24 rats in this study were then killed. This experiment is beyond cruel and should never have been deemed acceptable by this university.”
All information the AJP had obtained came directly from a published paper by QMUL, so why is there no acknowledgment of the distressing nature of what takes place in university laboratories?
The Elephant Man
Returning to the subject of Change.org petitions, one which has gained particular traction recently is all about Joseph Merrick, or more commonly known as The Elephant Man. Titled ‘Bury Joseph Merrick, it is a disgrace to his memory to keep him on display’, this campaign is directed at QMUL to “return Merrick’s skeleton to his home town of Leicester to be buried like a human, not kept on display as he was his whole life like an animal.”
In detailing the history of Joseph Merrick’s life, the campaign succeeds in highlighting that he too was human, but that more importantly the university had directly defied the wishes of Merrick himself in denying him a burial. While only under 60 signatures at the moment, adhering to the demands of this petition are nonetheless displayed as the only humane thing to do.
With QMUL recently announcing a 20% cut to Queen Mary budgets, evidence provided by QMUCU suggests that this will primarily come at the cost of staff on fixed-term contracts. Tying into this, the union have been campaigning for weeks to pass the ‘Corona Contract Motion’, explained as “a grass roots national campaign to extend all fixed term contracts in Higher Education for a minimum of two years in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.”.
In a bid to continue raising awareness about the vulnerability of casualised workers’ positions, as they have done so through previous aforementioned strike action, the #CoronaContract campaign seeks to do so in the midst of a global pandemic. Joined by UCUs at other universities including Birmingham, Manchester and Durham university, QMUCU are solely seeking security for casualised workers who are at greater risk following the Coronavrius outbreak- will the university comply?
As QMSU continue their campaign to furlough student-staff, it is worth keeping an eye on those other campaigns mentioned above, as they too certainly maintain that QMUL have some answering to do.