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Tory “Teaching Excellence” in action: UoM cites TEF as motivation for massive cuts

Manchester students & staff protest cuts to catering jobs last year

Manchester students & staff protesting cuts to catering jobs last year

Just days after the passage of the Conservatives’ higher education reforms through Parliament, the University of Manchester has announced plans to axe 140 academic jobs and 31 support roles, placing 926 workers at risk. You can read the UCU trade union’s press announcement about the cuts here.

UoM isn’t facing a financial crisis. In 2015-16 the university made a £59.7m surplus, and it holds reserves of £1.5bn (including £430m in immediately available cash). They have also cited Brexit and economic uncertainty as creating a need to expand what they call their their “financial headroom”. Yet their headroom is already substantial and their most recent financial statements say that there are “no material uncertainties” posing a threat to their ability to stay afloat. The UCU has called this out as opportunism – university managers are using wider events as excuses to make these cuts.

Sackings on this scale are unprecedented for a UK university in good financial health. So why are they doing this?

UoM’s managers (including the Vice-Chancellor who was paid £296,000 as of last year) have cited the HE Bill passed by Parliament just 2 weeks ago. They say they can raise their score in the Teaching Excellence Framework by cutting staff and student numbers. As the UCU branch put it: “the aim is to become a smaller but more elite university, regardless of the costs to staff or the impact on students from disadvantaged backgrounds”.

This is a damning indictment of the government’s reforms, and a sign of things to come if we don’t reverse them. Universities are being incentivised to reshape themselves, not to benefit students, workers or communities, but to game TEF ratings and play the market.

Workers and students at Manchester are already gearing up to stop these cuts in their tracks. NCAFC sends its solidarity, and in the weeks and months to come we’ll be ready to take action to support them. At the same time, we’ll keep up the fight to reverse these ruinous reforms before they can do any more damage.

Job losses and privatisation at the University of Manchester

university-place1By Jess Patterson, University of Manchester UCU Exec & NCAFC Postgrad Research rep, originally posted on the Fighting Against Casualisation in Education site.

Currently in Manchester the three campus Unions, UCU, Unite and Unison, are mobilising to take action against management over the announcement of hundreds of potential compulsory redundancies. After a huge cross-union meeting on Tuesday the 11th of August, this is the situation as it currently stands.

A basic summary

The University of Manchester is in the process of making a growing number of staff redundant – over 250 workers have been told that they are ‘at risk’ of compulsory redundancy, on statutory terms. At the same time, the University is attempting unilaterally to push through a change in the Redeployment Policy (the system whereby eligible staff, whose jobs are being altered, can apply for vacancies elsewhere in the university) so that in future people will no longer be able to remain on the Register until an alternative position can be found for them. Instead anyone who has been on the Register for three months will face compulsory redundancy.

The situation in Manchester has several complicated factors, including questions of trade union procedure and quality impact assessments, with the disproportionate effect of the changes on BME and disabled members of staff being of particular concern. It also has some interesting implications for the prospects of increased out-sourcing and the casualisation of academic work. The aggressive erosion of job security that the restructuring plan represents will make it much easier for the University to get rid of unwanted members of staff whenever such cost-saving initiatives demand it.

Is there a Dispute?

Bizarrely, despite UCU’s insistence and several huge cross-union meetings, the University itself is refusing to recognise this as an official dispute, on the basis that any redundancy made would be ‘in line with existing University policies and processes’. The University has even announced that the consultation process is now concluded, while UCU has released a statement that it does not consider any meaningful consultation to have taken place.

This position ignores the fact that the willingness to use compulsory redundancies and the proposed changes to Redeployment represent a dramatic change in the University’s approach. In the past Manchester has always ruled out compulsory redundancies in an effort to reduce costs or achieve organisational change, even when the University has been going through significant financial challenges or large-scale restructuring such as the merger with UMIST in 2004. Such a measure has always been regarded inappropriate to a University setting, on the basis that the resulting atmosphere would damage the culture of a higher education institution; in particular, collegiality, academic freedom and job security.

So far the University has not shown any willingness to consult or negotiate meaningfully with the Trade Unions. In fact in several instances UMUCU was only informed of major decisions affecting their members after they had been made. In one particularly telling incident Union reps were only given 38 minutes notice of a major change of circumstances prior to an “informal” meeting with management. Before the meeting, due to take place at 11am, Trade Unions received notification at 10.22am, that 219 IT staff were now at risk (with 68 redundancies ultimately being sought), and were informed that the scheduled “informal” meeting would in fact mark the start of formal collective consultations. They were also informed that the announcement would be made to IT staff at a meeting later the same day at 3pm.

UCU thus holds that this rapid escalation of the dispute constitutes a breach of the Recognition and Procedure agreements between the Union and the University, amounting in essence to the de facto de-recognition of the campus Trade Unions. No doubt this unprecedented level of hostility is linked to the general threat to Trade Union activity, proposed by Sajid Javid’s Trade Union Bill. As campaigns such at The ‘Right to Strike’ have been highlighting, such a climate has created a situation in which the power of union activity seems almost inevitably diminished. In Manchester, the timing of the threat seems to further prompt cynicism as to the university’s motives.

Re-structuring and the threat of encroaching casualisation

Such moves also represent a risk to academic workers, with the increased threat of out-sourcing. In the past, when Schools have been closed or restructured, academic staff have been accommodated into new structures and have generally been allowed to pursue their research interests. In future, re-structuring schemes such as the model currently being imposed in IT could be applied to academic departments, with the same result of compulsory redundancies. As in the case of Trade Union disputes, such a prospect is made more likely by the current political climate. Minister for Universities and Science, Jo Johnson’s, proposed TEF (Teaching in Excellence Framework) and its accompanying metrics of graduate earnings makes the threat to certain departments seem all the more imminent. Just like in some cases following the assessment of the REF (Research in Excellence framework) management may target staff whose research is not within arbitrary ‘priority’ areas, or which is currently unfashionable, or, in the case of the TEF, whose students simply do not go on to high-earning careers. These changes make a move in that direction both more feasible and more likely.

Another potential threat is the increased and very likely use of out-sourcing in the case of re-structures like this one. In a cross-union meeting this week, staff from other areas of the University explained how the end result of similar re-shuffles had been the increasing use of agency staff to plug the gaps where staff, now made redundant, would have been working. This seems a very likely outcome in the case of IT, where 68 redundancies is the stated target, without sign of a significant reduce in work-load. Moreover, the disproportionate targeting of mid-career, middle-aged staff, suggests an increasing separation between senior posts and agency-covered work.

This is the sort of work-force pattern that schemes like Warwick’s Teach Higher out-sourcing model proposed, which separated permanent staff and researchers for agency employed teaching staff, on a much lower wage. Thus, although not necessarily apparent at first, such changes do represent a considerable threat to early-career researchers and teachers. Unlike staff employed on a permanent or ‘core-funding’ basis, those on fixed term contracts or contracts based on fixed-term funding are already in a precarious position. In that sense these changes may not immediately threaten them. However, this is also precisely the group aspiring to attain those mid-career posts that are currently being erased. These sorts of changes are aimed at undermining long-term job-security and in effect threaten all those ‘more secure’ permanent positions with the University that already casualised workers are demanding.

What’s going to happen next?

The cross-union meeting concluded that it was now time for staff and students to collectively put pressure on the University to take the dispute and the need for negotiation seriously. There will be several days of action, both leading up to and during Welcome week. The Unions are also currently conducting a survey to test the appetite for industrial action, with the likelihood of calling for action short of a strike, unless management significantly changes its stance.

