Free education is a feminist issue

Comité-femmes-GGIWomen’s access to higher education may initially seem like a non-issue in Britain; especially considering that women undergraduates now outnumber men. But this comforting statistic masks the particular injustice of the fees and repayment system to women, writes Rida Vaquas.

The existence of fees themselves is a proliferation of gender inequality. Women will accrue a greater debt burden over their lifetime than men, due to the graduate pay gap which leaves women earning thousands less than men. Repaying their loans over a longer period of time necessarily means that for women, there will be a greater cost in interest. Every hike in fees is an attack on women, every penny of debt is one that women will feel more, and for longer. To make the demand for the abolition of fees is therefore to demand financial equality between students of all genders. It is no wonder that when the Australian Gough-Whitlam government abolished tuition fees in 1974, after demands from feminist organisations, enrollment of women students more than doubled.

But even with abolition of fees, more needs to be done to make free education ‘free’ for all women. Women are more likely than men to be primary carers of children; yet the support provided for student parents is highly limited at best.

The maximum childcare grant, which only full time students are eligible for, is £150.23 a week. The weekly fees of the on site nursery at the University of Warwick are between £269.50 and £276.00. In other words, the childcare grant doesn’t even cover childcare, let alone anything else a child may need. Support for part time student parents is virtually non-existent, being entitled to neither the childcare grant nor the Parental Learning Allowance. This renders university education unaffordable for many women who are mothers, left without means to support their children or their studies. Free education must entail free on-site nurseries and childcare support and a better grant for all parents, regardless of whether they are part-time or fulltime students.

Support for primarily women will always be viewed with suspicion among those who believe education ought to be restricted to an elite of their own. Boris Johnson revealed a little more than he would care to admit when he suggested women attend university ‘to find husbands’. It reveals that education, won by women after protracted struggles, is still seen as not vital to women’s lives. Moreover, it devalues the educational labour of women, a devaluation that exists hand-in-hand with the devaluation of the paid and unpaid labour women are compelled to do for capital. It’s not new either; the Open University, when it was first set up, was lampooned for being a ‘housewives’ university’ – a criticism made because it seemed to be benefiting women who otherwise could not enter higher education. Removing financial obstacles constructed to keep women out of education is an attack on capital; it asserts that women’s education is of equal value to men’s, not subsidiary to it and is a part of uncovering all the ways capital more or less covertly takes advantage of women’s labour.

Education can and must do more for women than it does currently. Jennie Lee, on the establishment of the Open University spoke of “a great independent university which does not insult any man or any women whatever their background by offering them the second best, nothing but the best is good enough.” The concluding words should be what propels us onwards, against the tide of neoliberalism, to building a truly exhilarating education system that everyone can participate in equally and one in which every circumstance is sufficiently provided for.

I support free education as an action of solidarity in the worldwide struggle for education for women on equal terms as men. And that’s why I’ll be marching on November 19th as a first step in making this happen.

Free education is about more than abolishing tuition fees

To consider free education debate solely in terms of the abolition of tuition fees indicates the poverty – in more ways than one- of the education debate, writes Nathan Akehurst

Tuition fees are important. The repayment scheme may be more progressive, but the reality is that fees do deter undergraduate applicants and make postgrad study unthinkable for most. University applications have sloughed off significantly in the post-2010 world, and anyone that tells you higher fees don’t damage access departed the real world a long time ago. The abolition of fees is sustainable, just and necessary, but that’s not an argument to principally enter into here.

One of neoliberalism’s defining features is the willingness of the right to appropriate the language of the left- and thus we have heard shrilled from the podiums of Labour Students the refrain that fee abolition benefits the wealthy disproportionately. I strongly disagree that this is the case (as did hundreds of NUS delegates when the free education vote was won) but that discussion only needs to be had if you have already stripped the substance of free education down to an argument about where the burden falls for the cost of courses. If we’re at that point, it may already be too late.

To my mind, students are worrying less about fees and more about how to get through day-to-day living. I just graduated from the University of Oxford, where those on the maximum student finance grant and loan receive over an extra £3000 per year, plus additional support schemes in the form of hardship funds, academic prizes, subsidised food, and so on. To my knowledge no other university in the country provides a similar level of financial backup, and yet I still struggled to make it through the year.

