Office for Fair Access Reveals Working Class Worst Off Under 9k Fees.

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A report published by the Office for Fair Access (Offa), an independent public body that regulates the accessibility of higher education in the UK, recently revealed that only 3.2% of working-class youngsters are admitted into leading universities. The offspring of the richest individuals, on the other hand, are 6.8 times more likely to procure places at the most prestigious institutions and advance on to post-graduate study and into professional careers. With devastating cuts to education funding, £9,000 tuition fees and student debt at an all time high, it comes as no surprise that students from low income backgrounds are 2.5 times less likely to progress onto higher education at all in comparison to their privileged counterparts.

The director of Offa, Prof Les Ebdon, stated that “the biggest challenge for highly selective universities is to reduce the participation gap, the challenge for many other universities is to improve outcomes for students from disadvantaged backgrounds”. Top universities are therefore not only failing to enrol students from a wider socio-economic pool but also failing to support, retain and cultivate the potential of working class and BME students who arrive at their doors with high tariff points . Extensive research has demonstrated huge disparities between the attainment levels of students from high and low income backgrounds, with the latter more likely on average to struggle with the financial burden, receive lower grades or drop-out of university.

Black students in particular feel marginalised and “condemned to fail” in the institutional environment. According to the Department for Education and Skills, Black students are statistically far less likely to fulfil their learning potential , graduate with a 2:1 or first class degree and find equal employment opportunities after higher education than their white peers of equal ability. Likewise, although women tend to outperform men at university, they are under-represented in post-graduate study and alongside Black students, have significantly less earning levels after graduating than their white male colleagues.

National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts’ Black Rep, Sarah Dagha, said: “There are multiple factors that explain the Office for Fair Access’ findings and that contribute to the BME attainment gap. Tuition fees are unaffordable and degrees are full of hidden university costs. This creates an immediate financial barrier to higher education for students from poorer socio-economic backgrounds who are disproportionately Black and Ethnic minorities. Black students often feel isolated and alienated by Eurocentric curriculums that overlook the vast contributions of Black academics and silence Black perspectives. When the implicit racial bias inherent to non-anonymous marking systems and the institutional and personal racism faced by students on campus are also taken into account, it is unsurprising that Black students don’t perform as well as their white counterparts. As a Black woman studying Politics and Philosophy and hoping to progress to post-graduate study, I was shocked to find out that men dominate 71.2% of my chosen field, that there are zero Black Philosophy professors in the UK and that only 0.4% of the total number of Professors are actually Black. ”

Peter Brant, the head of policy at the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission, however, sparked outrage earlier this year when he suggested that some of these challenges could be tackled if poorer students learned to emulate middle-class culture before applying to university. This reductionist, Hyacinth Bucket approach to tackling the poverty gap in education was met by harsh criticism from other NCAFC members.

Minesh Parekh, Sheffield Defend Education and NCAFC NC responded with:
“The notion that you should just fake it until you make it into the bourgeoisie would be laughable if it had not come from the supposed expert responsible for advising the current government on policies that have real-life dangerous implications for millions of people in the UK. The results of the latest Offa report on economic barriers to education show the devastating results that the Coalition government’s ideologically driven austerity cuts have had on young people. With Education Maintenance Allowance for FE college students slashed by 60 per cent and tuition fees raised so high, it is no wonder that only 3.2% of students from low income backgrounds have access to top institutions. This is unacceptable. Education should be free and accessible to all”

OFFA’s conclusions add to the mounting evidence that the Coalition government’s elitist and draconian austerity measures are failing UK students and will no doubt galvanise the growing student movement and its demand for free and fair education.

NCAFC endorses Mostafa Rajaai for NUS International Students Officer

11007592_10206344143102827_1105151320_nThe NCAFC National Committee has voted to officially endorse Mostafa Rajaai for the position of NUS International Students Officer.

Our International Students Rep Tania Sauma writes about his candidacy and asked him a few questions:

As the Culture and Diversity officer of UAL, Mostafa Rajaai has been a key activist in the fight against xenophobia and improving the conditions of international students from his union in a concrete way. But perhaps the most notable thing about Mostafa’s work is how he has been collaborating with other officers to improve the conditions of international students around the country. He has also been a great campaigner for free education and that is why NCAFC NC has decided to support him as candidate for NUS International Students Officer. We are confident that with him at the forefront of the International Students Campaign, it will be a militant campaign that stands against the scapegoating of international students in particular and immigrants in general, and will fight for free, democratic and liberated education for all.

 

*What motivated you to run for International Students Officer?

 

As an international student, I faced numerous barriers and problems. These included, but were not limited to, issues with writing essays and referencing, difficulties with accommodation and the Euro-Centric curriculum. These issues made me want to make a change in my university and that is when I decided to run for a sabbatical officer position at my union. Since being elected, I have concentrated my efforts on issues relating to international students and have managed to achieve a great deal. My expertise in regards to international students has made me want to run for the NUS ISO position so I can make a real difference to the life of international students nationally.

