Why non-binary?

wanboda

This article was originally written by Helena Dunnet-Orridge for NCAFC Women’s bulletin at NUS Women’s conference 2015 (NUSWomensBulletin2015)

Recently the National Campaign Against the Fees and Cuts (NCAFC) decided to include non-binary identified people in their women’s caucus. This decision was not unprecedented, but rather part of a wider trend in the feminist movement to be more inclusive. As a reasonably prominent non-binary activist within the movement this question has been of interest to me for a long while. Many feminists contest this issue, or simply do not understand it. This is endlessly frustrating to me and yet quite clearly part of a wider issue within the feminist movement and feminist politics: the refusal to integrate and learn from queer theory in any meaningful way. Queer theory and gender theory are, in a theoretical sense, the newer version of feminist theory. Where feminist theory has historically lacked a true analysis of gender, queer theory has supplied and expanded upon it. Where many feminists have been astoundingly ignorant on queer, especially trans, issues queer theory has picked up the pieces. Many feminists are learning from this and progressing, but it is not fast enough, it is not happening enough. We owe that, of course, to neo-liberal discourse and a mainstream focus on liberal feminism. Yet, even Marxist-feminism trails behind in terms of its analysis of gender politics. I strongly feel an implicit dismissal and latent transphobia within feminism that is at odds with how the movement should, theoretically, function. Within feminism lies the central notion of gender, within queer theory lies the liberatory power of moving beyond marginalising views of sexuality and gender.

Then, why, you may well ask, am I interested in being involved in ‘women-only’ spaces? It is to challenge the idea of them; the static nature they seem to possess with regards to gender and its oppressive assignment by society. I understand the need for these spaces – to be away from privileged cis men, and I fully support that notion. But we need to challenge our ideas of maleness and how people are and are not privileged with greater assimilationist narratives. Including non-binary identified individuals is one step towards doing so, for we are allowing the ambiguity some space within feminism, within gender politics. The exclusion of trans women in particular from women-only spaces is based on a reductive and purely materialist, liberal narrative – the idea that one can only be included in oppression when one has always been party to it, the ignorance enough to suggest that being coercively assigned a certain gender at birth is the only predicate upon which we are oppressed and our gender experienced. We do not experience gender merely through a general recognition of our ‘natural’ gender, but along the lines of societally implemented roles which, often, one does not fit into. This is not yet an argument which has been won. Although it is popular to ‘accept’ trans women within women-only spaces, many seem hazy as to the reasons why. I know this because they question the inclusion of non-binary people in those same spaces – with a true understanding of gender categorisation this would become clear immediately. Being within an ambiguous, anti-normative definition of gender automatically throws reactionary hate and discrimination into the mix. Being oppressed by ones gender is not limited just to cis women, but to trans people in general. Our goal within feminism is to end oppression based on gender identity – the core of which is women’s liberation, but also trans liberation. They are not separate, but intimately linked struggles. The way in which we understand gender strongly affects the way in which we address oppression based on it. It is not enough to simply understand that trans women ‘are women’, as though this were a fixed tautology. Trans women cannot be understood to have an identical struggle to cis women, though they both suffer from the same oppressive patriarchal core of ideas and their enforcement within society. Why not, then, also invite trans men into our spaces? A fair number of trans-exclusionary feminists genuinely take this view, in the sense that, to their understanding, these people are not, in fact, ‘real’ men but women so oppressed that they adopt the characteristics of the oppressor. However, we must clearly recognise that trans men, although also oppressed along the lines of gender, do gain a level of privilege within their transition and inherently identify with masculine ideals. In the same way that cis men can reject these rigid masculinities, so too can trans men. However, there is a common assumption that because trans men have experienced the oppressive nature of being perceived as a woman previously they will automatically reject participation in it, post-transitional process. This is not the case. Attempting to be masculine within a patriarchal world very often takes its toll, and the pressure to conform to this patriarchal model of masculinity is increased tenfold for supposed ‘interlopers’ and men who are seen as in some ways ‘inauthentic’. Inclusion of trans men, then, is problematized due to their tendency to participate and ‘join in’ with the same oppressive behaviours of cis men. Their identity and participation within hetero-patriarchal structures is certainly far more complex than that of cis men, particularly when we take into account those who are ‘stealth’ or chose a minimal amount of formal transitional processes and therefore do not have the privilege of ‘passing’. Their participation in feminist spaces will always be in tension. Yet we see many self-selectively exclude themselves with the acknowledgement of their gender status, rightly or wrongly. It is, to many, insulting to be ‘devalued’ by being invited into ‘women-only’ spaces.