The costs of halls alone can hit around £1800 per term in places, i.e. almost all of even the maximum loan and grant. If we confine the maximum provision to being spent over a ten-week term alone, you’re looking at roughly £200 a week of which at the very minimum, half will end up going on rent. Then there’s energy bills, food, academic resources, travel…and dare I say it, clothes, phone bills, drinks or the odd evening out. And through all this we’ve assumed that those on the maximum grant and loan are either fully supported by the nation’s poorest families the whole way through holiday periods, or can simply walk into adequate jobs as soon as each term finishes. ‘Get a job in term time’ is another piece of advice regularly dished out. Firstly, it’s not that easy, and secondly, degrees are hard and time-consuming; having to work long hours can be a strain on academic work, or is hard for students with caring responsibilities.

I don’t especially like using the term ‘squeezed middle’, but it doesn’t get any better even when you creep up the wealth chain a bit. The means-tested grant gets whittled away until finally only the basic £1100-odd termly loan is remaining. That’s fine if you’re an only child to very generous parents on about £50k a year. It doesn’t take into account that families might have numerically reasonable incomes but multiple children, other costs to meet, or just might be a bit stingy, or indeed actively hostile. The student finance system is predicated from top to bottom on the notion of a stable, nuclear family. I hope I don’t even need to go in to how this isn’t the case for a very sizeable number of students, or that it’s the already vulnerable who are most likely to suffer as a result of Student Finance’s assumptions.

To be very clear, students are not being paid enough to survive. So as part of the call for free education, we have to be very clear in demanding a grant at the level of the living wage, paid for the whole year round. It’s a difficult demand to make because the deluge of Daily Mail editorials about the state haemorrhaging our hard-earned money into the pockets of scrounging students is so easily foreseeable. But it is one that would be fair, and also economically useful for the same reasons that raising welfare benefits or introducing a citizens’ income would. It comes down to the simple economic truism that poorer people recycle their income more quickly.

Of course, given the barriers involved in accessing higher education, and the demographics that tend to go, such a policy in isolation wouldn’t help those at the bottom effectively enough. It works when standing alongside the return of EMA, fair funding and pay in HE and FE institutions, school reform, stronger unions, freer curricula and the provision of a place in HE for anyone who wants it. That is what free education has to mean. We can argue the minutiae of policy points all day, and I’m the sort of person that would be happy to, but primarily we need to be keeping in sight a wider vision. Not just the abolition of fees, but a society that values the democratisation of learning. I will be marching on 19th November for a future in which everyone has equal and complete access to education, self-enrichment and development; a future in which we are free from hardship and free to empower ourselves through learning.

FREE EDUCATION BLOC: march with us at the TUC demo



Since the introduction of fees students are having to work harder to fund their studies, from long nights in a bar before early morning lectures, to Saturdays and afternoons in a shop to make up for the destruction of EMA, the freezing of maintenance loans and sky-rocketing masters’ fees.

This does not stop in postgraduate education; postgrad teaching assistants are exploited on precarious, low wage contracts and stipends for research have been cut on real terms just as salaries have. Women and migrant workers bear the brunt of this, with a sexist gender pay gap and racist discrimination rife in the workplace.

There is vast wealth in our society, but we who produce it see very little of it.
We demand:
• Taxation of the rich to fund education and decent jobs for all.
•An equal living wage for every worker, regardless of age, including apprentices and interns.
We must:
•Join trade unions and agitate for uncompromising industrial action for better pay and conditions.
•Organise in our workplaces, communities and campuses.
Use protest and direct action to win free and funded education which is accessible to all.

Meet under the red Free Education Now banner, Blackfriars, 10.30.

Statement by Roza Salih, writer of the motion on ‘Iraqi/Kurdish solidarity’

This is a statement by Roza Salih, NUS Scotland International Students Officer, and the writer of the motion ‘Iraqi/Kurdish solidarity’ that was proposed to NUS national committee, and which passed at NUS Scotland executive. The motion passed by NUS Scotland is below. You can view the NUS NEC motion here.