 

*What have you done in the past representing international students?

 

During my time in office, I have managed to get rid of the intrusive and discriminatory weekly sign-in attendance monitoring at my institution. I have also made reducing the attainment gap between home and international students a priority for the university to address. I have helped over 30 Korean students who were scammed by a recruitment agency, operating in Korea, to get their fees written off. I have been campaigning for the reinstatement of the post-study work visa and submitted a report to the parliamentary APPG on behalf of our international student body. Additionally, I have been lobbying MPs to make it a legal requirement to create a national crisis fund for international students and much more.

 

 

*How are you going to articulate the free education demand from the NUS International Students campaign?

 

I have been involved in the fight for free education since the early days of my arrival in the UK by attending the protests against free increases in 2010. I passionately believe education is a right that everyone should be entitled to, regardless of nationality. As far fetched as it might seem, it is by no means impossible to achieve free education for both home and international students in the UK. Numerous examples around the world show that with dedication, active campaigning and political mobilisation, we can achieve this goal. I look forward to making the NUS ISC more involved with the fight for free education if elected. We know that due to visa regulations and fear of deportation and other complications, many international students are reluctant to be as active in the fight as they would like to be. I understand this problem and aim to involve these students in other strands of the fight that are less problematic.

 

 

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Statement in solidarity with the current occupiers of Univeristeit Van Amsterdam

amsterdamOn the 12th of February, a plethora of over 100 Dutch and international students from various faculties, organizations, and political movements including De Nieuwe Universisteit, Schuldegeneratie, Spinhuis Collectief, Humanities rally, Ons Kritisch Altenatief etc occupied an entire faculty building at the Univeristeit Van Amsterdam (University of Amsterdam). This followed a long-term dispute with the university, and other Dutch universities, over privatisation and closing down of many departments at their university in order to create bigger, unilateral courses. This type of merger procedure aims to give less module choices, eliminating the need for many departments, and has been carried out at other Dutch universities like Vrije Universiteit.

Many activists, campaigners and student have taken matters into their own hands and decided to take a university building on the famous street Spuistraat 210 in Amsterdam centrum, which has been strongly linked to the squatting scene in Amsterdam.

Over the past few months the campaigning group ‘Humanities Rally’ have been organising around these issues with an emphasis on the remodelling of the humanities, with a series of demonstrations, rallies, talks and debates. They have organised workshops and largely supported the occupation thus far.

A list of demands in both Dutch and English can be found on De Nieuwe Universiteit’s website, and are as follows:

‘1.  Democratic election of the university board

  1. Change of the allocation model: finance based on input, not on efficiency
  2. Cancellation of the current Profiel 2016
  3. Referendums per institute and programme about collaboration between the UvA and the VU at the FNWI (Faculty of Science)
  4. Fixed contracts instead of flexible staff appointments
  5. An open debate about housing costs in relation to budget cuts of reseach and education.

In connection to this: retaining the Bungehuis as UvA-location

The general motivation behind all these demands is discontent with the current ways of management. Top down, efficiency-oriented management damages the very thing a university should revolve around: research and education.’ http://newuni.nl/eisen/

It is clear that NCAFC are in full support of all of these demands, as a campaign for Free Education, no cuts, democratic control of universities, fair wages and contracts for staff and affordable housing for students in the UK and beyond. We therefore offer our full solidarity for this campaign, this occupation and all involved.

SOLIDARITY FROM THE UK AND FREE EDUCATION FOR ALL!

NCAFC Women present: Fighting within Feminism, fighting for Feminism


Scheduled meetings so far:21/2 Brighton ; 22/2 Oxford ; 23/2 Cambridge ; 24/2 Birmingham ; 25/2 Warwick

feminismWhy should feminists care about Free Education? What is the role of class struggle feminism within the student movement? Why is liberation about more than personal experience and identity? How can we effectively fight for our feminist and anti-capitalist demands?24/2 B

 
These are questions that NCAFC Women have been talking about for quite a while and that we would like to debate with you, your feminist society and your local activist group. We believe that in the context of NUS abusing liberation and especially feminism to stop the free education demo, by wrongly citing safer spaces policies, claiming their campaign to keep women ‘safe’ is more important than liberating women and a plethora of other liberal policies, it is very important to have a discussion about what it means to be a revolutionary feminist within the student movement today. We believe that it is crucial to have these discussions in an open manner and not to be afraid to carry out disagreements as well.

These talks will also promote NCAFC Women’s upcoming national action for International Women’s Day: https://www.facebook.com/events/406865789472438/

Polemic: A political development towards National organising, liberation, identity politics and restorative justic

This is a comment piece by Helena Dunnett-Orridge. If you have alternative or opposing ideas on this topic, get in contact and we will publish responses.