Grass-roots organisations, such as FACE have been quick to notice the wider ramifications of such changes, hence the effective response of the local campaign group ‘hourly paid at Warwick’ against Teach Higher. Recent developments at Manchester, however, demonstrate how this fight is far from over. Those concerned with the marketisation of Higher Education and its damaging effects on the labour force, ought to watch the developments at this Russell-group university closely. There is increasing evidence that similar things are happening in different ways across different campuses. It is, therefore, essential that we are able to view these various attacks as inter-connected. By linking activists across the country we can go some way to achieving this.

 

Boycott the NSS: Winning the Arguments

boycott the nss to stop the HE reforms

This is a toolkit for SU officers and student activists who are currently running or thinking about running NSS boycott campaigns. Hopefully, it will help you win the arguments on your campus. Please share it widely and get in touch in NCAFC if you have any other questions!

Some links

Why boycott?

The NSS is one of the key metrics used in the government’s Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF), a scheme of ranking universities Gold, Silver or Bronze according to extremely flawed criteria. The TEF is central to a set of recent reforms designed to turn universities into businesses and students into consumers, putting profit before education. It is also linked to fee increases: the idea behind the framework was that the top scoring universities would be allowed to become more expensive than those with lower scores. In 2016, NUS passed policy to boycott the survey until the recent higher education reforms are withdrawn.

But hasn’t the government promised to freeze tuition fees?

In short, the Tories’ policy on higher education is currently a complete mess. Last October, Theresa May’s announcement that tuition fees would be frozen at £9,250 and not go up with inflation took many people by surprise. This included the education secretary and the universities minister, who were not consulted over the idea. May’s speech was followed by speculation across the sector. Is the freeze for one year or more? What does this mean for the TEF? None of this was ever clarified. May also vaguely mentioned that the Tories were working on a review of HE funding, whatever that means. In the summer, the idea was also floated that low-scoring universities could be forced to cut fees (without replacing the income with public funding), which would mean even more campus cuts and even more underperforming institutions losing resources. There has been no guarantee that fees will stay frozen or be delinked from the TEF. There’s clearly an appetite amongst government figures to introduce differential fees and the TEF is a tool which will allow them to do so. Let’s not trust them.

It’s also important to remember that the NSS boycott is about much more than just fees. It is about resisting marketisation in higher education. Even if fees don’t go up, the TEF and marketisation will have a harmful effect on students, staff, and education.

What’s wrong with marketisation?

Marketisation isn’t just an abstract concept and a buzzword thrown around by student lefties. It has real-life consequences. When universities are forced to compete with one another for income and places in nonsensical league tables, they save money on staff and student services, and cut courses that don’t bring in enough cash. They invest in marketing and spend millions on shiny buildings that look good in a prospectus, but don’t actually improve education.

The TEF is already leading to job cuts and course closures, as universities jump through hoops to score highly in the metrics without regard for students or workers. To give just one example, the University of Manchester cited changes in HE policy when they announced cuts to hundreds of staff.

We need to fight back or your tutors could be next.

Hasn’t the NSS been removed as a TEF metric?

No. Some changes to the TEF have indeed been introduced as a result of the boycott: the weighting of NSS has been halved and institutions affected by the campaign are allowed to participate in the TEF without NSS data, if they can prove that students took part in the boycott. However, the NSS is still a TEF metric and an important tool in the Tory marketisation agenda. The rhetoric of “student feedback” and “student choice” was used to legitimise the implementation of these reforms in the first place. The more students withdraw their feedback, the stronger our voice against them.

The recent changes to the TEF were only introduced to put students off boycotting. They show that the government is scared and that the boycott is working.

Will boycotting the NSS negatively affect my SU?

Universities use all kinds of dodgy tactics to stop unions from boycotting the NSS, from intimidating officers to threatening to cut funding. However, as far as we know, none of the unions that took part in last year’s boycott were actually penalised. If management threatens your SU with cuts, the best thing to do is go public about it. The university has no interest in cutting funding that is spent on your baking society or rugby club – can you imagine how many people that would piss off if they found out?

Sometimes every SU will have to make decisions the university doesn’t like – this is the whole point of unions being independent, rather than just another department of the university. Universities trying to regulate what SUs can and cannot campaign on is a free speech issue, and NUS NEC passed policy to defend by any means necessary SUs’ right to boycott.

Some officers are worried that taking part in the boycott will damage their relationship with the university. However, it is naive to think that university management will do anything that benefits students just because they are personally friendly with a 20-year-old who won a sabb election. Moreover, if a sabbatical officer drops a campaign that is in the interest of students just to preserve their “good relationship” with the university, then they are not doing their job well and need to be held to account.

Will boycotting the NSS negatively impact my course/institution?

No. Both NUS and the academic staff union UCU have policy to support the boycott. (Your lecturers are most likely asking you to fill in the NSS not because they care about the survey, but because the university is making them promote it.) The boycott is a national campaign of which both the university and the government are aware. Low response rates will not be used against individual institutions.

Some courses, like this one, have released public statements and contacted the university to tell them they are boycotting the NSS, and that low response rates should not be used against staff. Do the same.

However, what almost certainly will negatively affect your institution is the TEF. If it scores Gold, then it will become more elitist and possibly more expensive. If it scores Bronze, then it will risk losing its reputation and funding, and having to make cuts. It’s a lose-lose situation, so maybe it’s better just not to fill out that bloody survey.

But i want to give feedback!

There are many ways to give feedback on your course. You can use the course rep system and unit evaluations, email your tutor or department directly, and get involved in your students’ union to launch campaigns that are more likely to achieve meaningful change. Most students get constantly bombarded by surveys from their university – do you really want to fill out yet another one?

The NSS reduces your “feedback” to a simplistic 1-5 scale, which provides no meaningful information to universities. Many in the sector acknowledge that NSS scores are basically junk data: even the Royal Statistical Society has spoken out against the survey’s fundamental flaws. What’s more, studies have shown that, due to unconscious bias, courses with women and BME academics tend to get lower scores. This is especially worrying because NSS results are often used to victimise staff.

Do boycotts work?

This is not an individualistic consumer boycott. It is a collective action endorsed by the National Union of Students and a number of students’ unions across the country. In many ways, it is more like a strike. Universities rely on the NSS as part of the machinery driving their profit-making agenda and we as students power the NSS. If we stop filling in the NSS, then the machinery grinds to a halt and their plans are disrupted.

The boycott itself is not enough to stop and overturn the government’s reforms. This is why NCAFC and activists who work with us have been organising local and national demonstrations. Likewise, we have held discussions and rallies on campuses, written articles in the press, and influenced the debate on higher education policy in a number of other ways. However, the NSS is the only metric in the TEF over which we have direct control and disrupting it gives us leverage.

Last year, the boycott engaged tens of thousands of students. It was probably the most widely reported NUS campaign in the media and was mentioned during Parliamentary debates. It led to the government having to announce a fee freeze, hoping it would put us off boycotting and campaigning. It hasn’t.

Time and time again, history has shown that collective action works. However, if you think your actions won’t change anything, why would filling in the NSS do anything for you? You are only asked *not* to do something. Spend those 20-odd minutes of your life doing anything else: make yourself a cup of tea, paint your nails, call your mum. Don’t spend them providing free labour to the Tories to drive their marketisation agenda.

 

NUS NEC Votes to Continue the NSS Boycott

NCAFC activists on NUS NEC submitted a motion to the last meeting, committing NUS to immediately release a statement reaffirming support for the NSS boycott, provide resources for unions to promote the boycott and actively defend every SU facing threats of funding cuts.