If we are to problematize the categories of gender then ‘women-only’ spaces become ambiguous and dubious at best. Who can we include and who can we exclude? Does anyone genuinely have that authority? Adding non-binary people to women’s spaces is a huge step towards genuine discussion of gender categorisation and the complexity of queer identities within them. By explicitly stating that a space is for ‘women and non-binary people’ rather than simply ‘women*’, as though inclusion were an after-thought, an addition, a negligible tack-on symbol, we are opening that narrative. Similarly by using the term ‘trans*’ we are ignoring the attempts of truscum (trans people who believe that only medical transition awards you the label of trans) to vouch for ‘true transgender identity’ by marginalising non-binary identities as a mere addition to trans rather than inherently a part of it. By generically stating ‘women and trans’ we also refuse to engage critically with the debate on transgendered masculinities, although I am much more open to this stance than I am to others.

Truly, all categories of self-definition ought to be problematized. Who is ‘queer’ and therefore allowed in queer spaces? Who is ‘of colour’? Who is white and who is not? Who is disabled, how are they disabled? We must always disturb these narratives, put them on trial, determine their usefulness. Are they serving us, or are we serving them? NCAFC are taking this step because my very presence pushed for it. We need to force other groups to have this conversation not out of convenience, but out of genuine desire to debate and politically decide upon their stance. I hope NCAFC can come to do this, too and I have high hopes for all of the activist’s engagement with the issue.

The women’s campaign we need

This post was written anonymously for NCAFC Women’s bulletin distributed at NUS Women’s Conference 2015 (NUSWomensBulletin2015)WANBODA

 

NUS is meant to be a place where people learn, experience, and develop their politics. It’s meant to be. But it’s not.

Over the past few years the political discussion and debate within the movement has been stifled and strangled. It is impossible to ask questions, explore topics or disagree without being labelled a racist, a transphobe, a white straight man. The truth of the matter is that in a society that is racist and transphobic it would be impossible for me not to be those things. I mess up. I do, but then I learn and change and my politics evolve. And that’s ok. It is.

Very few people wake up and are socialist or know the entirety of the communist manifesto. We often base our ideology on the people who have brought us up until we are able to form them ourselves. NUS is the place that is meant to allow us to form them, to have conversations that open our eyes, make us think differently, allow us to explore views and opinions in different ways not just fighting our way through heavy academic text.

I’m writing this blog anonymously because the women’s campaign scares me. It scares me to ask questions, to not have my opinions completely formed into a detailed analysis. It makes me feel stupid and attacked for not knowing or sharing the Women’s Officers opinion, it doesn’t allow me to explore why the campaign thinks the way it does, it doesn’t allow me to hold her to account. I can’t ask simple questions, I have to sweat nervously on the side-lines, not contributing, not drawing attention to myself, not following what’s going on. Because to be unaware, uneducated, undecided is to be wrong, to be looked down upon, to be hated. The women’s campaign is not a welcoming space; it is made for a very prescriptive view point or being friends with the leaders of it. It is that or face a barrage of abuse, the abuse that I thought was relegated to the playgrounds of my secondary school years. The snide comments, online attacks, and behind your back gossip.

I won’t speak up, I’ve seen what happens to those who dare to disagree, to think differently, I do not want to do that.

Debate, disagreement and discussion are not bad things, but until the women’s campaign acknowledges this, it’s not a place I want to be.

Disruptive direct action gets the goods!

demoThis post was written by Kelly Rogers and was originally part of NCAFC Women’s bulletin distributed at NUS Women’s Conference 2015 (NUSWomensBuelltin2015).

 

There is a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can’t take part; you can’t even passively take part, and you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you’ve got to make it stop. And you’ve got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it, that unless you’re free, the machine will be prevented from working at all!

– Mario Savio, 1964 (Berkeley Free Speech Movement).

