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 In 2016, NUS National Conference passed a policy to boycott the NSS until the TEF is scrapped and the HE reforms are withdrawn.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

NSS Boycott 2018 – time to go bigger and better!

boycott-the-nss

This piece is written by NCAFC National Committee member Hope Worsdale. If you want any advice or support on running an NSS boycott on your campus, get in touch with us via [email protected]!

Last year’s NSS boycott was a hugely successful campaign that engaged thousands of students on campuses across the country, caused waves in the press and media and brought the TEF and the Tory government more generally under heightened scrutiny. That pressure needs to continue and build going forward in order to further delegitimise the government’s plans for Higher Education (HE) which are already widely regarded in the sector as reckless and damaging.

So what has changed since last year? Well, as a result of the boycott campaign, the government has continually bent over backwards to find a way around it. They have implemented shady, flimsy mechanisms by which institutions can play a “get out of jail free card” if they have been severely impacted by the boycott, and they’ve also halved the weighting of the NSS as a TEF metric. But there’s only a certain amount of fudging they can do. The student movement has backed them into a corner through the boycott and we need to continue pushing forward until they have nowhere left to hide. The more they are forced to make ridiculous tweaks to the system as a result of a boycott, the more unworkable and fragile the TEF becomes.

It’s also worth considering that, quite clearly, the government has put these mechanisms in place precisely because they want to deter students and SUs from engaging in another round of boycotting the NSS. Letting up on the boycott now would mean that the student movement would be perfectly playing into the government’s hands, and that is simply not an option. If the government want to play games in order to desperately cling on to this diabolical system, we’d better make sure we give them hell and make it as unworkable as possible.

Another recent development is that the government has announced that they are freezing fees for now at £9250. The only “guarantee” we have is that this freeze will last for a year – they are being deliberately vague about what their plans beyond that are. Campaigning by students and workers in HE, not least through the NSS boycott, had already forced the government to delay the link between TEF and fee rises for a few years anyway. But ultimately, the whole premise behind TEF is that it’s a tool of marketisation which will be used to establish differentiated fee levels in HE – there is no reason to believe that this is not still going to happen. Hence this is yet another reason why we need to build on the progress that’s already been made and keep the pressure up through another round of boycotting. Also, put simply, this government is in absolute disarray and chaos around HE policy – Jo Johnson and Theresa May are consistently saying different things in relation to universities and we cannot and should not trust anything that comes out of their mouths. We must stand firm in our stance as a student movement because there’s every chance that one or two years (or even a few months to be honest…) down the line they will have made a U-turn, changed their policy and thrown students under the bus once again.

It’s important to also remind ourselves of all the things that have not changed at all. The TEF still exists, and the NSS is still being used as a metric to measure teaching quality. This is utterly nonsensical and completely devalues and misrepresents teaching that happens in our universities and we absolutely must reject this system. The NSS has always been a fundamentally flawed mechanism through which it has been shown that women and BME academics get consistently lower scores. It also does nothing to meaningfully highlight where genuine improvements can be made in our education system as it’s centred around quantitative data in place of actually discursively engaging with students and staff on the ground. Not only do we reject “student voice” through the NSS being used to marketise our education system within TEF, but we reject legitimising such a damaging and frankly useless tool which has long been used as a stick to beat staff with, which reproduces structural oppression and which props up bullshit league tables.

So while we are not in exactly the same situation as we were this time last year, many things have actually remained the same. The TEF still exists, NSS is still used as a TEF metric, and there is absolutely no concrete reason to believe that the government is letting up on their plans for differentiated fee levels (including further rises) in the near future. Last year showed the power that students can wield through the boycott and just how shaky this government is on HE policy. Now would be the worst possible time to step away from this campaign – our only option is to go even bigger and harder this year.

“Universities under Labour”: a NCAFC workshop report from The World Transformed

 

NCAFC workshop participants engaging in group discussion

NCAFC workshop participants engaging in group discussion

On Sunday 24th September, activists from NCAFC ran a session at The World Transformed entitled “Universities Under a Labour Government”. The session brought together around 60 participants with a range of experiences and perspectives on Higher Education (HE).

The aim of the workshop was to collectively explore what an alternative HE system could look like under a Labour government. During the general election, Labour’s pledges to scrap tuition fees and reinstate maintenance grants gained mass support not just from students but also wider society – this is a great foundation on which the movement can build. However, these were the only policies in the HE section of the manifesto. NCAFC has always been clear that scrapping fees is not enough if we truly want to create an alternative to a marketised HE system, and thus there is a great opportunity for the left to push within Labour for a set of radical and comprehensive policies around universities.