Full text of the motion:

Notes:

  • Over the past year, the government introduced a series of reforms to higher education.
  • At their heart is the Teaching Excellence Framework which ranks universities Bronze, Silver and Gold according to a set of metrics including the National Student Survey (NSS) and graduate earnings.
  • The HE reforms and TEF are already causing job cuts in multiple universities, for example in Manchester where over 100 redundancies have been announced, explicitly citing changes to HE policy as a reason. Previous moves towards marketisation since 2010 have also contributed towards recent job cuts.
  • In 2016, NUS National Conference passed a policy to boycott the NSS until the TEF is scrapped and the HE reforms are withdrawn.
  • In at least 12 institutions, NSS response rates dropped below 50% as a result of the boycott, making the results unusable. In many others, response rates have also fallen significantly.
  • The boycott was widely reported in the media and mentioned in parliamentary debates around the Higher Education and Research Act.
  • In 2017, Theresa May announced that tuition fees for the following academic year would not go up. However, there has been no guarantee that the freeze will continue for future years or that TEF and fees will be delinked.
  • The NSS itself has been discredited as a measure of teaching quality, including by the Royal Statistical Society. Its results have also been proven to reflect racial bias.
  • In August, over 70 student activists, SU officers and NUS committee members signed an open letter committing to running NSS boycott campaigns on their campuses and calling on NUS to lead the campaign nationally
  • Last year, some students unions did not participate in the boycott out of fear of a funding cut.

 

Believes:

  • TEF not only does not adequately measure teaching quality, it is a threat to higher education as we know it and needs to be resisted by any means available to us.
  • TEF means universities are chasing metrics and not meaningfully improving standards for students or staff.
  • Successful NSS boycott campaigns at multiple universities forced TEF and wider higher education policy onto the national agenda.
  • The NSS boycott contributed towards the government temporarily severing the link between TEF and tuition fees.
  • The government’s efforts to limit the effects of the boycott, by halving the weight of NSS as a metric and using data from previous years in institutions where response rates fall below 50%, are meant to discourage students from boycotting the survey. This shows that the leverage is effective and the student movement cannot afford to give up.
  • The government and university managers need NSS results not only to implement the TEF, but to manage the already-existing marketisation of the university system. By refusing to fill it out, we can therefore disrupt their business and gain leverage that helps students push them to concede to our campaign.
  • To keep up the pressure on the government, the NSS boycott needs to continue, as part of a wider campaign against TEF, the HE reforms and marketisation.
  • NUS still has a democratic mandate to lead on the boycott and the wider campaign against marketisation.
  • NSS turnout or results should never be tied to SU funding. Such blackmail from some universities is a despicable attack on union autonomy. It is a duty of NUS to defend any SU that receives threats of funding cuts because of participating in the national campaign.

 

Resolves:

  • To release a statement and contact every HE union in NUS reaffirming NUS’ support for the NSS boycott.
  • To provide resources for SUs, including flyers promoting the NSS boycott and a toolkit on running an effective boycott campaign.
  • To campaign for union funding not to be tied to NSS and to work with and support every SU that faces threats of funding cuts in relation to the NSS. Political blackmail through block grant cuts is a concern to all SUs, so we must respond with solidarity: we will support and help build action up to and including mobilising demonstrations on affected campuses if appropriate.

 

 

Opinion: Back the NSS Boycott 2018!

to do boycottBy Dan Davison, NCAFC & UCU activist

The Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) is yet another perverse step in the marketization of education. It attempts to create an artificial state of competition between institutions by ranking them according to such metrics as graduate earnings, graduate employment, and – of course – the National Student Survey (NSS). The first ‘Gold’, ‘Silver’, and ‘Bronze’ rankings under these metrics were awarded just this year. Whilst these naturally were met with celebration by many a Vice-Chancellor and plastered proudly across many a University website, let’s not pretend that those rankings actually mean anything. Let’s not pretend that we can measure the quality of teaching a student receives from a combination of (1) whether they have a high-paying job after they graduate, and (2) the responses provided on a statistically suspect survey, subject to all the unconscious biases inherent in such a means of gauging opinion. Let’s not pretend that chasing metrics in the name of customer satisfaction is an acceptable substitute for systematically improving the material conditions of workers and students on campus.

The fight against the TEF and the wider Higher Education reforms must resume in earnest. We have already seen their first devastating effects in the mass cuts to jobs at such universities as Manchester and Southampton. This is why I welcome the calls to continue and build upon the NSS Boycott. The boycott is one of the few means through which the National Union of Students (NUS) can bring leverage to the bargaining table. By effectively sabotaging one of the metrics upon which the TEF is built, we show how flimsy and void of truth those metrics really are. We in the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts (NCAFC) have long argued that the NUS should behave like a true union: one that fights boldly for the collective interests of its members without caving into class-collaborationism. Right now, the boycott is the closest thing we have to an NUS industrial action. It presents a rare opportunity to link a national strategy against the marketization of education with rank-and-file activism.

Last year, we made our first dent. As a result of the boycott, we made the NSS results unusable in at least 12 different institutions by dropping the survey response rates below 50%. Already the government is trying to outmanoeuvre us by giving the NSS results less weighting in the TEF’s metrics, yet that very move shows us how little is needed to shake the foundations of their framework. Put simply, if the 26 students’ unions who organised boycotts last year were able to throw a spanner in the works, imagine how many gears we could grind to a halt if we pushed the campaign even further! When the NUS National Conference passed its policy to boycott the NSS in 2016, it was to be until the TEF is abolished and the Higher Education reforms are withdrawn. Those demands remain every bit as vital now as they were then. Until they are met, the boycott must continue and we in NCAFC should proudly spearhead it into 2018. Across the country, our activists should be organising to pass motions in students’ unions and promote the boycott at the grassroots level.

I appreciate that the road before us is uncertain. We have seen the ascent of the right within the NUS. We have seen how little we can rely on the NUS leadership to back street-level activism. We have seen reactionary students’ unions breaking rank to ‘boycott the boycott’ in the name of localism and cosying up to senior management. Yet if we, as the standard-bearers of the left in the student movement, cannot lead by example, then who can? To those who fear that all the scabs and right-wingers obstructing us at every stage will surely secure our defeat, have we not always done what we do ‘though cowards flinch and traitors sneer’? Yes, it will be a tough fight. But by building bonds of solidarity with the countless students, education workers, and others who recognise the TEF as yet another shameless attempt to bend a public good into the warped shape of a market system, we can spread word of our cause to even further corners and form an effective force in our own right. Let these words ring into the New Year, even louder and clearer than before: ‘Boycott the NSS!’

NSS Boycott 2018: SU model motion

boycott-the-nss

This is a model motion that activists can pass through their students’ union to mandate support for the 2018 NSS boycott. If you want any support running an NSS boycott campaign on your campus, get in touch with us via [email protected]!

 

This union notes:

  1. Over the past year, the government introduced a series of reforms to higher education. [1]
  2. At their heart is the Teaching Excellence Framework which ranks universities Bronze, Silver and Gold according to a set of metrics including the National Student Survey (NSS) and graduate earnings. [2]
  3. The HE reforms and TEF are already causing job cuts in multiple universities, for example in Manchester where over 100 redundancies have been announced, explicitly citing changes to HE policy as a reason. Previous moves towards marketisation since 2010 have also contributed towards recent job cuts. [3]
  4. In 2016, NUS National Conference passed a policy to boycott the NSS until the TEF is scrapped and the HE reforms are withdrawn. [4]
  5. In at least 12 institutions, NSS response rates dropped below 50% as a result of the boycott, making the results unusable. In many others, response rates have also fallen significantly. [5]
  6. The boycott was widely reported in the media and mentioned in parliamentary debates around the Higher Education and Research Act. [6]
  7. In 2017, Theresa May announced that tuition fees for the following academic year would not go up. However, there has been no guarantee that the freeze will continue for future years or that TEF and fees will be delinked. [7]
  8. The NSS itself has been discredited as a measure of teaching quality, including by the Royal Statistical Society. Its results have also been proven to reflect racial bias. [8][9]