 

I’m going to begin with some examples:

In 2013, at my university – the University of Birmingham – management attempted to redraw the contracts of 361 members of some of the lowest paid staff, a majority of them women and BME workers, threatening redundancy to all those who didn’t accept a vastly more casual contract, with considerably worse conditions. In response, students and workers at the university established the Defend the 361 campaign. The trade union representing support staff, UNISON, managed to enrol affected workers. They immediately went into negotiations with university, eventually threatening industrial action. The student activist group on campus I am part of, Defend Education, also launched a public campaign condemning the changes. We warned the university that if they didn’t overturn the changes then we would organise national demonstrations and days of direct action on campus during upcoming university open days. The final day before the deadline we had set, the university caved. The union had been ramping up negotiations for two months, but following their threat of strike action, alongside direct action threatened by students – the university overturned the changes within a fortnight. Also at Birmingham, last academic year we won the Living Wage for all staff at the university, following another collaborative effort between the on-campus trade unions and Defend Education, who went into occupation for 8 days in the university administrative building (the occupation that later led to my current 9 month suspension from university!).

 

When UCL tried to evict local residents from the East London Carpenters estate in 2012, in order to make way for a new campus, students and academic staff launched a campaign opposing the move. Gentrification is ripping the heart of communities across london, it is stripping working class communities of their community assets but also their homes and ability to work and live in London. Students occupied UCL university buildings, demonstrated and took part in stunts aimed at embarrassing the university. Students worked in tandem with Carpenters Estate Against Regeneration Plans (CARP) a group made up of local residents who wanted to fight for their homes.  Together they built a large and strong campaign. As a result of their work the plans were scrapped.

 

Two years later, Focus E15 Mothers went into occupation in the Carpenter’s Estate, as part of the campaign under the slogan ‘social housing, not social cleansing’ in order to demonstrate that when London was faced with such a stark housing crisis, the empty flats were a travesty, as they could be a potential lifeline to so many people. E15 mothers originally comprised 29 mothers who faced eviction from a council-run hostel where they lived. They were told they could have been relocated over 200 miles away: evicted from London. Instead of just taking it they occupied abandoned flats in Newham demanding that the council rehome them: a demand they achieved.  But they didn’t stop campaigning. The Focus E15 Mothers campaign has become one of the most inspirational and far reaching campaigns in the UK. It is a rallying point – calling others to follow their example and fight for affordable homes.

 

At the time of writing, student are occupying not only in the UK, but all over the world. LSE and UAL have been in occupation this week. Quebec students who stopped a fees hike with their student strike in 2012, are about to go on strike again this week. UvA in Amsterdam and Facultad de Bellas Artes: UPV in Madrid as well. Across the world the international student movement is proving itself to be a powerful progressive social force. These students are the cornerstones of the global student movement – they are an absolute inspiration, and it is these students that NUS needs to be helping with its resources and support.

 

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The best-known form of direct action is the strike, where workers walk away for their work and refuse to produce profits for their bosses until their demands are met. Historically, workers have also used other, creative forms of direct action too: acts of sabotage that ruin machines, stop production, or ‘going slow’ and refusing to meet targets. These are all ways to hit the bosses where it hurts most, in the profit margins. Individually workers are weak, typically sidelined in employment law relative to the rights of the employer – but collectively, by forcibly shutting down or slowing production, they take power into their own hands. Practically every right and privilege that a worker has today has been won in this manner.

 

Similarly, students wanting ownership over their education, and institutions that are well-funded rather than lining the pockets of fat-cat Vice-Chancellors – these students, by employing analogous actions of sabotage, or disruption – which target their institution’s profits directly, or indirectly (by undermining ‘reputation’, for example) they achieve the same thing – a redistribution of power enabling students and workers to challenge the rampant greed of the neoliberal ideologues heading up our universities and colleges.

 

We need to be demonstrating, publicly and loudly, that we want change – rather than just relying on invisible, behind-closed-door discussions (which usually amount to nothing more than the elite paying lip-service to the idea of a ‘good relationship’ – good for them, more like!). By doing so, we draw people into our campaigns; we educate people about major political issues, inequalities, and oppressions; we agitate for a frame of mind where people believe that things can change and that it is us that can make that change. Campaigns like that run by the E15 Mothers has clearly shown this, with Housing campaigns now springing up by the week.