The session began with a brief overview of the current state of higher education under the Tories, which covered the following themes:

  • Marketisation; system driven by “value for money” rhetoric
  • Enormous fees and debt
  • Casualisation of staff
  • Widening gap between workers and senior management
  • Mental health crisis
  • Soaring rents and cost of living crisis
  • The employability “conveyor belt”
  • Strengthening links between universities and corporations

Following on from this, the workshop participants were split into 3 different “perspective” groups – ‘students’, ‘workers’ (both academic and non-academic), and ‘wider society’. The following question was then posed:

  • What is the purpose and value of HE, and what key principles should underpin it?

The 3 groups then endeavoured to collectively respond to these questions from the specific perspective assigned to each of them. A summary of the key discussion points from each group are as follows:

“STUDENTS” PERSPECTIVE

  • Encouraging and fostering critical & political thinking
  • Advancing knowledge and skills; thus equipping students for jobs (though this should not be the main focus!)
  • Pursuing interests and passions
  • Accessible to people of all identities and backgrounds
  • Having a diversity of knowledge
  • Having fun!
  • Having parity with other forms of education
  • Democratic and collective
  • Collaboration and partnership between students and workers
  • Flexibility within studying
  • Being an integrated part of a community
  • Being progressive and socially responsible; equipping students with knowledge and tools to strive for a better world

“WORKERS” PERSPECTIVE

  • Critical thinking and creation of new visions
  • Democratic governance; an end to managerialism and hierarchical structures
  • In-housing/an end to outsourcing
  • Building alliances between students and workers
  • Unionisation and solidarity; improved working terms and conditions are a precondition but not an end goal
  • Challenging consumer mentality
  • Co-production of knowledge
  • Transformative pedagogy

“WIDER SOCIETY” PERSPECTIVE

  • Universities and local communities should be integrated into each other
  • Controlled rents so as not to negatively impact housing in local communities
  • Role in training NHS workers needs to be factored into workforce planning
  • Recognition that many students are workers in the local community
  • Centres of knowledge shouldn’t be exclusive; an end to profit motives
  • Stop corporations on campuses
  • Unis should be public organisations
  • In-house employment; strengthening accountability
  • Local communities should have open access to HE; e.g libraries, room bookings, public lecture series
  • Academic content should be freely shared with local communities, and those communities should be seen as collaborators in education too; e.g jointly organising courses with community organisations
  • Teaching and research based on what is socially useful for local communities

Following on from these break-out discussions, we formed new smaller discussion groups comprising of 2 or 3 participants from each of the 3 prior groups. These new groups were tasked with utilising the high-level principles explored in the first group discussion to collectively generate ideas for HE policy that the left should advocate for within Labour.

The policy ideas created by the groups covered a wide range of different areas and angles. For the purposes of this report we have consolidated all the ideas submitted to us and separated them out into the following broad themes/categories:

ACCESSIBILITY

  • Free childcare on campus
  • Universal living grants for all
  • Cap private school numbers in unis/expand uni places to ensure state school students are not shut out? (Ideally, abolish private schools! Though it’s not technically HE policy…)
  • An offering of flexible, non-traditional courses e.g evening classes, short courses
  • Language support for international students

PUBLIC EDUCATION

  • Ban private providers
  • Public access to certain university spaces as well as academic content e.g journals and lectures
  • University investment into local communities e.g social housing programmes

WORKERS’ RIGHTS

  • Proper employment contracts; abolish outsourcing and casualisation
  • Pay ratios between highest and lowest paid workers; 5:1? 3:1..?

DEMOCRACY

  • Research and resources being publicly owned and decided; based on what is socially useful
  • Replace “Vice Chancellor model” with democratic interdepartmental model; key positions elected
  • Fair student, worker and community representation on governing boards
  • Robust accountability mechanisms

FUNDING

  • Equalised funding for all institutions; fair and comprehensive public funding formula
  • Scrap all fees; including for international and PG students!
  • Parity of funding for faculties/disciplines as well as full-time and part-time

MEASURING SUCCESS…?

  • Abolish league tables
  • Scrap the NSS (National Student Survey)!
  • Abolish Research Excellence Framework (REF) and Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF)

 

At the end of the session, discussion groups fed back one or two key policy ideas they had generated and explained what the underpinning principles were behind the policy. In this feedback discussion it was noted that a lot of the policy ideas explored centred around areas which, under the current system, fall under the autonomous decision-making remit of individual universities. In order to overcome this a Labour government would – assuming that under Labour universities would be centrally funded if fees are to be scrapped – likely have to set out a framework that universities who receive state funding would be obliged to adhere to. Thus it is clear that Labour must be willing to radically overhaul the current system and be bold in implementing an alternative.

