Boycott the NSS!

The NUS has announced that it will be organising a nationwide boycott of the National Student Survey, as advocated by NCAFC. We welcome this decision as an opportunity to broaden the campaign against the higher education reforms.

It’s now the task of activists to vigorously promote the boycott on their campuses. For the campaign to be effective, it will require mass participation – we need to put all our efforts into mobilising students.

The NSS will be launched in January. In the coming months, it is critical that activists make the case for the boycott, publicise the boycott widely, and collect pledges from final year undergraduates. By the time the NSS is launched, it should be common knowledge on your campus that there will be a boycott, it should be common sense to boycott it, and indeed as many third years as possible should already be signed up to do so.

It is also important that we are clear on the purpose and the politics of the boycott. Its purpose is to give our movement enough leverage to force the government to make concessions in negotiations. Its politics should be to oppose the higher education reforms as a whole. It is concerning that the VP HE’s announcement focuses so narrowly on fees. Opposing the HE reforms as a whole is what NUS National Conference voted for, and it is what is politically necessary. Fees are not the only issue. Moreover, they cannot be divorced or isolated from the wider changes taking place.

Government reforms since 2010 are turning UK higher education into a market. We are now at a crossroads. The latest round of HE reforms are the final piece of the puzzle: raising fees further and relaxing rules on private providers, in an attempt to force competition in higher education. But competition will drive up fees while driving down quality, and working conditions for academics will get worse.

For the past six years, our movement has opposed these changes. We have tried lobbying MPs and lobbying government; we’ve tried demonstrations and occupations. Now is the time to directly disrupt the market.

The NSS is a key mechanism: it informs league tables, is used to monitor staff, and will be a key metric in the government’s proposed Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF). So even before it is used in the TEF, it relies on students participating, which gives us power. If we choose not to participate – if we choose to boycott – we exercise our power. It’s critical that we use that power now.

NSS: NCAFC and FACE back a boycott!

Both NCAFC and Fighting Against Casualisation in Education (FACE) back a boycott of the National Student Survey.

NUS is now committed to disrupting the National Student Survey (NSS) thanks to policy passed at National Conference. Sorana Vieru, Vice President Higher Education, has recently launched a consultation on the precise tactic to be taken: full boycott, partial boycott or sabotage. NCAFC and FACE back an outright boycott.

It’s the common sense option. Both a sabotage and partial boycott are overly complicated and overly “clever.” With a simple strategy (boycott the NSS!) and simple demands (stop the higher education reforms!) we can beat the government.

Lots of people will get behind it. Only a whole mass of people engaging in this will work. We don’t want just 70 or 100 students per institution. We want a whole movement—that means hundreds of people boycotting at each university. With a simple message and simple demands, we can do that.

It reduces engagement with the NSS—a good thing in itself! The NSS has been shown to systematically discriminate against black teachers, and it most likely discriminates against female teachers too. It’s used to bully staff, and SUs are held to ransom with it, with a large block grant being dependent on high satisfaction scores. If it comes to a boycott, then reducing engagement can only be a good thing.

Let’s issue the government an ultimatum—they stop the HE reforms, or we boycott the NSS!

* * *

In depth: why full boycott?

Pruning junk data

Ipsos MORI already have a policy to remove junk data from the NSS. Year on year the number of students giving uniform answers on the NSS has increased. Over 5% of students now tick the same answer for every question, and more generally students are giving more similar answers for each question. This is known as junk data. Ipsos MORI, the polling company which carries out the NSS, are well aware of this problem. They have a policy to “prune” junk data – that is, they are prepared to remove uniformly-answered surveys. It seems likely they would counter a “sabotage” campaign by publicly saying they will remove junk data.