 

Furthermore, for the loyal ultra-bureaucrats out there, who love dressing up smartly and shaking hands with powerful people, even you ought to support direct action as a central tactic of the student movement. Direct action can beautifully complement cross-table negotiations. When those in power are under pressure, as their reputation comes under fire or their profits trickle away, they want a way out. In some cases, the institution we make demands of want to save face, and by giving credit to student union bureaucrats (for example), who prefer their desks to the barricades, they can build the elaborate distraction – the ‘good relationship’, while acquiescing to the demands of those undertaking acts of sabotage and disruption.

 

And finally direct action is empowering – and that is at the heart of feminism. In recent weeks, for International Women’s Day NCAFC Women organised an occupation of Senate House, University of London, which lasted three days. This action brought in a number of new women and non-binary students. A consequence of this was that some of the women, from LSE, left feeling so inspired and excited by the action – that they went back to their institution and organised the current (at the time of writing) occupation. Direct action can be infinitely empowering – by giving participants a feeling of what it means to be able to effect change, to influence the people around you, and by demonstrating what we can achieve if we organise collectively, and refuse to be isolated and atomised.

 

So as Mario Savio said over 50 years ago, when things are so bad – when huge swathes of people are denied access to education; when institutions actively cover-up and perpetuate rape culture; when they’re installing racist surveillance systems aiming to divide us and root out dissident migrant students to deport them. When our education is being decimated by cuts, which are affecting the ability of students to get affordable childcare, or mean that they live in poverty while in education and feel compelled to go into sex work, or cutting the grants and resources being given the disabled students. When they’re closing our Women’s Libraries, and slashing our Women’s Studies courses. When things are this bad, we can’t just stand by passively. We believe that must be why people go the NUS, and in turn the NUS needs to provide the tools for real change. That means, sometimes, preventing the machine from working at all, and it means, always, putting power into the hands of students!

 

Direct action gets the goods – vote for motion 305!

 

Support the LSE occupation, the  UAL occupation, the KCL occupation and the Goldsmiths occupation!

Petition done, what now? RECKLESS MUST RESIGN!

ed recklessThis statement was written by a group of students at Loughborough University.

*Trigger Warning: violence against women*

Stand Against Violence Loughborough started a petition just 10 days ago calling for the newly election President of Loughborough Students’ Union, Ed Reckless, to stand down. Mr Reckless had admitted and apologised for an incident in the union bar where he slapped a woman twice whilst on a night out.
The petition has received overwhelming support, not just from people in Loughborough shocked that they were unaware of the incident when they voted but also from people around the world. Loughborough University and the Students’ Union itself do not exist in a little bubble. Far from it, they are part of a much wider community and we thank everyone for signing the petition and standing against violence.
We maintain that Ed Reckless, who calls himself “Relentless Reckless” on twitter is not suitable to preside over the Union. We want a union, a campus and the town we live in to be safe for everyone. The lad culture at our union and university needs to change and the first step in changing it is for Reckless to stand down. We want to be very clear about this: we are not attempting to damage Ed Reckless’s career. We wish him well for the future. But it would be wrong for him to think that his career should start with being President of LSU. He cannot represent the urgent need for a different style at the union; he cannot play a role in helping make the union, the campus and the town safer for everyone. Only a new candidate can start that process in a successful manner.
A new candidate needs to urgently look at the way the Union is organised and the way lad culture has been allowed to flourish. They need to be able to make proposals for change on the way Halls dominate our election processes and they need to ensure a new inclusivity can thrive at the Union.
What we expect now is for Reckless to resign and we urge him to do so. It is important that he heeds the voices of thousands of people who signed our petition. We expect the Union to call the election null and void as Reckless should never have been allowed to stand whilst banned from the union. Finally, we expect a new and fresh election for President to begin as soon as is practicable.
We make this statement with the aim of moving Loughborough Students’ Union forward in a positive way and in a new direction. We hope the Union will respond accordingly and we urge everyone on campus to get behind us as we endeavour to make a real and lasting difference.

 

Click here to view, sign and share the petition.

We need a strategy! 3 next steps for the free education movement

11037349_884196414956067_1039808284572757940_nThe past academic year has seen the emergence of a new student movement – 10,000 students have marched, and we have seen a whole range of occupations, demonstrations and protests against inequality on campus and neoliberalism in education.

The past month has witnessed another chapter in this new student movement, at a surprisingly late stage in the academic year. The frustration and antipathy of many students towards neoliberalism in higher education, and their appetite for taking direct action, has developed faster than many expected, at least in the four campuses which are in occupation (University of the Arts London (UAL), London School of Economics (LSE), King’s College London (KCL) and Goldsmiths). This follows a period of slightly heightened activity across the country, including in areas where activism has traditionally been at a low ebb.