This workshop only scratched the surface of what a truly free, accessible, democratic and liberated HE system could look like in practice. It is the job of student movement and the wider left to continue to develop and build on these ideas in order to push towards a political programme in HE which is both winnable and transformative.

If you’re interested in these discussions, and you’d like to contribute to them by writing a piece for our website, get in touch with us via [email protected]. We want to hear from you!

Big thanks to The World Transformed for inviting us to give this workshop and to all those who came along and participated in what was an incredibly lively and exciting session. See you next year; if not sooner!

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

NCAFC Summer Training 2017: REGISTER NOW!

training banner 2017 450px

After the surprising Labour success in the General Election, on the most left wing platform in a generation, we are closer than ever to winning free education. Labour won seats on a manifesto that promised to scrap tuition fees, build social housing, and create a free National Education Service. The Tory leadership is increasingly becoming increasingly weak (and wobbly), and it is looking likely that we will kick out the politicians who brought in £9Kfees 7 years ago.

But even with though the left has made gains on a national level, the fight is far from over. The HE Reforms are in full swing. In June, the Teaching Excellence Framework rankings were released and already sweeping cuts are hitting our campuses. Moreover, even with the prospect of abolishing fees and restoring the Educational Maintenance Allowance in sight, is that enough? Free Education has developed beyond fees and EMA to mean public education which is free, yes, but accessible, liberated and democratic too.

The only way to stop the government’s reforms and win free, accessible, liberated and democratic education is to form a militant grassroots movement!

Join NCAFC 9-10 September for our Summer Training 2017, hosted in Sheffield! Followed by our National Committee meeting on Monday 11th which is open to all members (although only NC members can vote).

Whether you’re a student officer wondering how to challenge management or an activist wondering how to fight cuts on your campus this *FREE* training will equip you with knowledge and practical advice which will be fundamental in an undoubtedly pivotal year for UK education. Not only this, but it will be an excellent opportunity to meet other student union officers and activists from across the country and build essential networks.

JOIN THE FACEBOOK EVENT HERE!

REGISTER YOUR FREE PLACE HERE!

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.

After the General Election, let’s keep free education on the agenda

This is a comment piece written by NCAFC National Committee member Ana Oppenheim.

students 4 labour 4 free ed

In the 2017 General Election, over 40% of voters backed parties which committed to scrapping tuition fees. The biggest of these was obviously Labour, which after almost two decades of supporting student fees (indeed introducing them in 1998), made a U-turn and made free university education a key manifesto pledge, alongside extra funding for schools and re-instating maintenance grants.

Free education was popular on the doorstep, and anecdotal evidence is backed by polls showing that nearly half of the British public thinks that scrapping fees is a good idea (37% are against.) While early reports claiming huge increases in youth turnout have not yet been confirmed, we know that Labour unexpectedly won seats in areas with high student population: such as Reading, Canterbury, Warwick, Leeds and Sheffield Hallam, where Nick Clegg lost his seat. These successes cannot be attributed purely to Labour’s education policy – other pledges, like £10 minimum wage and banning zero-hours contracts no doubt also appealed to young voters – but it’s certain that the vision of debt-free degrees inspired many.

For years, it felt like free education could not be further from the political mainstream. After the LibDem’s infamously broken promise in 2010, few politicians had the courage to speak out against the consensus on education funding. Labour toyed with ideas like reducing fees to £6000 or replacing them with a graduate tax – but these proposals failed to challenge the logic of making students and graduates pick up the bill for their degrees, and ultimately convinced no one.

It was years of sustained student activism that kept the demand for free education alive. Dismissed by many – even within the student movement itself – as unrealistic daydreamers, we kept organising on our campuses and nationally, spending days in meetings, occupations and demonstrations, winning the arguments in NUS and finally also in the Labour party. Following years campaigning which put free education on the political agenda, Corbyn’s Labour brought it back into the realm of possibility.

Now it’s our job to make sure it stays there, and becomes reality.

Why free education?

But despite the long columns written by pundits about Labour’s HE policy, the manifesto contains no more than a few short paragraphs. It doesn’t go into detail about the reasoning behind the policy, or what the proposal to create a National Education Service would mean in practice.