On National  Organisations

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I’m relatively new to activism. I got properly involved with student politics about a year and a half ago, when I attended a demo which led to an occupation and all its excitements. My intentions were to protest the injustices I saw immediately before me: extortionate fees (which I had even protested in 2010), low paid workers and severe lack of student input into how the university functions. The occupation drew me in full force, it was full of passionate, kind and dedicated people who made me feel welcome.

As I got more and more involved with Defend Education, Women’s Association and other university leftie groups I thought of myself as a staunch independent with an interest in local struggles. I learnt to instantly dislike the idea of party politics, left parties and any form of formal organisation. I didn’t want anyone to be in control of my ever-shifting views or actions. It reminded me of state control, something I desperately wanted to avoid. Local struggles seemed to be the most relevant to me, and the best use of my time.

Over the spring last year some comrades in Birmingham started discussing the idea of a larger organisational activist group to cover more issues in Birmingham. It was acknowledged that many of us were part of multiple campaigns, each equally important and needing lots of time and energy. Many of the people involved in this process were from Defend Education Birmingham, although we did originally have some people from other campaigns involved. This was provisionally named the Birmingham Anti-Capitalists as a kind of overall view of our stance. We had a lot of meetings and even voted through some formal procedures for joining the group which involved being committed to anti-capitalism and anti-oppression. The idea of an activism ‘time bank’ was floated; the idea that we’d all put our time in for a certain number of hours and then divide up the tasks of multiple campaigns between us. Essentially it was a way of maintaining involvement in activism in a sustainable way but also a way of developing our politics.

The process was very slow and we began to realise that we did not have the capacity to run this group all by ourselves. There weren’t enough activists in Birmingham willing to commit to yet another group. The idea came about that we ought to join an existing national organisation which already had certain infrastructures in place in order to lessen the workload for us. I was sceptical – what would they add? Would they try to stifle the non-hierarchal, anti-centrist stance that I’d developed?

Over the summer we had a series of meetings, hosted by our visiting comrade Laura who has extensive experience of national groups in Germany, which were purely designed to discuss political stances on national groupings. No decision-making was done in these meetings – they were pure discussion, though structured so that the conversations weren’t infinite. The idea of joining the International Socialist Network or Plan C as national organisations was present at this time, and people were encouraged to do individual research about each of them. I found this discussion shifted my views in the sense that I was thinking about how I might continue my activism towards something bigger than myself and how I might connect with other activists and dedicate my time effectively. Local struggles remain important to me but they will only ever be atomised struggles if we do not try to build solidarity across our cities, our counties, our country, our world. Solidarity has become a central concept for me. It means everything.

To me it makes complete sense to attempt to achieve at the very least a national network. For me this comprises of semi-regular meet-ups, regular updates from one another, help with sharing resources, sharing time, sharing experience. We learn so much during the course of activism and it is a terrible mistake not to share this widely. The benefit of organisational structure becomes clear when one thinks about the sustainability of a project – for without infrastructure there is no way that a group can socially reproduce itself effectively. There is a need for consistency, alongside spontaneous action – the two must work in tandem.

When we have built up relationships together we are far stronger. We are in much greater solidarity when we know how we can help one another effectively, when we have accumulated the resources to help one another and understand one another’s struggles. We create a sense of community which is sorely lacking from our lonely capitalistic society. My local community are so important to me, but also the wider community of activists who I know are all working hard with the same dream as I have – no more capitalism, full liberation, no nations, no borders, real effective measures to stop climate change.

To this end I decided to join Plan C, an organisation which suited my ideology. Their work on social reproductive theory is important and the activists involved are wide-ranging and interesting people. Some of my comrades decided, instead, to join ISN. I support them fully in doing so and hope to learn from their ideas. It is a mistake to close oneself off to new ideas and the possibility of shifting views. I don’t agree with more socialist arguments as a rule but I have a lot of time for socialists who want the same change as I do.

That said, within leftist factionalism I recognise the difficultly in drawing lines. How far can you disagree with someone before you refuse to work with them? Sometimes it is very much necessary not to allow toxic, oppressive people to be a part of our movement for these are the very things we stand so staunchly against. When can you stop arguing with someone politically and write them off as fundamentally opposed to you? Everyone, it seems, has a different tipping point. That’s fine. The problem comes when we begin a ‘guilty by association’ rhetoric based on shaming people with differing limits from us. Fully supporting someone whom we have fundamental disagreements with is certainly something to be wary of but, I feel, it is prudent to understand people’s reasoning for this before jumping to conclusions. It may be that, in the end, you disagree but many are so quick to judge they never truly understand one another’s motivations.