This union believes:

  1. TEF not only does not adequately measure teaching quality, it is a threat to higher education as we know it and needs to be resisted by any means available to us.
  2. TEF means universities are chasing metrics and not meaningfully improving standards for students or staff.
  3. Successful NSS boycott campaigns at multiple universities forced TEF and wider higher education policy onto the national agenda.
  4. The NSS boycott contributed towards the government temporarily severing the link between TEF and tuition fees.
  5. The government’s efforts to limit the effects of the boycott, by halving the weight of NSS as a metric and using data from previous years in institutions where response rates fall below 50%, are meant to discourage students from boycotting the survey. This shows that the leverage is effective and the student movement cannot afford to give up.
  6. The government and university managers need NSS results not only to implement the TEF, but to manage the already-existing marketisation of the university system. By refusing to fill it out, we can therefore disrupt their business and gain leverage that helps students push them to concede to our campaign.
  7. NSS turnout or results should never be tied to SU funding. We need to stand in solidarity with any SU that receives threats of funding cuts because of participating in the national campaign. Such blackmail from some universities is a despicable attack on union autonomy.
  8. To keep up the pressure on the government, the NSS boycott needs to continue, as part of a wider campaign against TEF, the HE reforms and marketisation.

This union resolves:

  1. To promote a boycott of NSS 2018 and in future years until the reforms are withdrawn. This may include:
    1. Refusing to promote the NSS or have any pro-NSS material with the SU logo on;
    2. Working with UCU to discourage NSS promotion by academics and encourage academics to actively provide information about the boycott to students;
    3. Promoting the boycott through posters, leafleting, door-knocking and social media, before the survey is released and throughout the time when it’s open;
    4. Taking part in national and local actions and demonstrations linked to the NSS boycott and the campaign against TEF, the Tory HE reforms and marketisation
  2. To call on other students’ unions to join the boycott – the bigger it grows, the stronger we are.
  3. To campaign against any link between NSS and SU block grants and actively support any union which receives threats from its university due to participation in the boycott.

NOTES

[1] https://services.parliament.uk/bills/2016-17/highereducationandresearch.html
[2] http://www.hefce.ac.uk/lt/tef/
[3] https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/may/10/university-of-manchester-to-axe-171-staff-amid-brexit-concerns
[4] https://www.theguardian.com/education/2016/apr/20/students-vote-to-sabotage-plans-to-rate-teaching-in-universities
[5] http://wonkhe.com/blogs/nss-boycott-2017/ 
[6] https://hansard.parliament.uk/Lords/2017-03-06/debates/1417811C-0D3C-4193-AB3E-C14687EB6D64/HigherEducationAndResearchBill
[7] https://www.timeshighereducation.com/news/student-finance-reforms-raise-questions-over-sector-funding-and-tef
[8] https://www.rss.org.uk/Images/PDF/influencing-change/2016/RSS-response-to-BIS-Technical-Consultation-on-Teaching-Excellence-Framework-year-2.pdf 
[9] https://www.timeshighereducation.com/news/biased-students-give-bme-academics-lower-nss-scores-says-study

University marketisation sparks brutal cuts

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By Ben Towse

Across the country, university bosses are announcing brutal cuts to jobs, courses and departments. Teesside has forced all of its professors to reapply for their own jobs and banned their trade union from a meeting to discuss it. Durham wants to recruit 4000 more students while cutting staff. The Open University plans to slash a quarter of its budget, meaning swathes of jobs, to pay for a “digital transformation” plan. Similar stories are coming from around the UK.

Why are these cuts happening? Many of these universities are in good financial shape, and the government has not recently cut overall funding. There are three common themes in their announced reasons.

First, gaming the new Teaching Excellence Framework, and its research counterpart: government-imposed hoop-jumping exercises, supposedly assessing “quality” in universities. Manchester’s bosses reckon they can raise their scores, and so their fees, by becoming a smaller but more “elite” university – by slashing workers’ livelihoods and students’ opportunities.

Second, 2011’s introduction of a deregulated student numbers market. Previously, universities had quotas of students they could take, creating stability. Now the Tory-Liberal drive to marketise education has meant student numbers fluctuate, and with them, income. Universities are scrambling for savings because recruitment has dropped, or cutting socially valuable courses that are less profitable, or cramming in students to take our fees without properly funding staff to support us.

Third, universities are facing financial instability as their investments, costs and so on are hit by wider economic turmoil.

We can fight these cuts locally. Even within these constraints, we can demand that universities prioritise students and staff, education and research, over managers’ six-figure salaries and marketing gimmicks. Already, University of the Arts London bosses were forced to back off job cuts by a campaign including a student occupation. More local campaigns are organising, and NCAFC is here to help – get in touch.

But we also need to join up, through NCAFC, for a national fight against the marketised system driving the cuts. Yes, we need to reverse the reforms that introduced the TEF and the student numbers market, and scrap fees. But we must go further. Education can never fulfil the needs of the many as long as it is provided through a patchwork of atomised selective institutions, each straining to stay afloat amid the buffeting forces of the market, many sharing the same turf, and all competing for students, funding, and scores in government assessments,.

Market chaos breeds inequality, restricts intellectual breadth, and is a fundamentally irrational way to organise education. We need a coherently joined-up, comprehensive, public education system, based on cooperation not competition. Provision should be planned democratically by students, staff and communities to fulfil social need, not determined by big business interests and market forces. Jeremy Corbyn’s proposal of a National Education Service offers a space to articulate and win that vision, but it’s up to us to flesh out the idea and fight for it.

NSS Boycott: Open letter to NUS Leadership

boycott-the-nss

The statement below is an open letter signed by a range of student activists and officers from across the country in relation to the NSS Boycott campaign and the role of NUS within that. If you wish to add your name to the letter then please send your name and position/affiliation to [email protected], or message our Facebook page.

We, the undersigned students’ union officers and student activists, are pledging to continue to promote the boycott of the National Student Survey (NSS) until the latest round of the Higher Education reforms is withdrawn. We are also calling on the NUS leadership, in particular Vice-President Higher Education Amatey Doku, to follow its democratic mandate from NUS National Conference 2016 to lead a national boycott of the survey.

The threat posed by recent government reforms should not be underestimated. The HE Reforms will not only raise the cost of tuition, but also include the introduction of the Teaching Excellence Framework and making it easier for more private providers to award degrees. While the campaign against the HE Bill last year won some important concessions, such as delaying the link between TEF and fees and stricter regulations of private companies entering the market, our demands have not been met. The results of these reforms, combined with previous waves of marketisation, can already be seen with dozens of campuses announcing job cuts (some, including University of Manchester, explicitly citing government reforms as the reason). Unless radical action is taken, we will see more course closures and job losses, an even more unequal education system and staff working conditions further deteriorating.

The NSS is a key metric in the TEF, which means student feedback is directly used to raise fees, close courses and damage education. It is also the one metric students have control over. Boycotting the survey is more than a symbolic act of protest – withdrawing data gives us leverage by affecting the framework the government needs to implement its reforms. This ensures that we don’t come to the negotiating table empty-handed. Without any collective action by students, our position in fighting the TEF and marketisation will be significantly weakened. We know that the 2017 NSS boycott invalidated survey results at 12 institutions, further throwing into doubt the legitimacy of TEF metrics and putting pressure on the government.

As the largest democratic body representing students across the UK, NUS is best placed to to co-ordinate the campaign and negotiate with the government on our behalf. And while the HE BIll has passed, the fight to stop fee rises and marketization is not over. We are calling on NUS to start building now for NSS boycott 2018 and to learn from last year’s experiences to make it bigger and more effective. We are also calling on other students’ unions to join our campaign – the larger it grows, the stronger we are.