“No one should be put off educating themselves for lack of money or through fear of debt” says the manifesto. Critics were quick to point out that numbers of English 18-year-olds applying to university, including those from disadvantaged backgrounds, are at a record high. But these numbers don’t show the whole story. Numbers of mature and part-time students have collapsed since the last fee increase, meaning hundreds of thousands of predominantly working-class students giving up on higher education. Applications for arts courses fell by 17% after the tripling of fees and never quite recovered, as many students abandoned their creative dreams out of fear of debt. Recently, we’ve seen applications for nursing courses fall by 23% as soon as the NHS bursary got scrapped.

A recent study has shown that the prospect of debt does indeed discourage working-class students from going to university. While a growing number of student places combined with widening participation/marketing efforts by universities as well as the pressures of the job market mean more young people in HE, many are still put off by high fees.

However, access is not the only argument. It’s important to remember that tuition fees, in a wider landscape of marketisation, influence decisions made not only by students but also by universities. An institution constantly chasing the bottom line cannot be truly democratised. The interests of the market need to be prioritised over the needs of students and workers, pushing institutions to invest in marketing, shiny buildings and vanity projects while cutting courses that are costly to deliver and saving on staff. It’s no coincidence that since the last increase in fees, lecturers’ pay has been falling and casualisation is on the rise – while management salaries skyrocketed.

Presenting a degree as a product to be bought and sold changes the dynamic between students, staff and institutions. The customer relationship adds to the stress faced by both students (who worry about the debt they’re in) and staff (who are under increased pressure from management), which is a likely factor contributing to the university mental health crisis. The system also reduces education to a form of individual investment, rather than a public good that benefits society as a whole. Fundamentally, tuition fees are a tax on learning and aspiration – instead of income or wealth. Free education is not “the poor paying for the middle classes” if funded from the pockets of the very rich, for the benefit of all.

Let’s demand more.

These arguments were not put forward by Labour. The manifesto also lacked a broader idea for what education should look like, who and what purpose it should serve. The idea of a National Education Service is an exciting one, promising to make education truly accessible for all, from cradle to grave – but we can build on the idea and be even more ambitious in our vision.

Let’s demand universal living grants, so that no student has to get into debt or rely on their parents to afford food and rent while studying.

Let’s demand democratic institutions, accountable to students and staff – not ran by unelected management.

Let’s move towards abolishing hierarchies and league tables, challenge elitist admission processes, rethink how and what we’re taught.

Let’s debate and develop these ideas and spread them on our campuses, in Students’ Unions, in Labour clubs and CLPs, in activist groups or anywhere else we organise, in meetings and in the streets. There is a long way to go but we’ve never been closer to making them reality.

#GE2017 Debate: the case for voting Labour

This is an opinion piece on the 2017 General Election, written by NCAFC activist and UCL sabbatical officer Mark Crawford. You can read an opinion piece presenting the case for voting Green here.
Want to join the debate? Send your opinion pieces to [email protected]!

polling station

Something rather remarkable has happened over the last two years.

 
The abolition of tuition fees and as well as the much broader cause of free education – as championed by NCAFC and other activists since 2010 and before – is now the flagship policy of the largest political party in Europe.

 
Jeremy Corbyn’s twice election to the leadership of the Labour Party represents an unprecedented shift in mainstream political thinking – and with the party’s manifesto littered with so many bold promises for young people, at its core is our best offering from a major political party in a generation.

 
Our Shadow Education Secretary’s pledge to construct a National Education Service, with all the sound echoes of our now pained NHS, is truly radical in potential; as well as abolishing the highest the tuition fees in the industrialised world, it promises universal public childcare, well-funded apprenticeships and adult education for all from cradle to crave.

 
For higher education, scrapping fees – from as early as this year if Labour are elected to office – would in a stroke bring the market forces currently ensnaring our universities to a grinding halt. It would represent the wider realignment of higher education as a social utility, accountable and accessible to the public as a whole.

 
Our communities would still ultimately be governed by undemocratic managements; neither staff nor students would have the final say over how our learning and work spaces are run. But such a shift in how are universities are funded and supported would make so much of what we as students want and need – from better pastoral support, to better pay for academics and fully-funded research – not only possible, but immediately achievable.

 
It’s easy to think, perhaps, that we’ve been here before. In 2010, free education came in the polish of Nick Clegg; and it was cautious support from young people that helped bring the Liberal Democrats their modest share of seats in the Commons, whereupon they proceeded to form a Coalition with the Tories and treble university tuition fees. It was a betrayal for which they paid sorely.