It was with a similar end that I joined NCAFC and became part of their National Committee. I am interested in spending more time on the issue of free education, and reaching out to students across the country – NCAFC allows me to achieve this and also to build my own personal networks. The factional politics within NCAFC are not nearly the diabolical situation people imagine them to be. When necessary we can all work well together, despite our disagreements. In fact, we must. The networks and the solidarity we dream of cannot be created without compromise. There seems to be an idea that we can circumvent factional politics, but this is both naïve and implicitly factional in itself. There will always be factions; we just need to learn how to deal with them productively; something which we have not been able to do so far but I believe can be achieved. We also cannot create these spaces within liberal politics of identity.

Against Identity Politics

In terms of identity politics I am very well versed. I have high levels of involvement and engagement with liberation struggles and the activists involved in them. They are wonderful people in many ways and yet blinded by an idea that has ultimately been reduced to a simplicity that renders it redundant. As a trans non-binary, queer and mentally ill person I understand fairly well what it feels like to be the only person like yourself in a room. I’ve attended meetings dominated by cis white straight men on a regular basis, I’ve been talked over, I’ve been trivialised and I’ve been tokenised. That’s not okay. However, this has also occurred in my interactions with other trans people, other queer people and other disabled people. Some trans people are dickheads, same with every other oppressed group. Why is that so difficult for us to admit?

The idea that certain identities preclude a certain level of privilege has been widely accepted but not analysed correctly. This does not mean that oppressed people are incapable of being oppressive and that they are the sole and only correct narrative on their oppression. Think of the gay Tories. Would we ask them to speak for gay and queer people just by merit of being gay themselves? The concept is entirely ridiculous and I would back any straight person who called them out for their neo-liberal, oppressive stance on their own communities. We cannot take the fact that someone is a part of an oppressed group as the only evidence of their validity.

That isn’t to say that we shouldn’t shut the fuck up and listen to oppressed people more. We definitely should. But we are doing our comrades a massive disservice by taking their arguments at face value, rather than analysing and engaging with them ourselves. LEARN critical race theory, LEARN feminism, LEARN queer politics. Get your own views.

We are always giving oppressed people extra work, putting them in caucus’, forcing their issues out of our campaigns and narrative and into their own shit. They are us, we are them; we fight together. All issues are connected, we know this and we tend to assert that we believe in intersectionality but that also means considering everything from a radical, liberationist perspective. Free education affects us all, living wage affects us all, anti-capitalism affects us all. Why are we pretending otherwise?

We need to bring our comrades up to speed on liberation; we all have something to learn, to discuss, to develop in our politics. I find it difficult to be patient sometimes, especially when I’ve had to deal with a barrage of oppressive thinking, and yet it is entirely necessary for me to be more patient. That doesn’t mean compromising my radical views, it means convincing others of them where they are receptive.

Safer Spaces and Restorative Justice

A mistake many people make is to entirely close themselves off to other ways of thinking – we see things in a black and white way; the very way we accuse our opponents on the right of thinking in. We see an abuser/abused dichotomy which is equally as damaging as the way in which the current justice system treats guilty/not guilty people. If we really want an end to the prison industrial complex as it stands (for more on this see Angela Davis et al.), how, then, are we to deal with the inevitable plethora of complex situations which arise from what is traditionally viewed as ‘crime’? How can we treat abuse, for example, with the seriousness it deserves without repeating the problematic aspects of our current system? I don’t claim to know; but it’s something to consider. Can we really just scream ‘abuser’ and that be the end of it? Can we really just say ‘rape apologist’ and let there be no further discussion? How distinct is that from saying ‘thief’ to a poor man? Or ‘thug’ to a band of protestors?

I’m almost certain that, however ironically, I’ll be described as someone who is apologetic towards abusers, rapists etc. by merit of what I just said. There is no room for nuance in this bitter world, where women are almost never believed, are treated as suspect and rarely get the justice they deserve. I’m sure I’d like to ‘kill all rapists’ if I thought it’d do me any good. I’ve said it and felt it before. I’ve often wished grievous harm on those who hurt me or my friends. I think the difference is that I have some level of hope that this isn’t how it will always be, that there is capacity for something different, something, dare I say, better. When one takes that hope into account acts of vengeance, however we yearn for them, are not sustainable. When we seek to create a better society we cannot take draconian measures against those who oppose us, or challenge us, if we want to truly challenge dominant narratives. It is in this vein, then, that I propose we begin modelling this more complex, more painful, more frustrating, more time-consuming, more exhausting solution.

By that I mean things like Safer Spaces and restorative justice (by which I mean a form of justice that is mutually agreeable and not based in revenge). That is why I’ve been fighting so hard for safer spaces, which to many seems contradictory to my opposition to identity politics. This helps us to take ourselves more seriously, to take the awful things that happen to us, both outside and inside our groups more seriously. We need to create a space where we can challenge narratives with confidence, understanding and engagement. Rather than an opportunity to exclude, although it does offer this, I see it as an opportunity to include, theorise, figure out what will and will not work for us. It’d almost be utopian, if it weren’t so pragmatically based.

