Cash Cows and Silent Elephants

A call from international students at Goldsmiths

Our position is that Goldsmiths is failing in its duty of care towards international students. We come to this conclusion through a variety of shared experiences. As international students, conflict and negotiation with Goldsmiths’ administration begins from the moment of admissions. At different stages we must deal with stringent visa requirements, payment of fees, the lack of funding and work opportunities within the university, and limited opportunities with regards to teaching possibilities and bursaries. We no longer want to regard these as issues that we as individual students must deal with, but rather as pointing to the systemic nature of the forces that plague the university system in the UK. We wish to reiterate that these are ongoing fundamental problems that have been made clearly visible through the pandemic. We believe that our concerns must be addressed collectively so that Goldsmiths’ egregious practices don’t continue as business as usual, impacting the most vulnerable amongst us. The university should not be an extension, let alone an intensification of Theresa May’s racist, ethno-nationalist hostile environment policies.  

We represent a body of scholars who are absent from the conversation around institutional racism, whose labour helps establish diversity as a branding strategy and asset for Goldsmiths. But their very access to higher-education at Goldsmiths is blocked via astronomical tuition fees for international students, inadequate bursaries and scholarships, and the UK’s discriminatory visa policies. These neo-liberal measures effectively impede lower-income students from the Global South who consider studying at Goldsmiths. Goldsmiths SMT’s continuous appeals to diversity remain tokenistic if these claims are not backed by substantive actions that support, both emotionally and financially, existing and new scholars. 

Goldsmiths’ Annual Reports and Financial Statements (2018-2019) illustrates the conflicting positions at the heart of the issue, which has implications for more than just international students. It clearly states that the budget deficit in the university is primarily tackled through increasing tuition fees (a “strategy of tuition fee growth”) on an annual basis. The financial plan shows that 24% of the university’s total income derives from its 18% international student body. Considering that a number of the casualised teaching staff are international PhD researchers themselves, Goldsmiths’ current actions to lay off its 472 temporary teaching contracts means cutting the income of those whose tuition fees are essential to the university’s survival. It is likely that Goldsmiths’ strategy to counteract its budget deficit and preserve its BIPOC staff would further increase tuition fees and aggravate restrictions for candidates from lower-income backgrounds, who are majority BIPOC home/EU students, or are based in the Global South. Without a structural adjustment to UK’s defunct education model institutional racism could only trickle down from staff to students or vice versa. Education in the UK (legacy of Tony Blair’s third-wayist government) is a vicious circle: To enroll more students, to extract more tuitions, to offset universities’ operating costs, to meet the target that allows universities to raise their tuition. 

We write this letter to reach out to other international students across Goldsmiths. We hope to connect in order to find ways to share experiences and assemble together. Some initial shared concerns include: 

  • The situation of international students who were left without adequate support, finances, food and housing security during the lockdown
  • Inappropriate and threatening letters from Fees, debt-collection agencies, Credit Control (including reporting students to the home office) demanding immediate payment of tuition during the lockdown 
  • The lack of advice and contradictory communication about basic services such as implementation of payment plans, questions on visas, and how to access healthcare 
  • Leveraging of exorbitant fees for compromised educational programs during the lockdown, especially with regards to practice-based degrees
  • The loss of income opportunity due to Goldsmiths canceling Associate Lecture and Graduate Teacher Trainee positions 
  • Unclear status of future annual bursaries in some departments, initially promised to international students to curtail exorbitant tuitions. 
  • Lack of active outreach for funding for scholarships or active institutional commitment to reallocate budgets towards scholarships for students from the Global South. 
  • The current role and mode of communication of the Immigration Advisory Service as one that polices students, rather than a body that enables and supports them. 
  • The control the Home Office asserts over higher education, rendering students disposable outside their capacity to pay fees (for example, by making post-study visas extraordinarily difficult) 
  • The continous abuse of diversity rhetorics in UK’s structurally gentrified educational model due to the reasons mentioned above

As we start this process, we recognize that our positions as international students are not all the same. We are simultaneously advantaged and disadvantaged in different ways. Sometimes these differences prevent the creation of common grounds of debate and engagement with the university.  But collectively we hope our desires for a different type of university align with the ongoing, long-standing, and important groups engaging the university on multiple fronts: the anti-casualisation campaign, GARA (Goldsmiths Anti-Racist Action), Goldsmiths Housing Action group, Justice for Workers, the Goldpaper, and many organizing groups that emerged out of the the previous and most recent strike. 

Please show your support with international students by signing this call.


Title reference taken from Stuart Tannock, “Educational Equality and International Students: Justice Across Borders?” (2018), Palgrave: London