Signed by:

Beth Douglas NUS LGBT+ Officer (Women’s Place)
Ana Oppenheim NUS NEC
Amelia Horgan NUS NEC
Aliya Yule NUS NEC
Sarah Gillborn NUS NEC
Sarah Lasoye NUS NEC
Hansika Jethnani NUS NEC, Arts SU Education Officer
Deej Malik-Johnson NUS NEC, Manchester SU Campaigns Officer
Nicoline Kure Aberdeen Uni Student Association Women’s Convener
Lewis Macleod Aberdeen Uni Students’ Association Communities Officer
Tam Wilson Abertay Students Association
Leah Kahn Arts SU Activities Officer
Sahaya James Arts SU Campaigns Officer
Rebecca Harrington Brookes Union Women’s Officer
Claudia Cannon Carmarthen East & Dinefwr Labour Youth Officer HE
Taylor McGraa Education Officer Goldsmiths Students Union
Josh Chown Guildford Labour Youth Officer
Georgie Spearing KCLSU Disabled Students’ Officer
Rahma Hussein KCLSU VP Activities & Development
Douglas Carr Kent Union Ethics Officer
Rory Hughes Liverpool Guild Vice President
Sara Khan Manchester SU BME Officer
Rob Noon Manchester SU Trans Officer
Tyrone Falls NCAFC National Committee
Charlie Porter NCAFC National Committee, Free Uni of Sheffield Activist
Maisie Sanders NCAFC National Committee
Andy Warren NCAFC National Committee
Shula Kombe NCAFC National Committee
Ben Towse NCAFC National Committee
Nathan Rogers NCAFC National Committee
Monty Shield NCAFC National Committee
Zoe Salanitro NCAFC National Committee
Clementine Boucher NCAFC National Committee, Rent Strike Activist
Zac Muddle NCAFC National Committee, Bristol Labour LGBT+ Officer
Anabel Bennett NCAFC National Committee, Rent Strike Activist
Alex Booth NCAFC National Committee
Alex Stuart NCAFC National Committee, Surrey Labour Students Chair
Finn Northrop Non Portfolio Officer UEA SU
Tanju Cakar NUS Disabled Studnets Committee (Open Place)
Vijay Jackson Ordinary Members’ Representative, Scottish Labour Young Socialists
Tom Zagoria Oxford Uni SU St Anne’s College Officer
Krum Tashev President Canterbury Christchurch Students Union
Natasha Barrett Royal Holloway SU President
Chris Townsend Sheffield SU Education Committee
Charlotte O’Neil Sheffield SU Education Committee Chair
Josh Berlyne Sheffield SU Education Committee Vice-Chair
Stuart McMillan Sheffield SU Education Officer
Sarah Mcintosh Sussex SU Postgraduate Education Officer
Aisling Murray Sussex SU Society & Citizenship Officer
Lulah Brady Sussex SU Undergraduate Education Officer
Grainne Gahan Sussex SU Welfare Officer
Ayo Olatunji UCL SU BME Officer
Mark Crawford UCL SU Postgrad Officer
Justine Canady UCL SU Women’s Officer
Dan Davidson UCU Surrey Branch Secretary 2016-2017
Gary Spedding Ulster University Students Union Student Activist
Laura Tidd Undergraduate Academic Officer Durham Students Union
Mason Ammar Undergraduate Education Officer Bristol Students Union
Belle Linford University of Birmingham Guild of Students Disabled Student’s Officer
Jamie Jordon UWE SU Education Officer
Connor Woodman Warwick For Free Education Student Activist
Emily Dunford Warwick SU Postgrad Officer
Hope Worsdale Warwick SU President
Rida Vaquas
Young Labour West Mids Rep of Momentum NCG, NCAFC National Committee
Danny Filer Labour Students London Regional Coordinator, UCL SU Labour President
Dimitri Cautain SOAS SU Co-President Welfare & Campaigns
Nisha Phillipps SOAS SU Co-President Democracy & Education
Halimo Hussien SOAS SU Co-President Equality & Liberation
Mehdi Baraka SOAS SU Co-President Activties & Events
Flo Brookes Sheffield SU Sports Officer
Santhana Gopalakrishnan Sheffield SU International Students’ Officer
Celeste Jones Sheffield SU Women’s Officer
Megan McGrath Sheffield SU Development Officer
Tom Brindley Sheffield SU Activities Officer

Teaching Excellence Framework Ranking Released

UCL students protesting TEF in December 2016

UCL students protesting TEF in December 2016

Today the rankings of the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) were released. TEF is at the heart of the ruinous Higher Education and Research Act (HE Act) that was voted into legislation in April 2017. It’s important to remember why as activists we have rejected the TEF and how we can fight the HE reforms.

What is TEF?

TEF was prompted by the government’s attempt to artificially create competition between institutions of higher education. While TEF is suppose to encourage “teaching excellence”, the framework itself does no such thing.

Two major metrics informing TEF are (1) employment rates & graduate earnings and (2) the National Student Survey

(NSS) results, neither of which have any relation to “teaching excellence”. Graduate earnings have nothing to do with the quality of teaching a student received, but rather how much businesses value a certain skill. This means we could see mass closures of arts and humanities courses, subjects viewed as less “marketable”.

The NSS has long been an ineffective tool for rating student satisfaction, but TEF exacerbates these consequences. Uni management will now be more incentivized to focus on gaming the NSS for positive feedback and pointing the blame at over worked staff members, rather than materially changing the conditions of students.

The main goal of TEF is to make sure that universities are providing skills that businesses want, so that they will be driven to invest in these unis. TEF will not make students consumers, but to make students a product to be bought by businesses.

What should we do?

NCAFC and others in the student movement must continue to reject TEF and the HE Act and fight for a free and liberated education.

We will surely see a rise in cuts and redundancies over the coming year. University of Manchester management have already made sweeping job cuts, citing the HE Act as the motivator.

We need to be ready to resist the destruction of our education. Remember that the link between TEF and fee rises was cut because of student backlash and we can do more. Spend this summer and autumn forming anti-cuts and free education groups on your campuses. If there are job cuts or course closures at your uni, use direct action to stop them. Pass a motion in your student union to boycott the NSS and if the motion doesn’t pass, campaign to boycott it anyway. Only through radical grassroots action can we stop the effect’s of TEF.

Motions for Summer Conference 2017 – amendments submission now open

17904344_1408909535835622_7626500089657334934_nIn the run-up to our 2017 Summer Conference, 17-18 June at University of the Arts London, members and affiliated groups have submitted the following motions about what NCAFC should be campaigning on and how the National Campaign should be run.

All members of NCAFC can submit amendments to these motions – just email them to [email protected] by midnight Thursday 15 June.

If you haven’t registered for conference yet, make sure you do (fill out the registration form) and book your transport today! You can find more info about what to expect via the Facebook event.



Motion 1: The outcome of the General Election

Proposer: NCAFC National Committee

This is a placeholder motion. The General Election falls after the motion deadline and before the amendments deadline, so you can submit motions – in standard motions format – responding to the election result as amendments to this.

Motion 2: Stop cuts and growing divisions in schools

Proposers: Alex Stuart, Ana Oppenheim, Maisie Sanders, Hansika Jethnani, Justine Canady, Alex Booth, Sahaya James

NCAFC Notes:

  1. Schools in England and Wales face cuts of up to £3bn by 2019-20.
  2. The cuts are taking place at the same time that a new generation of grammar schools, free schools, faith schools and academies are being funded.
  3. This underfunding will very probably lead to more teachers leaving the profession, placing an extra burden on an already stretched service.
  4. Particularly, we agreed to support campaigners at Forest Hill School, who are taking industrial action to fight cuts of over £1m.