The recent attacks on the NUS from right-wing extremists is disgusting and must be opposed, I will be happy to work Malia and the NUS Executive Council to promote the issue of ISIS brutally attacking Kurdistan – and I am happy that this will be coming to the next NUS NEC with broad support. But I feel the need to address some comments made about my motion and its supposed islamaphobia.

As Vice President of Diversity and Advocacy at the University of Strathclyde Students’ Association and NUS Scotland’s International Students Officer, I proposed a motion to stand in solidarity with the Kurdish people. Whilst I am happy to write a new motion, I am disappointed that many people have said that the motion was written by ‘some student who made a mistake’, and it has been suggested that we’ll be working with them to make the motion ‘less islamaphobic’.

As my job titles and record show, I work on liberation and it is my priority, nobody has shown me what specifically in the motion is islamaphobic, and I feel that it is unfair to tag that to my name. I come from a Kurdish Muslim background and the motion that was submitted was for NUS to speak out in defence of my people – as they are brutally murdered by agents of the “Islamic State”. What the Islamic State is doing is wrong, and I look forward to our national student movement coming together through the politics to support these people fighting for survival.

The Scottish Executive Committee Notes:
1.The on-going humanitarian crisis and sectarian polarisation in Iraq – which has resulted to thousands of Yazidi Kurds been massacred.

The Scottish Executive Committee Believes:
1.That Iraqi citizens have suffered for years under the sectarian dictatorship of Saddam Hussein and in the US/UK invasion and occupation of Iraq.
2.That rape and other forms of sexual violence are being used as weapons against Women in IS occupied areas against minorities to ethnically cleanse.

The Scottish Executive Committee Resolves:
1.To work with the International Students’ Campaign to support Iraqi students in the UK.
2.To campaign in solidarity with the Iraqi people and in particular support the hard-pressed student, workers’ and women’s organisations against all the competing nationalist and religious-right forces.
3.To support Iraqis trying to bridge the Sunni-Shia divide to fight for equality and democracy, including defence of the rights of the Christian and Yazidi-Kurd minorities.
4.To condemn the “IS” and support the Kurdish forces fighting against it, while expressing no confidence or trust in the US military intervention.
5.Encourage students to boycott anyone found to be funding ISIS or supplying them with goods, training, travel or soldiers.
6.To meet with Iraqi and Kurdish organisations, in Iraq and here in the United Kingdom, in order to build solidarity and to support refugees.
7.To issue a statement on this basis.

Defend Malia Bouattia – a statement from the NCAFC national committee

This is a statement from the NCAFC national committee.

A recent motion entitled “Iraqi/Kurdish solidarity” (which can be viewed in full here) was debated and consequently voted down at the second NUS NEC meeting of this academic year. The motion was written jointly by Roza Salih, an Iraqi Kurdish independent (who sits on the NUS Scottish Executive Committee, where a very similar motion has since been passed), and activists in the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty. Because NUS NEC motions can only be put formally by members of the NEC, it was proposed by NUS NEC and AWL member Daniel Cooper, and seconded by International Students’ Officer Shreya Paudel and Young Greens co-Chair Clifford Fleming.

Shreya Paudel spoke in favour of the motion, and the speech in opposition was given by the NUS Black Students’ Officer, Malia Bouattia. The motion was voted down.

Since then, the right-wing media, as well as and right-wing and fascist individuals, have launched viciously abusive, anti-Muslim, racist and sexist attacks on Malia Bouattia. These attacks are vile and we condemn them unconditionally. Leftists and student activists should defend Bouattia and other targets of racism against bigotry, whether or not they have political disagreements. Some attacks also grossly misrepresented Bouattia’s politics to claim that she supports ISIS, and this is a disgrace. The attacks are reflective of much wider racism in our society against Black and Muslim people, and we stand shoulder to shoulder in the fight against racism and fascism.

NCAFC’s representatives have not and will not respond to media requests for comments on the matter other than to restate this condemnation. We ask our members to do the same.

The NCAFC has not taken a formal position on the text of the motion. We published a report of the NEC meeting by Daniel Cooper, which included political criticism of the opposition to this motion, which was clearly labelled as an individual perspective. We routinely host reports of meetings and events on our website, and believe it is right and important to do so. Equally, we believe it is vital to offer a right of response, which Bouattia exercised.