When we talk about abuse we are often referring to a variety of different things, which are always based in structural power and privilege, as well as socio-economic position. Abuse is an issue which always intersects with the oppressed vs. privileged narrative, that is so often played out as a dichotomy, and yet, is far from it. Oftentimes, and I have frequently thought so myself, we are told to entirely reverse the assumptions of the current system by always believing the person who claims to have been abused. This is a tempting simplification that I tend to adhere to. In a world that is incredibly hostile and violent towards victims of abuse it is intuitive to fiercely protect them by any means necessary. This can, unfortunately, lead us into an opposite problem where we make ourselves judge, jury and executioner. As a victim of abuse myself I tend to project my own feelings of anger, sadness and resentment onto all other situations of abuse. The minute someone is given that label I see red, and so do many others. But, although we don’t like to entertain this possibility, is that always fair?

Going back to the false dichotomy of the privilege/oppression narrative, we can see yet again a form of identity politics playing out in these situations. The ‘most privileged’ person will always be the abuser, the ‘most oppressed’ the abused. Although this points out a common trend, we know that this is not always the case. In reality material concerns, proximity and social capital are all things that affect how this narrative plays out. It’s messy. With that acknowledgement how can we take any stance with consistency when the situation itself is never consistent? We can learn from theorists and in-depth research what abuse and abusive situations look like, who tends to suffer them most, what the relationships may look like – but we can never have a catch-all solution to these situations. Any attempt to do so is problematic. This is why we need to listen and engage, rather than work on pure, well-meaning, bias.

In saying so, I do not see myself particularly as a model for this. I’ve certainly acted in contradiction to this, yet I have recognised the problems with it and hope to help others to consider this too. My suggestion is more that, rather than take such an ‘all or nothing’ stance, begin calling each other names, and start to have factional flame-wars, perhaps we should consider not doing that and trying something else, like this, instead.

Press Release: Liam Byrne: “I’d love Free Education!”

Liam Byrne: “I’d love there to be free education.”

Contact: 07989 235 178, 020 7679 178, 07749263622

 

 

In frank remarks, Liam Byrne, Shadow Minister for Higher Education has said that he would love there to be free education. In a bid to visit constituencies where students could swing the vote, he visited King’s College London’s Labour Club on Thursday 12 February and discussed Higher Education funding with students and members of the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts.

Byrne said “Obviously I would love free education. I would want it to be free just like the NHS, but I’m not going to make a promise that is not deliverable.” This shows that student pressure for free education is paying off; we would never expect such a shift away from the Labour party policy to be publicly announced otherwise.

We challenge Byrne and Labour to come good on their aspiration and commit to a fairer system of funding. If Byrne does not want to make promises he cannot keep, we challenge him to find a way to keep them. We know the money is there to spend, in the pockets of the rich and disappearing through tax loopholes. The Labour party could commit to closing such loopholes and creating a higher tax band for the richest in society, and yet it will not break the trend of listening harder to what big business owners and millionaires want than thousands of ordinary students.  We will be demanding this at our next National Demonstration in Birmingham on March 28. [1]

Beth Redmond, National Campaign Against Fees & Cuts Women’s Officer, said: “As a Labour party member I am pleased the Liam Byrne has said this, however I do not want this to be just another case of opportunistic politicians hungry for the student vote. The Labour Party was founded as the party of the Trade Union movement and ordinary working people, and they should remember that today and implement policies like free education and an end to austerity which will actually help those people. If we want this to happen we need to organise together and keep applying pressure.”

Deborah Hermanns, NCAFC National Committee, said: “It was great to meet with Byrne and find he is surprisingly on the same page as us. This shows our pressure is working, and we need to ramp it up by making our next demonstration, which is on Byrnes’s home turf of Birmingham, as big as possible.”
NOTES FOR EDITORS

  1. More information on the Birmingham demonstration can be found here. https://www.facebook.com/events/425105397638482/?fref=ts

 

 

A strike for a reading week ?

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Cambridge students wear blue squares to show solidarity with the ‪#‎endweek5blues campaign‬.

From today Cambridge students are withholding all their University work to demand a reading week. Cambridge Defend Education explain what the #endweek5blues campaign is all about:

 

For the past four weeks, Cambridge Defend Education have been involved in a campaign centred around a single demand: that a reading week be added to our terms. Founded during the 2010 student uprising against the tripling of tuition fees, CDE has spent much of the intervening years agitating against cuts to EMA and the disabled students’ allowance, and for an accessible, fair system of higher education – in such a context, calling for a reading week might seem like a change of direction.  However, it has arisen from years of discussion about what a free university, as opposed to the neoliberal one in which we struggle today, might look like. At a recent occupation of Senate House lawn organised by CDE, one of the ideas that animated discussion the most on this topic was making Cambridge accessible to those who suffered from mental health problems.