Participation and impact

Maximising participation is absolutely key. We need tens of thousands of students to carry out the action. People will find out about the action through a variety of channels – not just from their SU, or campus campaigners, but directly from the national conversation via the press, twitter, etc. Therefore the strategy needs to be dead simple. It will be harder to explain and convey a skewed-marks strategy. You can completely explain “boycott NSS” in two words, that’s all someone needs to see on a poster, a news headline, a hashtag, whatever, to know everything they need to participate. Sabotage is more complicated: you have to get someone to hear out an entire instruction. Abstaining on NSS Q1-12 is even more complicated, and will need a full conversation to explain: “We want you to boycott the first 12 questions, because they’re used in TEF, but you can fill out the others. Why? Well…”

Second, if we go with boycott it is easier for everyone to understand the impact we are asking them to make. In other words, we don’t want a strategy which tries to be too “clever.” The idea behind a boycott is easy to grasp – the survey will be useless if none of us fills it out – and the outcomes will match expectations. It is much more difficult to understand the impact of the sabotage option: “If we give them junk data it might skew the results, making them unusable, but if they don’t use the data, then it’s like it was a boycott anyway”. If Ipsos MORI respond by saying they have removed the junk data and the sabotage was ineffectual, people will be confused. We want the tactic to be incredibly simple and easy-to-grasp without thought. There’s a risk of exacerbating separation into a layer of informed activists who are pleased with playing a clever game with the enemy, and everyone else looking on passively. Boycott is more “equalising.”

Third, boycott will give us simpler numbers and much better headlines. “60% of students did not fill out the NSS” is clear, dramatic and impressive. It allows us to take those who wouldn’t have filled out the survey anyway, and encourage them to reframe what would have been an act of laziness or apathy as a political choice. A sabotage or abstention on Q1-12 would give much more complicated results: “30% of students just didn’t fill in the survey and another 30% participated in our wrecking/abstention strategy” isn’t such a powerful claim and our opposition could use it against us.

We also have no idea how Ipsos MORI will be able to spin the numbers when they excise the data. Imagine 70% of people fill out the survey: 25% wreck or abstain on Q1-12, 45% give genuine responses, and 30% just don’t fill it out at all. Ipsos MORI could spin these numbers lots of ways: “70% response rate!” or “75% did not participate in the wrecking/abstention strategy” (75% being true fill-outs plus people who didn’t bother to engage at all). If you convert those “junk data” participants to boycotters, you can’t argue with, or spin, “55% of students did not fill out the NSS”.

Fourth – and this is really important – boycott involves students engaging less with the survey. Our campaign will be met with a propaganda war from Ipsos MORI and universities. Every point at which a student engages with the NSS is a point at which they can be persuaded back. Ipsos MORI will be bombarding them with propaganda about how their opinion matters, don’t sell off your voice, etc. The survey page will probably be covered in pleas about how important it is to give real answers, how junk data is only hurting themselves, students and staff. When people log in to fill out junk data, they will have to engage with that, and at least some people – we don’t want to speculate too much – will be turned by it, give in and fill out real data at the last minute. By contrast, boycotters can cut the NSS out of their lives, ignore the material and therefore ignore the propaganda. So there is less chance of them turning back after we persuade them once.

Last of all, we need to be very clear that the boycott is a negotiating ultimatum. We are boycotting unless and until the government backs down on the reforms. We are not simply boycotting the NSS because it’s bad – even though it is – but because we are using it as a way to coerce the government. That logically means that if the reforms are withdrawn, or repealed, we stop boycotting. Like a strike – we go back to work if our demands are fulfilled. We must be clear about why they’re doing it and that we aren’t just lashing out at things we don’t like – we have a strategy. This does mean that if the government offers us a deal, there needs to be democratic process and consultation about whether we feel it’s enough to end the boycott.

We’re asking you to respond to the consultation and advocate a boycott. The consultation ends on August 17th.

Call out – Stop Arming Israel Demo


In Lichfield, north of Birmingham, a subsidiary of Elbit Systems manufactures engines for drones which are likely deployed by the IDF in Gaza. For several years, activist groups have targeted the factory demanding its closure and the end of UK complicity in Israel’s crimes in the occupied territories, most prominently at last year’s Block the Factory action.

The rally, organised by Birmingham Palestine Action and members of Warwick For Free Education, is intended to shut the factory down through a legal, non-violent show of force, and is set for July 6, the two-year anniversary of Israel’s assault on the Gaza Strip. BPA have called for as much noise as possible so bring pots, pans, megaphones and air-horns – also bring red, green, black and white ribbons to tie on the fence, as well as kites to fly.

The Elbit factory, UAV ENGINES, is a five-minute walk from Shenstone railway station which is on the Longbridge Lichfield cross city line. Trains are every 15 minutes from Birmingham New Street station.