This report and its author have been criticised as intentionally inviting the abusive and bigoted attacks on Bouattia. We did not and do not believe that Cooper’s article intended to invite such abuse – we would not have published it otherwise. There remain a variety of views among members of NCAFC and its national committee about the motion and report, and we welcome debate on the issues they contain.

We will continue to oppose the press outlets and individuals responsible for racist attacks. The abusive, islamophobic and racist attacks from the right-wing press and individuals on social media sites toward the NUS Black Students’ Officer cannot be tolerated. When people in our movement come under these kind of attacks, we should close ranks.

ONE MONTH TO GO: London-wide organising meeting for the national demo

1384160_784198524973396_6805873319543349541_n***IF YOU’RE IN LONDON MAKE SURE YOUR CAMPUS IS REPRESENTED***

7-8pm Thursday 16 October
Ben Pimlott Building Lecture Theatre (the squiggly arts building!), Goldsmiths University
Click here for Facebook event

It is now just ONE MONTH until we march for free education. Mobilisation is going well across the country, but a large proportion of the turnout will have to come from London. That means that Londoners need to take responsibility and get the turnout out – and to do that, we need to co-ordinate.

On the agenda will be:
– linking up FE and HE in London: working with school students
– what we’re doing about the TUC demo
– what we’re doing for strikes
– sharing resources
– co-ordinating direct action

A response to a report of NUS NEC: ‘solidarity with the Kurds’

This is a response to NCAFC member Daniel Cooper’s report of NUS NEC.

The NUS Black Students’ Campaign stands in support of Black communities across the globe and uncompromisingly against imperialism and Western interference which history shows all too often leads to the suffering of Black people.

We stand in complete solidarity with the Kurdish people against the recent attacks by ISIS and join many others in condemnation of their brutal actions. In doing so we recognise that condemnation of ISIS appears to have become a justification for war and blatant Islamaphobia. This rhetoric exacerbates the issue at hand and in essence is a further attack on those we aim to defend.

The NUS Black Students’ Campaign will be working with Kurdish students and the International Students Campaign to raise this issue within the NUS. A motion will be taken to the next NUS National Executive which truly reflects the situation. This motion will pose a condemnation of the politics and methods of ISIS as well as unequivocal support for the Kurdish people. It will in no way pander to Western imperialistic intervention or the demonisation of Muslim peoples.

Malia Bouattia, NUS Black Students’ Officer

Zekarias Negussue, NUS Black Students’ Campaign NEC Representative

Aaron Kiely, NUS NEC

Zarah Sultana, NUS NEC

Abdi Suleiman, NUS NEC


FE and school mobilising day: London

5204402762_e489693def_z[1]For the facebook event click here. Time: 11am to 5pm, 1st November 2014.  Place: London College of Communication (Elephant & Castle)

This meeting is co-hosted by the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts and Unite the Youth

On Saturday 1st of November, school, college and university students from all over London will be coming together to plan the campaign for free education.

We will talk about the issues that affect us, and plan for the national demonstration and walkout on November 19th. There will be workshops, how-tos and discussions about current issues. Snacks will be provided.

What is free education?
We are being attacked by the government. We have lost our EMA, we’ve seen tuition fees triple and we’ve had our services cut. We face a future of unemployment, and we’re demonised by politicians and the media. Our colleges and universities are becoming profit-driven corporations.

We are told there is no money to pay for a free, public education system – or for decent jobs, or rebuilding the NHS. But the money is there, in the soaring profits of businesses and the wealth of the rich. It should be taxed and used for the benefit of everyone. Free education for all!

 Whey we are marching
Politicians won’t give us a future if we just ask nicely for it. We have to mobilise and organise collectively: we have to take to the streets and take action. That is the only way that ordinary people have ever won anything.


NCAFC is already leafleting at schools and colleges in London, and we have produced a special leaflet. To get some leaflets for colleges and schools in your area, or if you have any questions, email [email protected] or call 07749263622

How to afford to come to the national demo: a guide for activist groups and students’ unions


Getting students to travel to London for a national demo can seem like a daunting task, especially financially. But it is entirely possible to do it on the cheap, or even at no cost, if you’re organised and get enough people involved. Here are a few tips, gathered from experience by NCAFC over the past few years.