 

Unlike most other universities, Cambridge does not have a reading week – instead, we are faced with an immense amount of work, squeezed into an impossibly intense and exhausting eight-week sprint. The long breaks are marked by even more work, and overshadowed by the enduring myth – peddled by supervisors – that they are named “vacations” to avoid us mistaking them for holidays. Such an environment, unsurprisingly, breaks many of us. Mental health problems are both caused and exacerbated by these conditions, whilst those of us with chronic physical illnesses are regularly excluded and left behind.

 

A reading week is a practical step towards a better, more supportive Cambridge, but its implications reach beyond ‘student satisfaction’. The immediacy and violence of mental and chronic physical illnesses are an irreducible challenge to the neoliberal university. They cannot be assimilated into its calls for productivity, nor can they be resolved by reminders of employability. As moments that interrupt the neoliberal narrative, they reveal the human lives broken by university cogs.

The campaign is organised around the hashtag #endweek5blues. Generations of students have come to recognise that, by half way through the term, the vast majority of students have been drained of energy, left listless and tired, by the sheer amount of work. It has become a tradition to call this generalised sense of stress ‘Week 5 Blues’. The Week 5 Blues effectively fetishize a mental health epidemic, turning it into just another Cambridge idiosyncrasy, like wearing gowns to dinner or not being allowed to walk on the grass. This is hardly surprising, given that the truth behind this Cambridge cliché – that we are so exhausted and so depressed after four weeks of work that we collectively institutionalise this suffering – constitutes such a strong indictment of our university that it must be made invisible. It also puts paid to the lie of meritocracy upon which such institutions thrive: you may thrive here, unless you are disabled. You may thrive here, unless ‘thriving’ makes you disabled. All of this is condensed into the collective shrug that is the Week 5 Blues; perhaps this is just the way it is. The alternative – that the Blues are not inevitable, that our university makes so many of us really ill – demands immediate change.

 

This’ term’s Week 5 starts today. Instead of grinning and bearing it, however, we’re asking students to tell their supervisors and faculties that enough is enough. Those of us that can will be withholding the work asked of us in the coming days, in what will likely be the first of a series of Week 5 work stoppages. Whilst our position within the university and the type of labour we undergo make this an unusual form of strike, it does allow us to clear a space to imagine something better. Instead of labouring under the immense stress of another Cambridge week, we’re suggesting students turn to their communities, care for themselves and their neighbours, and re-develop the sense of solidarity that the increasingly atomised modern university undermines.

 

We will #endweek5blues. We are not asking; we are demanding. The call for free education stretches beyond economic demands. It stretches to questions of ownership, and of who would determine the course of our university. The university – and especially one such as Cambridge – is, and has always to some extent been, part of a project to reproduce hierarchy and systematise oppression. Every now and then, however, this project goes wrong. Our lived experiences – especially those which are often marked as ‘failure’ or ‘weakness’ – constitute an essential point of resistance against the university’s increasingly important role in neoliberal society.  #endweek5blues is a campaign against a system that causes and exacerbates mental and physical illness, certainly, but it is also against bursars, against private conferences, against the strategic privatisation of society.

 

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Students join the solidarity with Greece demo!

Since 2010 the people of Greece have been subjected to vicious attacks on their rights and standard of living. In response, workers, students and others organised a huge wave of struggles between 2010 and 2013, including numerous general strikes, militant direct action and mass occupations of city squares.

In January Syriza won the general election – with an even stronger vote among young people – and it is now the government.

The neo-Nazi Golden Dawn has also burgeoned since 2010, carrying out repeated violent attacks on migrants and its opponents on the left, and came third in the last election – it must be opposed.

This week the Syriza government is set to meet with Eurozone leaders.

NCAFC calls on students to make solidarity with the student and workers’ movements in Greece, including by demanding that Greece’s (and other poor countries’) debt is cancelled so the Greek government can carry out the will of those who elected it by ending austerity. We must
oppose attempts to expel Greece from the Euro or EU if it refuses to back down.

Protest!

– Wednesday February 11th at 6.30pm Parliament Square, near Big Ben.

– Sunday 15th February at 13.00 in Trafalgar Square.

This is part of an international wave of rallies and protests in support of Greece taking place across Europe.greece

8 things a student union shouldn’t do – but has done

Godzilla-facepalmOr: is Teesside SU the worst students’ union in the country?

By Tom Scrivener

Over the past two to three weeks, an extraordinary debacle has erupted around Teesside University students union. The most prominent incident, in which a basically very tame ‘student question time’ event was barred from campus is one incident in a long-running saga.

We think that it is important to shine a light on what is happening at Teesside – both because the participation of Teesside students in NCAFC and the free education movement more broadly is being constrained, and because of the dangerous precedents that it could set.

What is amazing, above all, about much of this saga, is how sad and petty it is. Imagine – imagine if the resources of students unions like Teesside were turned outwards, rather than used to stifle campaigning.