For more information and resources, see the Facebook event: Click attending, invite as many friends as possible, notify local Palestinian solidarity groups and come along on July 6, 11AM!

Vote IN to defend freedom of movement and workers’ rights!

aeipNCAFC is urging a vote to Remain in next week’s referendum on the UK’s European Union membership. We want to defend the rights we have, while fighting for a radically transformed Europe – one of open borders and of genuine democracy and social justice. This is based on the position our members voted for last Summer. In the coming days, we urge our members and supporters to get involved in progressive campaigning to win Remain votes on a left-wing basis.

We support and defend the guarantee of freedom of movement for EU citizens, including students travelling to study, and we want to fight to extend it to those currently locked out of “Fortress Europe”. The erosion of national divisions, and the workers’ rights and human rights protected in EU law, are also to be supported.

Nevertheless, we don’t deny that the EU, as currently constructed, is designed to secure the interests of the rich and powerful, and its governance is relatively undemocratic and bureaucratic.

However, we see no gains to be made in a retreating into our respective nation-states and raising borders. Our national governments are also constructed to serve the interests of the rich and powerful, and don’t have any more progressive potential. This is doubly true given the circumstances of this referendum – a vote to leave would see the UK crash out of the EU in a wave of nationalistic, conservative agitation against migrants, human rights and workers’ rights. This is further underlined by the murder of Jo Cox by a suspected fascist, we have released a statement on the killing here.

Instead of leaving, we seek to build and connect the left and the student and workers’ movements across Europe, and fight for open borders and a genuinely democratic and socially just Europe – and beyond. For us, a vote to remain is only the first step in a struggle to fundamentally transform Europe. That’s why we’re supporting specifically left-wing IN campaigning such as Another Europe Is Possible, and not the right-wing endorsement of the existing situation advocated by the Tory- and business-dominated Stronger In.

The next few days are crucial, and the outcome will depend on the efforts of campaigners on the ground, so we urge all our supporters to get involved. Another Europe Is Possible and Momentum have established a platform to advertise left-wing Remain campaign activity – take a look and take action!

Mourn the death of Jo Cox, and fight the nationalism that killed her

NCAFC sends its condolences and solidarity to the family, friends, colleagues and comrades of Jo Cox, the Labour MP murdered on Thursday.

Cox was known to have spoken out in favour of migrants and refugees, and against leaving the EU. The suspected killer is reported to have shouted “Britain First” as he attacked, and to have been a long-standing follower of white supremacist, fascist literature. When he was asked his name in court he said ‘Death to traitors, freedom for Britain.’ We must recognise the reality that these facts are almost certainly linked.

Current indications are that this was not an abstract, apolitical tragedy, a random act of violence, but a very political attack – the killing of a pro-migrant labour-movement politician by a nationalist – the product of a disturbing surge in right-wing nationalist and fascist and proto-fascist politics. This has not only been built by the far-right, but fed and legitimised by the nationalism and anti-migrant agitation of much “mainstream” politics too. And it has been whipped up in particular during the course of the EU referendum campaign.

As such, it demands not only a human response but a political response too. In the wake of this killing, and all those murdered by fascism and nationalism, we need to re-commit ourselves to breaking fascism and nationalism, not only at the ballot box but on the streets too.

NCAFC will be supporting the ‘After the referendum, defend all migrants’ rally next Friday and urges our members to come along and continue the fight whatever the outcome.

Final motions document for NCAFC summer conference 2016

slide_462040_6240332_free-1024x680The final motions document for NCAFC summer conference has been released. You can view it online here, and download the word document here.

There are 5 sections to this summer’s motions:

  • the education sector
  • internationalism
  • anti-racism, anti-fascism and no platform
  • the NUS
  • NCAFC’s internal processes and structures

The conference will be taking place in Edinburgh between 10th and 12th June 2016.

Statement on Keep The Caterers’ Victories

keep the caterersThis is a statement from the Keep The Caterers campaign at the University of Manchester, you can find them on facebook here.

In March, the University of Manchester announced plans to restructure its subsidiary company, UMC, making 46 redundancies in catering while moving the remaining staff on to ‘term-time only’ contracts. This latter move would have meant cuts of about one third to their total pay.