More campuses may go in in the coming weeks, and big cuts announced at London Met – where 165 jobs are under imminent threat – should form an important focus for action. UAL is also the cite of a major anticuts struggle, with 800 foundation course student places under threat.

There is a flurry of meetings and excitement and thinking going on, much of it in the name of coming up with a strategy for the future. It is in the name of pursuing such a strategy that we exist as a campaign, and we have spent 5 years developing one. No-one holds the copyright for building the strategy, and everything is open to constant discussion and amendment.

There are 3 basic ‘next steps’ that we want to start a discussion around:

  1. We need to keep this wave of action going for as long as possible – and then come together to devise an ‘autumn battleplan’

The past year has built a significant head which should pay off in a much bigger way in autumn. If we can hold onto the occupied spaces for a number of months, this would be very positive. If we can’t, it’s not the end of the world. The most important thing is that we gather our energies together and plan the next phase of the fight.

On June 13-14, NCAFC will be holding its summer conference, in Sheffield. This will provide an ideal time to come together to plan and reflect with activists from all over the country.

Key questions that still need to be answered include:

  • If NUS doesn’t call a national demo (we’ll know this by the end of April), should we call one anyway?
  • What days/weeks of action should we call, over what demands, and what action should we undertake (occupations, walkouts, local marches?)?
  • How do we relate what we’re doing to the wider political agenda post-election, depending on the result?
  • How do we relate to the wider movement – strike action, cuts, communities, etc?

All of these questions will need to be settled, or at least mulled over thoroughly, at NCAFC summer conference – so put June 13-14 in your diaries now! A facebook event will follow shortly.

  1. We need to build a massive coalition across society – like in Germany

We won’t be able to win free education just by convincing students and recent graduates – we need it to become a theme of a much larger revolt against neoliberalism. In Germany, where tuition fees have been a brief and unpopular experiment, one of the key forces in winning fee abolition was a coalition that included trade unions, community groups, even political parties.

This isn’t to overstate the role of ‘broad coalitions’ – our success will always ride or fall on the collective strength of the student movement – but in order to really begin to push our case, we need support beyond students, and we need to extend our solidarity to communities and workers in struggle. At the moment, the plan is to attempt to gather as many of these forces as possible together for a conference in October in order to found a new alliance. The date set is October 17th – facebook event here.

Most importantly, we will need to do more with this alliance than just hold a conference. During 2014-15, we’ve organised a series of local marches on weekends, which have attracted many hundreds of people, to bring communities into the fight for free education. We need to expand these actions, and look towards something bigger in 2016 (see point 3 for that).

  1. We need to build a long-term ‘strike’ plan for 2016

Students can’t really ‘strike’ – so when we talk about a student strike, what we really mean is ‘student mayhem’. One of the key problems of the British student movement has been an inability to look more than 3 months ahead, let alone to plan really long-term. We’re getting better at the former, but we haven’t yet managed to devise a plan that is long-term enough to really focus a big strategy around. In Quebec, the student movement set itself dates for walkouts over a year in advance, and built towards them solidly. Questions for us include:

  • Is this plan viable?
  • When should it happen in 2016: Term 2 of 2015-16, or Term 1 of 2016-17?
  • How might it interact with any attempt to raise fees?
  • What should it consist of? Occupations? Blockades? Street Demonstrations?
  • How long should it last? Should it have a defined ending point?

For all of this and more, come to NCAFC summer conference.

And write down your thoughts! Do you have a blog about the future of the student movement? Then email it to us, and we’ll publish it.

Wave of Occupations in London Swells!

For more information please contact: 07989 235 178

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Students block the road outside UAL’s main campus at High Holborn

The new wave of occupations in London was swelled yesterday as students at King’s College London went into occupation to protest the ongoing neoliberalisation of higher education. They join the London School of Economics and University of the Arts London who have been occupying the reception area of Central St. Martin’s in response to the announcement of the cutting over 500 foundation course places last week.

Students from these occupations took part in a demonstration yesterday (March 25) from LSE to High Holborn and blocked the road there, then continued to Elephant & Castle and the London College of Communications, which will bear the brunt of the cuts to foundation courses.