Some people, in particular senior people in NUS circles, claim to think that commenting on the affairs of campus unions somehow impinges on some kind of “autonomy”. This version of autonomy is meaningless, and in practice functions as a means for rightwingers in elected positions to escape criticism – while cynically appropriating the same language that would be used (much more legitimately) in liberation politics.

For instance, take NUS’s Vice President Welfare’s #solidarity with those poor, oppressed fulltime officers:

But enough of Colum “autonomy” McGuire.

Here are the eight key things that student unions shouldn’t do – but which, in the course of the past few weeks and months – Teesside SU has done. They get better (and indeed worse) as you read on.

  1. Refusing to allow democratic meetings to discuss motions they were called to discuss, breaking your own constitution

In late October 2014, a small but dedicated group of campaigners – mostly from the Green and Labour Societies at Teesside – set up a free education campaign. They began mobilising for the 19th November national demonstration, called by NCAFC and others, and they went to their student union with a petition to call a members’ meeting (the only way to trigger a democratic vote at Teesside SU).

They collected hundreds of signatures, far more than the 50 required by the constitution, but, after merging their call for a meeting with the already-scheduled union AGM, effectively had their motion ruled out of order. The union officers cited legal concerns, and blocked any debate on the issue. Union officers did allow a motions debate to go ahead, though – on their own motion which opposed free education, which was defeated by a margin of about 9:1 (you can watch it happen here).

In the past month, free education campaigners have been told that the motion will be discussed at a meeting, but that any policy would immediately be vetoed by the trustee board.

  1. Blocking any support for students campaigning for free education, including claiming that providing coaches for the national demonstration would be ultra vires.

Usually, union bureaucracies will attempt to wiggle out of materially supporting a demonstration they don’t really want to support by downplaying it on campus, saying they couldn’t fund coaches (which is never true, as long as you fill them), making up ludicrous health and safety procedures (an NUS favourite), or deliberately failing to fill coaches (standard). But Teesside’s leadership wasn’t content with that. Instead, they decided to argue to campaigners that booking coaches would literally be illegal.

  1. Claiming that taking a position in support of free education is illegal under charity law and (bizarrely) under the Lobbying Act.

Almost every union in the country campaigns on issues around education funding – but Teesside decided it would land everyone in jail.

In early November, the union President emailed free education campaign in relation to their (very routine and widely passed and implemented) motion, to state that:

“As members of the SU, you and I are all bound by the Constitution and your petition and motion are done in accordance with it. We are also bound by the 2014 Lobbying Act which regulates political campaigning. We have to be very careful when spending any money that could be seen as outside our charity objects (‘ultra vires’) as it is against the law.”

It went on:

“You personally are quite entitled to hold and promote those views, the SU probably isn’t, and it certainly can’t lawfully act on them[…] They are outside the powers of this Students’ Union and it would be ‘ultra vires’ to use SU resources on these. Knowing this means our Trustees, Officers, and our employees must act to stop it happening. As a member of the SU you are bound by the Constitution as we are.”

Any arguments about these points were clearly in vain. The trustees had already decided that any campaigning “would not be “well founded” activity as required by the Charity Commission’s guidance on political campaigning CC9. The Trustees consider that there is a very low likelihood of free higher education in the current economic situation.” In other words, don’t ask for anything you can’t achieve immediately, while accepting the premise of the government’s argument as fact.

In a later statement, union officers also stated that because “this policy also included phrases such as “end to cuts”, “jobs for all” and “tax the rich” which were clearly not about education”, they could not become union policy for fear that they would be in some way illegal. This is, to put it mildly, an odd interpretation: it says that although unions can (maybe) say the words “free” and “education”, they can’t use any arguments as to how it could be funded, or what it might mean.

To be clear: in order to not be ‘Ultra Vires’, an action has to be within the Charitable Objects of a charity (its constitutionally defined purpose). For instance, you could (1) “promote the interests and welfare of students” by trying to get rid of all that nasty debt they have; (2) “be the recognised representative channel between students and the university” by asking the Vice Chancellor to join you in the campaign, or even (3) “provide […] forums for discussion and debate for students” by making a statement as a union and inviting members to participate and discuss the issue. The constitution of Teesside (whose content is drawn straight out of a very common template) even includes a handy “Powers” sections, which explicitly says that the union “may” “carry out campaigning activity”, “seek to influence public opinion”, and “make representations and seek to influence government…” This covers all activity which is not in breach of the 1994 Education Act – i.e. which doesn’t involve endorsing a political party or acting ultra vires.

And what does the Lobbying Act 2014 do? It means that if you are planning to spend over £20,000 in England or over £10,000 in any of the nations on a regulated activity (i.e. one which intends to influence members of the public – not your own members – to vote in a particular way), you have to register with the Electoral Commission. You then have a spending limit of £319,800 in England, with smaller limits in the nations. There is also a smaller spending cap for targeted local spending. In other words, the Lobbying Act has no impact whatsoever on whether or not you can or cannot support free education as a union: it is being cited here purely in order to confuse the situation and kick up some dust in the way of campaigning.