But now, as a result of solid negotiating by UNISON, and agitation and disruption by students, management have backed down. There will be no compulsory redundancies, no loss of hours and no pay cuts.

These victories in the fight against the university’s contemptuous treatment of its workers should embolden us all. We are strengthened in our belief in collective organising more than ever: in a sector beset by privatization and naked profiteering, it is important that students and workers come together in solidarity.

Our campaign was about challenging the audacity of an institution that made £46 million in profit last year to claim it cannot afford a living wage for its catering staff. This was clear when 96% of respondents of UNISON’s consultative ballot voted for strike action; when students occupied the Vice Chancellor’s office and disrupted a meeting in which management shamefully flaunted £600million+ plans for shiny new buildings; when hundreds of staff from across campus turned up to lunch time rallies.

It is clear that despite framing the restructure as a question of affordability the university simply sought to protect its profits. If there was money for Dame Nancy Rothwell’s living expenses, marketing campaigns and drinks receptions then there was and is money to pay catering staff a living wage and give them fair and full contracts.

UMC had served as an underhand way of employing people below the living wage which the university claimed to adhere to. It functions as as an internal outsourcing project, and though the worst excesses of the restructure have been defeated, we believe the trade union should continue a campaign for UMC workers to be brought back in house.

We also must not forget that some staff felt pressured to choose ‘voluntary’ redundancy, either because of an understandable fear of facing increasingly precarious working conditions, or a lack of faith in the ability of the union to fight their corner. This is an important reminder of the continuing need to build a strong movement. Indeed the drive towards marketisation in higher education is putting all jobs at risk.

There is power and strength that comes only from our unity, so it is important that the four unions on campus, as well as individual students and staff, continue to see our fights as one and be bold in our response to the battles ahead.

Another University is Possible.


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The agenda for our 2016 summer conference has been announced! Check it out below, and don’t forget to register your free place here for what is set to be a fantastic weekend!

18:00-19:30: Scottish Plenary: Education in Scotland, is it really free?
19:30: Social

10:00-10:45: Registration
10:45-11:45: Plenary: The Higher Education Reforms explained
11.45-12.00: Break
12:00-13:00: Workshops A:
1- Where next for… the fight to save the NHS?
2- Effective Deportation Resistance
3- Freedom of speech and no platforming
13:00-13:45: Liberation Caucus: Women and Non Binary
13:45-14.15: Lunch
14:15-15:00: Plenary: Learning from Scotland: how can we fight the FE area reviews?
15:00-16:00: Workshops B:
1- Where next for… rent strikes and housing struggles?
2- Organising in FE: practical action planning
3- Secularism and the left
16:00-16:15: Break
16:15-17:00: Liberation Caucus: Disabled
17:00-18:00: Workshops C:
1- Where next for… the fight against Prevent?
2- Labour societies, the left and the struggle on campus
3- Sexual Violence and the left
18:00-18:15: Break
18.15-19.00: Liberation Caucus: Black
19:00-20:00: Plenary: How do we fight the HE reforms and win grants not debt?
20.00: End of Day/Social

09:30-10:00: NCAFC goes for Breakfast (At the conference venue, breakfast food to be provided)
10:00-11:00: Discussion Plenary: Antisemitism and the Left
11:00-11:45: Liberation Caucus: LGBT+
11:45-12:00: Break
12:00-13:00: Workshops D:
1- How do we make the NSS sabotage happen?
2- Decolonising the university
3- Disabled people and direct action
13:00-13:30: Lunch
13:30-15:00: Motions Debate A
15:00-15:15: Break
15:15-16:45: Motions Debate B
16:45-16:55: Break
16:55-17:10: Sections Elections
17:10-17:30: NC By-elections
17:30-17:45: Closing Remarks

I don’t want a free Maccies burger, I want a fighting, political NUS: A response to our Vice President

This piece is by Hannah McCarthy, Campaigns Officer at Manchester Student Union, Free Education MCR activist and NCAFC member in response to NUS Vice President Union Development Richard Brooks’s article in the Telegraph.

In what reads as a politically atrocious article from our NUS Vice President of Union Development, let’s first prove his analysis as clumsy at best, and historically inaccurate and disingenuous at worst.

