This Saturday 19 November we will be marching with students, education workers and supporters from around the country. This demo is one part of the movement we need to defeat the government’s brutal attacks on education. To build that movement and win, we need to be crystal clear about our demands – to reverse the cuts to maintenance funding, stop the cuts to colleges, and stop the higher education reforms. And about how we demand a free, universally accessible, democratic education system should be built – by taxing the rich and taking the banks under democratic control. Read on to find out more – and please share! On Saturday, you can help NCAFC spread the word by finding our stall at the assembly point to get involved in distributing bulletins and placards.
Grants Not Debt!
The government has now replaced maintenance grants with additional loans. This divisive, toxic policy saddles the poorest students with immense amounts of debt. The Tories have gone through with their destructive, anti-working class politics despite evidence that maintenance grants improve access and that debt deters students from higher education. But we won’t let them win!
Maintenance grants have been scrapped (1998) and won back (2004) in the past, and we can do this again. We will have to employ a range of tactics, from lobbying to direct action, with examples including the #GrantsNotDebt Westminster Bridge blockade in January and the NUS National Demo on November 19th. If students and workers come together on the streets and beyond, we can put enough pressure on the government that we will win the reintroduction of maintenance grants.
This victory is the first step in a wider aim though. Winning back maintenance grants will be a huge victory and will improve access for millions of students, but it is still not enough to guarantee a truly accessible education system. We must push on further. Our aim should be this: living grants for all students, with everyone getting enough to have a decent standard of life, as a part of a free, liberated and democratic education system.
To move forward we need to redouble our efforts – building the movement by convincing more and more people of our positive alternative to the Tories’ attack. The idea of a workable free education system is being developed by individual campaigners on the ground, by free education activists groups such as NCAFC, and now by the largest political party in the UK, the Labour Party. Collectively, we have the strength knowledge and potential for action to win back maintenance grants through the #grantsnotdebt campaign and build the type of education system we want. To do this, we must fight together.
Stop the college cuts!
Since 2010 we’ve seen massive cuts in further and adult education spending and, according to trade unions and a leading King’s College London report, we’re now on a rapid road to the systematic obliteration of further education.
In 2010, the Coalition government scrapped Educational Maintenance Allowance (EMA), the only support on offer for the poorest further education (FE) students. Since then, a stream of assaults on FE college funding have resulted in devastating cuts to jobs, courses and provision. Last year, the adult education budget was cut by a catastrophic 24%, and English for Speakers of Another Language (ESOL) classes by £45 million. With yet more funding set to be withdrawn, as many as 40% of colleges could close.
The services being cut are disproportionately relied upon by working class people, those returning for a second chance at education, and migrants – especially migrant women – seeking to learn the language. And education workers are suffering too, with swathes of redundancies, and those left behind pressed to work ever harder for less money.
The government had been seeking to organise the implementation of these cuts through the “Area Reviews”, pushing a series of closures and big mergers in England, and narrowing curricula down to serve the diktats of business leaders rather than the ambitions and interests of students. A similar process was already implemented in Scotland in 2011 and nearly halved the number of colleges there.
Now the government has suspended the reviews, but the cuts are still coming, making the future even murkier as the cuts will be implemented even more haphazardly.
We remain firm that there is no “good” way to organise these cuts. Our demand is to reverse all the funding cuts, and then go further, boosting funding in order to expand provision instead of cutting it. We will keep campaigning for properly-funded colleges, freely accessible to all, working together as a coherent public service instead of competing in a market, with decent financial support for students and well-paid, secure jobs for workers. And with a newly radical official opposition party in Corbyn’s Labour offering us the opportunity to think big, we aim to develop and fight for the vision of an integrated, democratic, cradle-to-grave National Education Service. To stand a chance, we urgently need to organise and build democratic, grassroots, militant unionisation of students and staff in colleges.
Stop the HE reforms!
English universities are currently facing the most far-reaching and potentially disastrous set of higher education (HE) reforms in decades. If the reforms go through, student debt will rise, our teachers will be put under even more pressure, and private companies will be given a free pass to take over from and profit from public universities driven to collapse.
The flagship proposal is the “Teaching Excellence Framework” (TEF). Government claims that this is about putting teaching on a par with research in universities. However, this hides the fact that none of the TEF metrics (student satisfaction, graduate employment and dropout rates) directly measure teaching quality. They also tell us little about how teaching could be improved.
It also hides the fact that the imbalance between research and teaching has been driven by the aggressively-implemented Research Excellence Framework (REF), which has placed extreme levels of stress on academics. Both REF and TEF should be abandoned.
TEF is really about fees. Universities that perform well on TEF will be given the power to raise fees in line with (and in the near future, above) inflation. Universities that rank low on TEF will see their budgets continue to stagnate, as they are forced to keep their fees at £9,000 while inflation and costs rise. Without extra funding from government, university bosses will cut corners, slash wages, and close courses.
The Home Office have also made veiled threats towards international students. “Poorly performing” universities may have their international student numbers capped. These reforms will put universities like London Met on the brink of collapse.
Private companies will be given a free pass to capitalise on the closure of public universities like London Met. This is a continuation of reforms since 2012, when private providers were given access to the same, tax-payer subsidised, funding as public universities. These private providers offered courses with unacceptably high drop-out rates; thousands of young people, exploited for profit, had their dreams dashed. Millions of pounds of public money was wasted. Now the government want to relax regulations on these profiteers.
The HE reforms are deeply undemocratic. They will continue to shut students out of major decisions about higher education, instead favouring the input of businesses. Government have proposed a new “Office for Students”, which will have significant power in overseeing funding and university accreditation. With breath-taking hubris they have announced there will be no student representation.
We oppose these reforms outright. As government is taking a sledgehammer to public higher education, so we must take a sledgehammer to their reforms.
We want an education system free from fees and debt, accessible to everyone, and democratically controlled by students and education workers. In short, we want education for human flourishing.
Money doesn’t grow on trees: tax the rich and nationalise the banks!
Free, decently-funded education, grants, and paying education workers good wages, won’t come cheap. And as right-wingers like to remind us, money doesn’t grow on trees! We don’t want to increase the burden on ordinary people already struggling to pay the rent. So how are we going to pay for all this?
We’re told our society is short on cash. But this is a lie. Our society is extremely rich, but grossly unequal. The average FTSE 100 CEO’s income is 160 times that of the average worker. Half the world’s wealth lies in the hands of 1% of the population. And it was the rest of us, working for them every day, who generated that wealth.
Let’s put some of it to better use. We can fund free education by imposing serious redistributive taxes on the incomes, assets and businesses of the rich.
But this will only scratch the surface. If we’re serious about building a cradle-to-grave National Education Service – and creating an accountable economy, serving people not profit, with decent jobs, homes and healthcare for everyone – then we need to put the banks under democratic control.
The basic purpose of a banking system is to hold money while its owners aren’t using it and put it to work in the economy through investment and lending. So it has immense power to shape the economy through investment decisions – and, through short-termist profit-driven decisions, to plunge the rest of us into financial crises – while also providing personal services like savings accounts and mortgages.
Just like railways, healthcare or education, there’s no good reason why something so essential and powerful should be run according to what maximises private owners’ profits, instead of for social good. Especially after we funded a £850 billion bail-out! By taking these immense reserves of wealth and economic power into the hands of the many, we can choose democratically to invest in developing public services like Corbyn’s National Education Service, and in creating jobs and homes. We can orchestrate converting a climate-destroying fossil fuel economy into a sustainable infrastructure for the future. In short, we’ll have the tools needed to fundamentally transform society for the better.