As protesters gathered outside to find the building locked, the police were called to the area. A fire alarm was set off, and some students gained access to the building – although the alarm lead to the evacuation of the entire college. The police continued to keep the building shut for several hours after protesters had left.

University of the Arts London Student Union President Shelly Asquith said: “That university management felt the need to call the police to keep us out of our own university building showed they are afraid of occupation as a tactic and of the power of students. We believe firmly that the police should be kept off our campuses and that universities should be a space free from intimidation and police harassment.”

National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts LGBTQ Representative Raquel Palmeira said “ I have been occupying Central St Martins in solidarity with those who will be affected by the proposed cuts to foundation places. This is yet another example of the neoliberal university cutting things which it views as not useful for the free market economy. This new wave of activism is really unprecedented at this time of year, and I think it bodes well for our national demonstration on Saturday in Birmingham.”

NOTES

The London School of Economics occupation has been taking place since March 18 and they are based in the Vera Anstey Suite in the Old Building. The occupation of Central St Martins has been going on since March 19.
On Saturday March 28, the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts has organised a national demonstration in Birmingham to march on the seat of Shadow Higher Education Minister Liam Byrne. For more information, see: https//www.facebook.com/events/425105397638482/

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The protest outside the London College of Communication, where police showed up on campus.

Police arrive at UAL's London College of Communication and lock it down.

Police arrive at UAL’s London College of Communication and lock it down.

Onlookers at the London College of Communication

Onlookers at the London College of Communication

DEMONSTRATE THIS WEDNESDAY: March to stop the cuts at UAL: free education for all!

We host this press release on behalf of the UAL and LSE occupations. 

Join and share the facebook event for the demonstration HERE.

#occupyUAL #LSEoccupation

Contact: 07824391772, 07749263622, 07970776900

On Wednesday 25th March, students, education workers and supporters will march from London School of Economics (LSE) to the London College of Communication (LCC) in Elephant and Castle, under the banner of ‘March to stop the cuts at UAL: free education for all’.

The demonstration is aimed primarily at protesting a series of devastating cuts to Foundation courses at UAL, but is also themed around a broader fight for free and democratic education. The march will demand that the cuts are cancelled, as well as £500,000 cuts to Widening Participation outreach and a range of measures to democratise the University. UAL has also been the scene of a student occupation at its Central Saint Martins campus since Thursday.

The planned cuts at UAL would cut up to 800 student places on Foundation courses, jeopardising dozens of jobs. Most UAL students go through a Foundation programme, and Foundation courses are an especially vital route into higher education for those without formal qualifications. Many of the staff affected did not find out about the plans until an email was put from the Deputy Vice Chancellor, responding to the occupation. The process of determining the scale of the redundancies will be determined at a meeting on Tuesday.

Activists from across London and further afield have linked up to call the demonstration – from campuses including LSE, UAL, UCL, SOAS, KCL, Bristol, Goldsmiths, Queen Mary, Sheffield, Birmingham and Oxford – came together to call the demo on Sunday afternoon.

LSE has been in occupation since Tuesday 17th March, demanding democratisation and change to the current education system. Natalie Fiennes, 23, from the LSE Occupation, said: “We demand an education that is liberating – which does not have a price tag. We want a university run by students, lecturers and workers. Occupy LSE stand in solidarity with UAL and will march on Wednesday. These changes to higher education are emblematic of the sorts of concerns that are being raised in occupations around the Europe and the globe, from Amsterdam, Macedonia and UAL. This surge in direct action shows that there is a profound frustration with the way that business model is being imposed on education.”

Shelly Asquith, President of University of the Arts London Students’ Union, said: “UAL management has no mandate for pushing through these cuts. They have continually undermined education in favour of profit-making and have shown contempt for engaging with the student body in any meaningful way. It’s clear that this government couldn’t care less about the arts – I would expect better from our own University”.

Deborah Hermanns, from the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts, said: “These kinds of cuts are the result of years of government policy, aided and abetted a tier of unaccountable and spineless senior management. We are witnessing the creation of a two-tier education system, sucking money out of parts of the system which working class students rely on, and putting it into where money can be made. These move set an awful precedent for what could happen to courses across the UK.”

 

 

Campaigners occupy over ‘devastating’ cuts to foundation courses at UAL

Contact: 07824391772 07749263622, 07897922813

Dozens of students have taken over the ground floor of the main building at Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts London in protest at wide-ranging cuts to Foundation courses. Campaigners say that the proposals would set a dangerous precedent for further cuts across the education sector.