On the very day that the government launches its’ largest attack yet on Higher Education, coming thick and fast in the form of the White Paper, here we have a national Vice President who is apparently more concerned with internalising, adding to and capitalising on, incredibly right-wing critiques of NUS as a political body, as opposed to rejecting them.

Here, Richard misuses his platform and takes the opportunity to discredit his fellow officers, essentially placing onus upon their ‘factionalism’ for the recent calls to disaffiliate. The irony.

The idea that it’s the NUS’ lack of political unity which renders it inaffective is incredibly politically poor, but unfortunately this is a critique which rings and permeates on a daily basis.

This ‘unity’ is often appealed for by those who flout democracy, who seek only to advance their position with the right-wing press, business and the government, and by those who routinely use this mechanism of ‘unity’ to avoid criticism for their awful politics and decisions as elected representatives.

The calls for unity completely delegitimise the justifiable expression of anger by a disempowered, too often sold-out grass-roots, and by officers who are routinely thrown under the bus in the revolving door of careerism that is the NUS.

And yet people have the audacity to claim it is the left which are ‘factional’.

Time and time again we’ve seen this depoliticised call for unity levied at outraged defences of left-wing full-time officers, as they conveniently aren’t invited to lobby Parliament against the cuts to Maintenance Grants. This works to silence the concerns and anger of liberation officers and activists at the entirely factional politics of the right, and yet it’s the status quo and appeals to the need for a ‘credible’ image around NUS officers and activists that comes to defence of the right’s objectionable political decisions.

Making yesterday’s article even more infuriating is the pandering to the right-wing beliefs of conservative students who do not believe nor desire for the validity of collective agitation in a union, instead of politically challenging this narrative and attempting to advocate for something better.

It is the National Conference that leant left in voting to campaign for Living Grants, to boycott the NSS, for a full-time Trans Officer and much more that gives Brooks his democratic mandate, not the Tory press.

Brooks himself isn’t the problem – he’s unfortunately simply symptomatic of a much wider trend.

The reason moderate national officers refused to defend the students who tore up Millbank, or those who routinely take direct action to save staffs’ jobs is because they see militants and politicised activists as an inconvenience – a constant thorn in the side of a political persuasion that longs for an NUS that’s acceptable, moderate and palatable to the powers that be.

This isn’t just a case of Brooks playing up to the establishment in invoking their critique of the left as unrepresentative, dissenting, trouble makers – it’s that his politics display he actually believes their critique to be true.

The mobilising left represent not only a threat to their seamless career progression, but a continual pressure and reminder that their lukewarm, unremarkable term in office just hasn’t been good enough.

I’m absolutely incensed by the complete lack of political analysis in terms of what’s actually at play here. Instead of realising and rejecting the right-wing opportunism which calls for unions to disaffiliate from NUS, our VP has the audacity to allow the right’s mobilisation to throw the toys out of the pram to go unchallenged.

Again, on the day in which the Tories present their biggest attack on HE in decades, increasing the erosion of workers’ pay, conditions and exploiting students through an increase in fees coupled with the closure of courses, vital services and much more – our VP chooses to mount a political defence of the powers of collectively organising in our national union by firstly discussing the ‘important’ benefits of NUS membership that allows SUs to buy alcohol cheaply and the free Maccies burger that students can enjoy with the NUS discount card.

Our rights to a free double cheeseburger and the occasional large chips are obviously especially relevant as our bursaries and grants sail off into the sunset without an adequate defence or challenge from our national union, with their response to the government’s heinous actions tepid at best.

Our union is weakened by the fact that SUs at large are literally lining up to disaffiliate from it – thus reducing its collective bargaining power as the body which claims to represent all students when the NUS mounts serious opposition to government policy.

It’s this that the power of our union is weakened by, not political discussion – and yet our VPUD evades garnering a principled, properly political defence of the relevance, urgency and necessity of our union as the government wages war on education.

To imply that students for decades have only actively campaigned on course closures, fees and reductions in their material interests is completely, factually wrong.

Worse, Brooks deploys the recent media attention given to students’ discussions and mobilisations against sexual, racial and gendered oppression in order to align with the worldview that the ‘average student’ cannot simply see the world, or indeed care about it, beyond their immediate self-interest.