NCAFC Believes:

  1. We should work with the trade unions and other campaigners to protect public services from cuts and privatisation.
  2. We should reaffirm our commitment to campaigning for a fully funded, publicly provided, democratically controlled, national education service.

NCAFC Resolves:

  1. To campaign against cuts to school budgets and seek to build links with the trade unions and other campaigners in achieving this aim.
  2. To encourage local young activists to participate in the campaign and engage with school students.
  3. To oppose new grammar schools, free schools, faith schools and academies and campaign for well resourced, adequately funded, non-academically selected, locally managed schools.

Motion 3: Organising young workers

Proposer: Workers’ Liberty Students

NCAFC Notes:

  1. British capitalists have driven down workers’ wages further and longer than at any time since the 19th Century.
  2. Almost a million workers – mostly young workers – are on zero hours contracts. Nearly as many are subject to spurious self-employment, of the kind common among “gig economy” workers such as Uber drivers or Deliveroo workers.
  3. The 2017 Labour Party manifesto has put the abolition of zero hours contracts (already a reality in France and New Zealand to name but two countries); and the demand of a £10/hour minimum wage, on the agenda for millions of workers in a new way. It has proved that these things are a possibility.

NCAFC Believes:

  1. That the pressures for a revolt over pay and working conditions, especially among young workers, are immense.
  2. That NCAFC should encourage and shape this revolt as far as we can.
  3. That ‘worker solidarity’, for student activists, should not only mean bringing solidarity from students to groups of workers in struggle: but it should also mean the understanding that millions of students are workers themselves and that it is our vocation, as activists, to organise them as workers and speed their revolt.

NCAFC Resolves:

  1. To build up an information hub on our website about struggles waged by young workers, or workers in the kinds of jobs that students commonly take.
  2. To build up as part of that hub a resource for activists wanting to know their rights at work and how to organise on the job.
  3. To encourage grassroots activists in FE institutions, but also HE institutions, to organise events around the demands for no more zero hours; £10/hour minimum wage and/or the themes of low-waged, insecure work and bullying bosses, and inspire and train themselves and others to organise on the job.
  4. To make it a given that the theme of workplace organising by and of student workers should occupy a space on the agenda of most of our national educational, political, and training events.

Motion 4: Rebuild the grassroots, fight university cuts across the country

Proposers: Alex Booth, Shula Kombe, Workers Liberty Students, Connor Woodman, Jasmine Simms, Tyrone Falls, Rida Vaquas, Chris Townsend, Hope Worsdale, Lily Mactaggart, Nathan Rogers, Stuart McMillan, Dan Smitherman, Ana Oppenheim, Demaine Boocock, Josh Berlyne, Hansika Jethnani, Sahaya James

NCAFC Notes:

  1. NCAFC was founded in 2009-2010 as a fighting coalition of grassroots education activist groups, with names like [Institution] Free Education, [Institution] Defend Education, [Institution] Occupation, or [Institution] Against the Cuts.
  2. In recent NCAFC conferences we have noted a decline in the number of campus-based Free Education activist groups, and we made reasonable adaptations in our methods and orientation to fit that context
  3. The Higher Education Reforms, heightened class struggle in campuses such as LSE, and sweeping job cuts at universities across the country have created the basis for a likely revival in campus activism
  4. Since the beginning of 2017 at least 10 UK universities have announced budget cuts which will lead to around 600 job losses, possibly more.
  5. At the University of Manchester, management explicitly cited the higher education reforms as a reason for cutting 171 jobs.
  6. The Free Education pledge in the Labour manifesto (in part a product of years of agitation on this point by the student left, led by NCAFC) has put arguments around free education and education as a public good back on the agenda in a big way.

NCAFC Believes:

  1. In response to a decline in campus activism, the previous national committee chose to re-orient NCAFC as a special interest group which would agitate for free education at a national level, in NUS, Labour, and the press, rather than organising serious mass actions ourselves.
  2. That there is no less need for direct action now than before: student debt is rising, cuts are still being made, privatisation continues to proliferate across various spheres of education.
  3. That there is definitely a basis in the new term for a revitalisation of campus grassroots activism in the NCAFC mould
  4. That NCAFC should take a conscious turn to rebuilding itself as a coalition of fighting grassroots groups.
  5. This means using our national reach to amplify the local struggles against job cuts and other education disputes such as the LSE Cleaners’ strike and rent strikes; and also intervene in those struggles to promote the development of grassroots activist groups
  6. That we should share NCAFC’s accumulated experience of grassroots organising to help local activists build up activist groups
  7. That we should combine the work of setting up local groups with a drive to convince already-existing grassroots activist groups of the NCAFC project –of the need to bring local education struggles together at the national level, to give the radical grassroots a political voice.
  8. That we shouldn’t be prescriptive about the precise forms that this local organising might take: namely, that some of these struggles will be led by activists in Labour Clubs, others in groups affiliated with the Greens, and others again with different names, backgrounds and political outlooks. We want to propose a united front to any and all groups involved in these struggles.

NCAFC Further Believes:

  1. There are three main factors driving these cuts: the removal of a cap on student numbers, the uncertainty caused by TEF, and the uncertainty caused by Brexit. In other words, these are at the razor’s edge of the marketisation agenda.
  2. NCAFC’s legitimacy comes from being a democratic grassroots organisation. These two things–a strong democracy and a strong grassroots–are inseparable.
  3. NCAFC’s strategy over the past year has had some success, particularly by pushing the NUS to organise a somewhat successful NSS boycott.
  4. However, it is also profoundly limited: the thorough trouncing of the Left at NUS National Conference this year demonstrated this, and the politics of the incoming leadership suggest that free education and confrontational action will not be at the top of the agenda.
  5. NCAFC needs to return to its roots and return to the grassroots. This will involve the hard work of building up local activist groups.

NCAFC Resolves:

  1. To make fighting these job cuts a strategic priority of the organisation over the coming months.
  2. To undertake all our preparatory work in the summer, and campaigning work in the new term, with the objective of discovering, meeting, training, building up and promoting democratic, regularly-functioning grassroots education activist groups, including in FE.
  3. To republish and replenish NCAFC’s literature on best practice in organising a local education activist group and consult widely about what kinds of support local groups need and want.
  4. To send NC members to travel to visit new or newly-contacted groups proactively, reimbursing travel and worrying about overall transport costs later.
  5. To have the NC do regular audits of where local education activist groups, or sympathetic Labour Clubs or other suitable bodies exist and what relations we have with them.
  6. To seek affiliations, and participation in our national events, of as many grassroots groups as possible
  7. To organise regional events where appropriate for fostering links with grassroots activists in a given area. And to mandate regional representatives to contact activists, students’ unions and trade unions on campuses affected by cuts, offering our support.

Motion 5: Making motions debates more accessible

Proposers: Hope Worsdale, Shula Kombe, Uma Kotwal, Clementine Boucher, Marie Dams, Connor Woodman, Josh Berlyne.

NCAFC believes:

  1. Currently, debates on motions at NCAFC conference take the format: speech for, speech against, and summation.
  2. This format does not encourage nuanced debates–even if extra rounds of speeches are granted–and encourages a confrontational, rather than comradely, style of debating.
  3. The speed with which motions are debated means that to engage properly, a lot of background knowledge is usually necessary.
  4. At last Winter Conference, a very small range of people got up to speak on motions, and those who did were overwhelmingly cis men.