 
But there’s a difference here that can’t be understated. The Lib Dems have never been a party of working people, the majority of our society; the austerity they rolled out across our society came from a decision to harm millions rather than tackle the interests of banks and the rich. Even now, their proposal to fund the NHS they wrecked is through additional taxation on the working people whose wages and welfare they cut.

 
Contrast that with the proposal immediately before us. A Corbyn government will nationalise the railways and bring utilities under public service; it will introduce inflationary rent caps, save the NHS and fund state welfare. And it will do all of this, crucially, through taxation where it belongs – by raising corporation tax on big business and income tax rises for the very wealthy.

 
To be sure, Labour’s refusal to back freedom of movement in Brexit Britain make for a worrying capitulation to the right. But it’s also unnecessary and plainly out of step with the rest of the party’s manifesto, which identifies the real culprits of our unequal society; under a Corbyn government, we will have to continue to fight for the rights of migrants and international students, but we’ll have far more scope to call out racism than we would under the xenophobic nationalism of the Tories.

 
Ultimately, the entire political shift now embodied by the Labour Party is one whose programme, if enacted, would take serious steps to reduce inequality and return much of our country’s economic prosperity to those of us who actually generate it.

 
By the measure of some opinion polling, the short few weeks of this general election campaign have brought this newly revived Labour Party from irrelevance and mockery to the most popular political party in the country. But that will only count if we get out, campaign and vote.

 
Let’s make June 8th the day the tide turned – the day that that the Western world’s unthinking lurch rightwards froze, and in its place a politics that fought racism and inequality was returned to power.

#GE2017 Debate: the case for voting Green

This is an opinion piece on the 2017 General Election, written by the Young Greens Equality and Diversity Officer Georgia Elander. You can read an opinion piece presenting the case for voting Labour here.
Want to join the debate? Send your opinion pieces to [email protected]

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It has never been more important for young people to make our voices heard in politics. Under this Tory government, we’ve seen our futures snatched from us: in rising tuition fees, the scrapping of grants and the cuts to further education funding; in the callous decision that under-21s don’t deserve a minimum wage – or housing benefit, for that matter; and in Theresa May’s reckless approach to leaving the EU and throwing away the benefits of free movement and international co-operation. From where we’re standing, the future can look very bleak.

But the Green Party has a different vision. We know Britain can only succeed if we invest in young people – which is why we would scrap tuition fees, write off all existing student debt, reinstate the Education Maintenance Allowance and invest far more in education.

We also want to tackle the mental health crisis currently facing young people in this country. It’s a crisis fuelled by poor quality housing, financial stress and academic anxiety, and compounded by this government’s utter failure to invest in mental health services. One in four of us will experience a mental health problem at some point in our lives – and yet currently, less than one pound in every hundred spent on the NHS goes towards tackling these issues. We’d address this inequality, ensuring parity of funding between mental and physical health, and guaranteeing that anyone who needs psychological therapy can access it within 30 days.

But our universities, our health service and far more is at risk if we don’t get a good Brexit deal. British academics and institutions are already losing out on collaborative research projects with EU partners, and highly skilled EU citizens who staff our schools and hospitals are leaving the UK because our government refuses to provide them with the certainty they deserve. The Green Party will fight to keep free movement, to urgently guarantee the rights of EU citizens living here, and to retain the vital workers’ rights and environmental protections the EU has given us. We also think people have the right to a say on the final Brexit deal – we’d back a ratification referendum at the end of the negotiations so we don’t end up with a deal that nobody voted for.

It’s no secret that the Green Party isn’t likely to be forming the next government. But for the last seven years we’ve had just one MP, the amazing Caroline Lucas, and on her own she’s done more work than half of the House put together. Electing a strong team of Green MPs to join her in the house of commons would mean an even louder voice for young people, for marginalised groups, for the most vulnerable in society. And whoever forms the next government, we’re going to need it.

NCAFC Summer Conference 2017 – democracy deadlines

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At this year’s NCAFC Summer Conference in London there will be democratic sessions where members will discuss, debate and vote on policy put forward by our members, which will set the political and strategic direction of our organisation.

Motions can be submitted by activist groups affiliated to NCAFC or alternatively by a group of at least 7 NCAFC members, whilst amendments can be submitted by individual members.

The deadline for motion submissions is Sunday 4th June at 5pm. Following this the submitted motions will be published and then the window for submitting amendments will open, closing at midnight on Thursday 15th June.

Please send all motions and amendments to [email protected]

And don’t forget to register for conference – it’s completely free.

See you at conference!