1. Be coach and transport savvy

Coaches can cost quite a lot, and for many groups and unions this will be the main barrier to coming down. But there are ways to keep costs to a bare minimum: here are a few of the most useful.

  • Remember that you can recoup the costs of hiring a coach after the event, so although coaches always seem expensive, they can be quite affordable as long as you sell the tickets rather than give them away, and fill the coach. There will always be enough activists in your local area, and we will help you find them.
  • Sometimes it’s cheaper to book private transport, especially megabus tickets, and then resell them, as long as you do it well in advance. So check the availability and price of them now!
  • Book chartered coaches as early in advance as you can.
  • Start selling tickets now! Selling tickets helps you get the funds back – but it also ties students in. People are more likely to come and bring their mates if they have parted with money. Keep proper lists of everyone who has booked.

2. Fundraise

Fundraising can be an effortless and easy way to afford the journey down.  There are three basic things that you can do:

  •  Ask around all of your local trade union branches, asking them for help with cash. Some branches have a lot of money – for instance, York UCU have £40,000 in the bank – and will be more than happy to fund students defending education.
  •  Ask local academics and community figures for money. Many academics, who will be unable to attend themselves, will be happy to chip in. Many students got down to last year’s demos by running a “sponsor me to go to London” campaign. Go to other trade union meetings (for instance fire stations) and ask for a whip-round.
  • Do the usual fundraising events: bake sales, gigs and bucket shaking.

 3. Ask students who can to pay for their own transport

It’s not ideal to ask students to fund the whole journey themselves, but it’s not immoral either, especially if you can’t do it. Ask students to book asap. But students are more likely to book if you make it easy for them: it’s ideal to advertise the tickets, advertise the times of transport and the website to book on, in the SU or over email or facebook. Make it as convenient and straightforward as possible, and advertise this.

  •  Send out a mass email telling students to book transport now, if they can, before tickets get too expensive.

Occupy, Strike, Resist on your campus: 27/10 to 7/11

555092_10152064893696421_396765117_nThe National Campaign against Fees and Cuts is calling for students all over the country to take action on their campus between the 27th of October and 4th of November to demand “Free, just and democratic education”.

This follows decisions made at a series of democratic meetings during the past academic year. In January, 200 student activists met in Birmingham and democratically produced eight demands geared toward fighting for free education – funded by taxing the rich. In June, activists organised a meeting to coordinate that fight. It called for a wave of direct actions on campuses, under the banner of the demands voted for in Birmingham. The fortnight of action will precede the national demonstration for Free Education happening on the 19th of November in London.

We want you to get involved. You could:

  • meet up and organise with students on your campus
  • organise occupations, walkouts, blockades, demonstrations, rallies and open meetings during the fortnight of action
  • get in contact with us if you require any support and let us know if you are planning an action on your campus

The demands that were agreed at the Birmingham meeting on January 29th are as follows:

Free, just, and democratic education

  1. Education should be free with living grants for all. We demand that universities lobby for this, and that they should increase bursaries and pay them only in cash. We also demand that the government re-introduce EMA.
    2. We demand that the student loan book should not be privatised, and ultimately that student debt should be written off.
    3. We demand just pay and conditions for staff: a 5:1 pay ratio between highest and lowest paid staff. An end to casualised contracts, that universities should lobby the UCEA to accept staff union pay demands, no outsourcing of services, a living wage, and an end to the gender pay gap.
    4. We demand an end to the intimidation and victimisation of students: no disciplinaries for protest, cops off campus unless invited by students and management, no co-operation with migration enforcement and ejection of their officials from campus, no-cooperation with spying programmes such as prevent.
    5. Directly democratic education with all decisions made by, or accountable to, staff and students.
    6. We demand education for the public good: for financial transparency and accountability, against the influence of profit in education and research, against league tables, and for ethical investment and procurement.
    7. We demand that halls should be provided for the service not for profit, and should be provided in house.
    8. We demand equality, and an end to discrimination, in education.