NCAFC further believes:

  1. As an organisation we pride ourselves on being open, democratic, and encouraging a culture of free and healthy debate.
  2. Debate should be rigorous and incisive, but not needlessly confrontational.
  3. Debate should also be inclusive–it is important that everyone feels able to contribute to discussions and debates. That is a sign of a healthy democratic culture.
  4. There may be a number of reasons for lack of participation in debates on motions:
    1. People generally not feeling confident to speak publicly
    2. The confrontational style of debate being off-putting or anxiety-inducing
    3. Too much background knowledge being assumed, and not enough time to ask questions or make points around the topic which do not directly address the motion
  5. Changing the style of debate, by adding a section for questions and for “speeches around”–that is, speeches which are related to the motion but which are not clearly for or against–could alleviate some of the problems outlined above. Something similar to this format was used at Women & Non-Binary Conference last year, and was well-received.

NCAFC resolves:

  1. To change the format of debates to include questions and speeches around. As such, the format would be:
    1. Speech for
    2. Speech against
    3. Questions
    4. Possible extra round of speeches – at the chair’s discretion
    5. Speeches around – number of speeches taken is at the chair’s discretion
    6. Summation speeches

Motion 6: Stop the Labour Purge

Proposer: Surrey Labour Students

  1. We note that, at the 27 May Labour Students conference, the organisation’s Blairite leadership kept control of the organisation by expelling and excluding numerous left-wing Labour Clubs and activists from the event. This included suspending and excluding Surrey Labour Students explicitly on the grounds of its affiliation to NCAFC. They described NCAFC, absurdly but worryingly, as a “rival” organisation to Labour.
  2. This is an attack on the right and ability of Labour Clubs and Labour-supporting students to campaign for free education and other left-wing policies. It is also, clearly, part of the broader drive of the Labour Party machine to purge left-wing activists to undermine Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership and repress and disperse its left-wing membership. This has included members of socialist groups such as Workers’ Liberty and Socialist Appeal being expelled, as well as people who have left other left-wing parties including the Greens and Left Unity to join Labour. In the run-up to the previous Labour Students Council, the meeting was gerrymandered on a smaller scale by expelling individual left-wing delegates.
  3. Unfortunately, shamefully, some on the left, e.g. at the top of Momentum, have not only failed to fight these purges but even in some cases endorsed them. The day after the 27 May conference, after Momentum-affiliated left candidates lost elections by margins smaller than the number of excluded left delegates, Momentum Youth & Students committee embarked on an unconstitutional purge of its own membership through a snap vote, excluding those who have been purged from Labour and members of “democratic centralist” organisations.
  4. Many NCAFC members are Labour Party members; many are not; some are members of other parties. But given what has happened to Surrey Labour Students NCAFC has a direct self-interest in opposing and speaking up against the Labour purge; as well as a more general interest, as part of the grassroots anti-capitalist left, in fighting for rank-and-file democracy in the labour movement.
  5. Moreover, we recognise that the escalation of the purge, targeting NCAFC and attacking entire local groups, follows from and cannot be separated from earlier rounds of more limited purges against individual left-wingers. The bureaucracy felt able to escalate because it had been largely permitted to get away with earlier rounds. And if they get away with their latest moves, they may go further.
  6. We will do everything we can to oppose the persecution of the socialist left in the Labour Party and support our comrades who are active in the struggle against the purge and for Labour democracy.

Motion 7: A strategy for action to defend higher and further education

Proposers: Ana Oppenheim, Sahaya James, Ben Towse, Monty Shield, Maisie Sanders, Justine Canady, Zack Murrell-Dowson, Tyrone Falls, Omar Raii, Andrew Peak, Chris Townsend, Rida Vaquas, Alex Booth, Nathan Rogers, Alex Stuart, Savannah Sevenzo, Dan Smitherman

NCAFC Notes:

  1. This motion might need to be amended depending on the General Election results!
  2. The HE reforms passed through Parliament, though our campaign, including the NSS boycott, did extract some concessions, in particular tightening regulations on private universities and delaying the link between TEF and fee increases. We also raised the profile of these reforms and the harm they will cause.
  3. The major wave of local cuts announced on HE campuses across the country this year, driven by the pressures of the market forced on universities in successive rounds of marketisation – in particular the removal of controls on student numbers and the new TEF, as well as financial instability as universities are left exposed to wider economic turmoil.
  4. The ongoing myriad local battles over cuts in FE colleges, driven by the government’s brutal regime of budget reductions.
  5. Ideas of and support for free, public and funded education have gained prominence through the General Election campaign and NES.

NCAFC Believes:

  1. It’s NCAFC’s job to help local grassroots campaigns develop and take action against these cuts at the campus level, and to link them to the fight against the cuts and government reforms at a national level that are the root cause of the local problems – which means linking up the local campaigns and acting as a platform for national-level action.
  2. There are striking similarities between current events and the situation in 2009-10 when NCAFC formed to give a national voice to local campaigns against campus cuts driven by government policy – but this time we have the benefit of 7 years of experience, and it’s up to us to apply that experience to make today’s fightback even more powerful.
  3. We have a responsibility to raise the political level – to show people the root causes of the local issues they are facing, and to offer a convincing and inspiring alternative way to organise education.
  4. What Parliament does, the streets can undo! The passage of the HE reforms is not the end of that fight. We can make the reforms impossible to implement and force their reversal. Such a reversal would be necessary as a first step in attaining our goal of a free, democratic education system – and any call for reversing the reforms should be made in the context of also raising that more positive, radical goal.
  5. We need a strategy that combines reaching out to local groups and nurturing them, with coordinated protest, direct action and industrial action at the national level. This strategy will include:
    1. Outreach and assistance to the grassroots
    2. A national demonstration followed by a coordinated day of action
    3. Continuing the NSS boycott
    4. Further action as the situation develops
  6. We are an organisation with limited funds that cannot do everything. So it’s important that our plans take this into account, avoid overreach, and the components complement each other to minimise work. This strategy does that.
    1. The work of reaching out to local groups to help them build, raising the sights of local groups to tackle the national root causes of their local disputes, and engaging local groups in building national actions like a demo and the NSS boycott, fits together well – in the same visit or call to a campus group, an NCAFC representative could touch on all of these.
    2. Moreover, offering the chance to get involved in a coherent strategy at the local and national levels will strengthen the bonds between NCAFC and local groups, and between local groups.

NCAFC Resolves:

  1. To link opposition to all campus cuts with specific demands to reverse the successive rounds of marketisation in HE and reverse the cuts in FE and fund it decently, and a broader demand for a free, public, democratically-coordinated education system to replace the current one governed by fees, cuts and market chaos.
  2. To adopt the following multi-pronged strategy and make it the major priority of our activity over the coming period:

Outreach and assistance to the grassroots

  1. NCAFC has to work to reaching out to local campaigns on HE and FE campuses, help them to develop and organise protest and direct action, and link up with each other.
  2. We are aware of more specific motions being drafted on this, which we don’t wish to duplicate.