Once again, history proves this superficial analysis redundant as the countless examples of student struggle (both within, and outside of NUS) on international solidarity, whether that be Apartheid, Anti-war, or working with community organisations to mobilse against fascists on the streets – student activists have and student activists will organise and fight.

The ignorance of history only serves the apparent political move to discredit the left as isolated, and to peddle a narrative that is lapped up so enthusiastically by those dominant, and by those who want neo-liberalism, privatisation and the fundamental social relations of the society that we live in to go unchallenged and evade critique.

This only works to further the false illusion that an ‘average’ student exists, completely passive to political structures and only interested in shots on a night out alongside the annual Varsity.

Students everywhere are experiencing a life-time shackled with debt, cuts to counselling services and cuts to their grants. The marketization of education isn’t some abstract socialist concept.

It’s the very process of the transferring of market values to education and our  universities being ran as businesses which see our students systematically treated as consumers, increasingly having to take on part-time work and subject to ever more rigid exploitation – alongside our staff’s lives ruined as they face redundancy, pay cuts, extra workloads and attacks on their rights to organise in the workplace.

It’s fictitious to claim that it’s an unrepresentative minority who only care and are affected by government attacks.

It’s also ludicrous to propagate the idea that a political, democratic body founded to collectively organise in the interests of members should simply forget its’ history or purpose and submit to becoming a vehicle to merely enable the selling of more pizzas in the SU Bar.

The NUS shouldn’t apologise for being outside of the ‘national mainstream’, (or underestimate politics outside of the student movement), it should be fighting to change it – rather than constantly explaining the rationale behind that ideology, we must oppose and change it.

Let’s stand for the interests of our membership, who plainly wish to see an NUS which organises, stands up and fights, as opposed to one which merely notes opposition to government policy.

Press Release: NCAFC’s response to the HE White Paper

Contact: 07895405312, 07905136094


*** Government confirmed that through the TEF measures introduced in the HE White Paper, University fees could be increased from 2017/18
***Other plans include making it easier for private providers to offer degrees and become universities

*** Students to pursue strategy to ‘wreck’ government metrics if they don’t abandon plans in the White Paper


The Higher Education White Paper released on 16th May 2016 outlines the government’s plans for the Higher Education sector, with a focus on increasing competition between providers. A key part of the proposals is the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF), aiming to measure the quality of teaching in HE institutions. Its metrics include the National Student Survey (NSS) and Destination of Leavers from Higher Education survey (DLHE) which measures employment six months after graduation. The plans to allow universities to increase fees if they score highly on TEF have been delayed but not abandoned.


At NUS Conference in April, students passed policy stating that if the government did not back down on fee rises and marketisation proposals featured in the HE paper, students would run a campaign forcing either a boycott or a sabotage of the surveys, rendering them unusable. Last week Sheffield Hallam Students’ Union and the University of Sheffield Students’ Union became the first students’ unions, alongside NUS, to pass policy supporting the strategy with many key SUs expected to follow suit before the summer break.


Josh Berlyne, University of Sheffield student and NCAFC National Committee, said: “We can already see the effect our proposed boycott is having on the sector with the government now moving their implementation date back.  This has bought us more time, but we are not taking our eyes off the ball. The government did a U-turn on academies, and with pressure from students we expect them to do the same over these reforms.”


Ana Oppenheim, UAL Campaigns Officer and NUS National Executive Committee elect, said: “Increased marketisation and the over-bureaucratisation of higher education would be an absolute disaster. IWe have to go further than fighting against fee increases: this is an attack driven by an ideology which sees students as nothing but consumers, and will turn universities into heartless corporations. We need to fight these reforms before they destroy our education system.”


Jess Patterson, University of Manchester UCU Exec and NCAFC Postgrad Research Rep, said: “Postgrad teachers and other casualised university workers are already struggling and overstretched in underpaid, precarious work. Opening the sector to a horde of profiteering private businesses will see corners cut, exploitation intensified, and collective bargaining threatened with fragmentation. “Teaching excellence” needs decent wages, secure contracts, and enough time and resources for staff to do our jobs, and to empower teachers and students to govern teaching democratically – not exploitation and market chaos.”