  1. Falsely presenting an internal briefing document to students as advice from lawyers and external regulators.

From tragedy to farce – or is it fraud?

This letter is very clearly an internal briefing document. It’s on the Teesside SU website as a briefing note, and it even speaks in the first person about “our Objects”.  From conversations with activists at Teesside, however, it appears that the letter was presented to them as independent legal advice.

In this version as displayed on twitter, the letter appears to have acquired an even more interesting addition: a signature purporting to be from the Charities Commission. We asked Teesside (admittedly only over twitter) to confirm if the letter was from the Charities Commission – and they declined to respond. If they want to make a clarification about (a) what the letter was presented to students as, and (b) what it actually is, they are more than welcome to do so.

  1. Colluding with the university to cancel a ‘student question time’ event because it is too political.

Early in 2015, Teesside Free Education decided to host a debate focussed on the general election, inviting candidates from various different political parties. This kind of event is usually hosted by student unions – and is much more politically balanced and moderate than most activities ordinarily conducted by local activist groups. However, quite quickly the university and union intervened and cancelled the event and the room booking.

Both the union and the university were concerned that the event was insufficiently balanced because it only included 3 out of 5 main parties (without the Lib Dems and UKIP). This is almost certainly not a legal problem: events like this take place on campuses all the time, and even if it did count as third party campaigning, this would only count towards spending limit – it would not be illegal. With our relatively good experience of nasty student union bureaucrats, it is still genuinely impossible to imagine a universe in which either the university or the union would rationally care about this event.

  1. Telling students they are not allowed to hand out leaflets for said political event.

By the time the event took place, it had just been moved off campus entirely: some battles with bureaucracies are just worth ducking. But not before a final act of “shut up and stop talking about politics” could take place. ON January 28th, members of the Free Education campaign were told that they were not allowed to distribute flyers for the “unapproved” event.

  1. Opposing the open debating of free education because you personally disagree with the policy.

In their explanation around the various events, which can be read here, the union officers repeatedly state that free education, as well as “being unlawful”, “is not the position of the current elected Student Officers anyway”.

Not understanding the purpose of union democracy much?

  1. Strongly implying to students that they will be barred from running for election if they put free education in their manifesto

We end on a sinister note. In their explanatory note, Teesside SU officers state that:

“It is also any current students absolute right to run against those of us who are choosing to restand in the forthcoming Students’ Union elections and, subject to the limitations of charity law and the decisions of the Returning and Deputy Returning Officer, campaign on the issues you care about and feel are important”.

In other words, in the absence of being able to hold us to account or change union policy democratically, feel free to run for election on the off-chance that we’re re-running. But if you say what you think, you might get banned from the elections.

Roadmap to Voting for a Generation

 

Exploring our commitment to electoral politics

We’re hDSC_0780olding a day of action to encourage students to register to vote. The same old politics has failed students time and time again, and we want a new deal for the next generation. We want don’t want the scrapping of fees, we want a positive politics where we stand for anondyne promises rather than promising concrete opposition to a march of austerity which is killing many people.

We want to campaign for students to vote. We want students at the heart of the education system, enjoying the benefits of the market, and at the heart of the electoral system. There are seven million students in Britain, and they hold the key to the General Election. We don’t know what they think, and we don’t want to provide opposition to labour policies, we just want people to vote. Sit down with your Vice Chancellor and convince them of the need for them to register you to vote.

 

SUGGESTED ACTIONS

Hold a voting jumble sale , where you sell 7 million students’ votes to the MP who provides the flimsiest policies, so you can pretend your voter registration campaign has any political content. Take a picture of your hand.

Hold a voter registration rally. Take a large banner with the face of the electoral reform society chief on it, and drop it from a window. Raise the crowd into a rhapsody by shouting about how great it is to vote. Do not at any time discuss the policies students may want to vote for. Take pictures of your hands.

Sit down and convince your Vice Chancellor of the way that registering to vote benefits the market, and is great value for money. Take a picture of your hand.

Consider the impact of running campaigns focussed around generations as an identifier, especially when mature students are already some of the most left out of most universities. Consider that the interests students have in common are not those with people who are just their age, but with people who face the same enemies as them – university workers and disenfranchised communities. Brush these considerations aside and register people to vote, because voting is great. Take a picture of your hands.

Politicians are motivated by votes. Absolutely do not consider that they will listen to your ideas, or take concrete action to convey these. Take a picture of your hand.
Are you in a safe seat? If your candidate doesn’t agree with your stance on education funding, and you’ve actually lobbied them, consider blocking a road or occupying their office. Chuck this idea out and take a picture of your hand.

Think about the New Deal you want for the Next Generation. Consider that, despite the fact that all of the major gains for the majority of the human race have been made by organised mass movements from below, you probably ought to just register to vote, because voting is good. Take a picture of your hand.

 

hattie