National demo

  1.  Political narrative / demands /slogans: (N.B. the proposers expect this may be amended depending on the election outcome.) The political narrative of the demo should be to unite the various local anti-cuts campaigns at a national level, to protest against both all the campus cuts in solidarity with each other, and the national-level government policies driving them. The NC should write a title and set of politically clear slogans/demands that:
    1. cover opposition to all the campus cuts,
    2. cover a call to reverse the successive rounds of marketization (including the current reforms) in higher education and funding cuts in further education,
    3. and which contrast the current governing of education by fees, cuts and market chaos, to our positive demand for a free, democratically-coordinated public education system.
  2. Details: The demonstration should be in London, on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday in the first half of November
  3. Follow-up: Before the demo, NCAFC should announce a national day of action 1.5 to 2 weeks after the demo, and promote this at the demo.
  4. What purposes does a demo serve?
    1. A national demo is a key way for local activists and anti-cuts groups to build a network of activists and sympathetic students on their campuses at the beginning of term which will later help them in taking more radical actions such as occupations
    2. The student movement is unique in that there is such a high turnover of people which a new wave of potential activists joining colleges and universities every year. A national demo is a key way to introduce these students to radical politics.
    3. Often campus organising is hard and demoralising, especially when you have a small number of activists and an unsympathetic student union. A national demonstration can be an invigorating event for these activists; showing them that they are part of a national movement and that there are students similar to them organising elsewhere.
    4. Most big campus actions we see, especially where there isn’t an established anti-cuts groups, come after a national demo.
    5. Not all demonstrations – even A to B marches – are the same. With NCAFC organising, the politics can be clearer, the dynamic can be different, creative actions on the day can be welcomed, and most importantly the demo can be run not as an isolated event but as part of an escalating strategy.
    6. The HE Reforms are the most serious attacks on universities since the introduction of £9K fees, and we are currently seeing a wave of campus cuts at universities across the country which are the result of this marketization of HE through the TEF, as well as the earlier removal of student number controls.
    7. NCAFC’s role is to link up local campaigns against campus cuts and to link the local to the national, and a national demo is a very effective way of doing this, making clear that these course closures, campus cuts and job losses are not isolated events, but are part of a national trend and the result of marketisation.
    8. A national demo is an excellent way to spread our demands to as many students as possible outside of our normal sphere of influence
    9. A large demonstration early in the academic year will help set the tone of students politics for 2017/18 and especially with a right wing turn in the NUS there is a need for combative, anti-bureaucratic, left-wing politics to be front and centre

Further action as the situation develops

  1. As the situation develops, we should add other actions and activities to the plan, judging what is appropriate as we go. These could include attempting to coordinate waves/days of local direct action, calling or backing national demonstrations on particular campuses to support key disputes that have the ability to set national precedents, and many other possible ideas.
  2. NCAFC Winter Conference should offer a chance to regroup those engaged by the action up to that point, and review and revise our strategy going forward.

—-

(The remaining bit of the motion – relating to the NSS Boycott 2018 strategy – will be debated alongside the alternative strategy proposed below in the next motion, and alongside any other strategy proposals on this topic submitted as amendments.)

—-

Continuing the NSS boycott

  1. On campuses where SUs or activist groups took up the NSS boycott, it had substantial success, making a serious dent in participation rates. Multiple institutions and many departments around the country were dragged below the 50% data publication threshold.
  2. Through this campaign, we not only began to exert direct pressure, we reached huge numbers of students with basic information about the negatives of the HE reforms, and engaged them in taking collective action.
  3. The NSS boycott was set-up as an ultimatum unless and until the government dropped the HE reforms – with the aim of getting us material leverage over the government. Its demands must continue until the reforms are reversed.
  4. We need to work to make the 2018 round of the boycott bigger and better. We should press NUS to organise for this, and do what we can if and where NUS falls short.
  5. The NC should draft and raise proposed activities for NUS to help build next year’s boycott, and pressure NUS to carry them out (and against any attempt by NUS to scab on its policy and abandon the boycott).
  6. NCAFC can also act as a platform to share the most successful boycott campaigns around the country and help spread their lessons.>
  7. NCAFC will help local activist groups to pressure their SUs to support the boycott and not scab, and to campaign for the boycott with or without their SUs.

Motion 8: Our role in an NSS boycott next year

Proposers: Hope Worsdale, Shula Kombe, Stuart McMillan, Chris Townsend, Josh Berlyne, Connor Woodman, Sahaya James.>

NCAFC believes:

  1. The higher education reforms are already leading to budget cuts and job losses.
  2. One of the main metrics to be used in the Teaching Excellence Framework–the government’s flagship university reform–is “student satisfaction” scores, measured by the National Student Survey (NSS).
  3. This year 26 students’ unions organised NSS boycotts as part of a nationwide campaign initiated by NCAFC and run by the NUS.
  4. On at least nine campuses, NSS fill-in rates dropped below the 50% publication threshold thanks to NSS boycott campaigns.
  5. The demands of the NSS boycott have not been met: rather than being withdrawn, the HE reforms have been approved by Parliament and are ready to be implemented.

NCAFC further believes:

  1. In order to win demands and roll back the HE reforms, the NSS boycott must continue over a number of years and must involve more campuses. This was the intention, right from the start.
  2. To push fill-in rates below 50%, the NSS boycott should be organised by students’ unions. SUs have the networks, “legitimacy,” and money to engage a broad enough layer of students. Money is especially an issue: Sheffield SU spent well over £2,000 on the boycott campaign, and was successful. Warwick SU, similar in many ways, spent much less but the response rate was not brought below 50%.
  3. Some sort of national body is needed to coordinate the boycott and negotiate with government. Ideally, this would be the NUS.>
  4. The incoming right-wing leadership of the NUS, including the incoming Vice-President Higher Education, cannot be relied upon to organise an effective boycott.
  5. NCAFC alone does not have the capacity to organise an effective boycott next year.
  6. A provisional committee should be set up, with representatives from each campus prepared to organise NSS boycotts next year. It should be responsible for coordinating the boycotts, expanding the national campaign, and representing the boycott nationally in negotiations with government and in the media.

NCAFC resolves:

  1. To contact activists and SU representatives involved in the boycott this year, inviting them to a meeting in July or August where the provisional committee will be set up and planning for the boycott will begin.

Motion 9: How we engage with the NUS

Proposers: Hope Worsdale, Connor Woodman, Shula Kombe, Josh Berlyne, Ana Oppenheim, Chris Townsend, Demaine Boocock.

NCAFC Believes:

  1. Since its foundation, NCAFC has intervened in the NUS, arguing for free education and universal living grants, and standing candidates on left-wing platforms.
  2. These interventions have been successful in shifting NUS to the left. For example, NUS now supports free education and universal living grants.
  3. Until recently, NCAFC’s candidates for Full-Time Officer (FTO) positions ran fairly low-budget campaigns.
  4. In the past two years, NCAFC has run more slick, professional and expensive FTO campaigns, with little reward.

NCAFC Further Believes:

  1. Our interventions into the NUS should have a clear purpose: to make the NUS more democratic, more grassroots-oriented, and to make it fight to win free education and living grants for all.
  2. This means that FTO campaigns are not just about winning by any means necessary. They are about winning without compromising on our core politics, and using the platform we are given to convince people of our ideas.
  3. However, this of course does not mean that strategy is irrelevant to our NUS interventions. It is sensible and healthy for NCAFC to make decisions which are to the strategic benefit of our campaigns/candidates, so long as these decisions do not contradict our political positions.
  4. Our interventions should not drain NCAFC of all or even the majority of our resources, especially where money is being spent on non-political items or gimmicks.

NCAFC Resolves:

  1. To carry out our future NUS interventions along the lines set out above.

Motion 10: Organising with the broader student left

Proposers: Josh Berlyne, Shula Kombe, Lina Nass, Hope Worsdale, Connor Woodman, Stuart McMillan, Demaine Boocock.

NCAFC Believes:

  1. NCAFC is a pluralist, non-partisan organisation which accepts anyone who agrees with our aims and principles as a member.
  2. NCAFC has a history of working with the broader student Left on campaigns, national demonstrations, and within NUS.

NCAFC Further Believes:

  1. NCAFC should continue to work with those who share its aims and principles.
  2. NCAFC should not unnecessarily isolate itself from the rest of the student Left by being excessively hardline and refusing to work with others except on our own terms–the whole Left, including NCAFC, is weaker for it.
  3. Open and honest criticism is vital for the Left; NCAFC should not avoid criticising other left-wing groupings or organisations in the student movement. Where disagreements do arise, however, criticism should be done in an open, honest, and comradely way, and dealings with the rest of the Left should be done in good faith.

NCAFC Resolves:

  1. To deal with the rest of the Left as outlined above.