The cuts, which were not made clear to students or staff until they were uncovered by union officers last week, will cut up to 800 student places, jeopardising dozens of jobs. Occupiers are demanding that the cuts are cancelled, as well as the reversal of £500,000 cuts to Widening Participation outreach and a range of measures to democratise the University. A full list of demands can be read here.

Under the plans, Foundation courses at the London College of Communication (LCC) will be entirely abolished, with others at Camberwell College and Central Saint Martins cuts drastically and merged into a single course. Most UAL students go through a Foundation programme, and Foundation courses are an especially vital route into higher education for those without formal qualifications. Much of the Foundation course offering will now be effectively outsourced to other institutions across the UK and accredited by  UAL – detaching the University from its role in FE teaching.

The process of determining the scale of the redundancies will be determined at a meeting on Tuesday. Many of the staff affected did not find out about the plans until an email was put from the Deputy Vice Chancellor, responding to the occupation.

Indiana Lawrence, a Foundation student at Camberwell College of Art, said: “I’m here because I cannot stand by and watch something which I relied on disappear. The link between Foundation and degree is vital, both for access for those form marginalised backgrounds, and for the quality of arts education and the ability of artists to explore different fields. What is being proposed is devastating, and we will stay here for as long as it takes to make UAL back down.”

Shelly Asquith, President of UAL students’ union, said: “UAL management has no mandate for pushing through these cuts. They have continually undermined education in favour of profit-making and have shown contempt for engaging with the student body in any meaningful way. It’s clear that this government couldn’t care less about the arts – I would expect better from our own University”.

Deborah Hermanns, from the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts, said: “These kinds of cuts are the result of years of government policy, aided and abetted a tier of unaccountable and spineless senior management. We are witnessing the creation of a two-tier education system, sucking money out of parts of the system which working class students rely on, and putting it into where money can be made. These move set an awful precedent for what could happen to courses across the UK.”

The occupation is holding an open public meeting on Monday – facebook event here.

NCAFC, supported by NUS, is mobilising for a national demonstration for free education in Birmingham on Saturday – facebook event here.

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UAL students: Why We’re Occupying Our Art School

10309483_1570953156477737_5372680921694124567_nThis article first appeared on Huffington Post here.

Follow the UAL occupation here.

Sign the petition against cuts to foundation courses here.

 

 

 

 

On the 16 March, news was spread amongst University of the Arts London (UAL) students that management had decided to cut over 800 places on their Foundation courses. Three days later, students and SUARTS sabbs are occupying management rooms at Central St Martins, King’s Cross in a peaceful yet poignant protest.

Foundation courses in the arts provide students with a year in which to further their education, opportunities and creative development. These courses are free for Home students aged 19 and under. As such, they remain one of the last areas in which students can be creatively expressive, pushing the boundaries without the heavy weight of student debt hanging over their heads.

The decision to dramatically cut places on Foundation courses follows news that the government is cutting the budget for Further Education (under which Foundation courses fall. The University College Union (UCU) estimates that this cut, alongside the 35% cut to the Adult Skills Budget, could lead to a loss of 400,000 students studying at college.

By cutting funding for Further Education, and by cutting places on Foundation courses, both the government and UAL are once again undermining and devaluing student’s access and rights to a free education. On top of this, a large number of teaching positions will be scrapped, meaning staff now face redundancies.

UAL is making money from Foundation courses, just elsewhere. With its new ‘UAL Awarding Body’, the institution accredits courses in a number of colleges across the UK in exchange for funnelling those students on to HE courses (where the real money is!). This represents the marketization of education, where the UAL brand can be outsourced as an income stream.

Thus, demand #1: No cuts to foundation courses

The notion that the university can’t afford to maintain the 800 courses they’re cutting becomes a cheap argument when you consider the Vice Chancellor of UAL’s six-figure salary, and the £200m cost for Central St Martins’ new ‘campus’. It doesn’t take a London School of Economics student to see that a simple reshuffle of funds might solve some of the problem.

(Coincidentally, LSE students have also been in occupation for the last few days – solidarity!)

And so, Demand #2: Democratise our university

We want greater transparency on all decision making processes at UAL, as well as total financial transparency. This year, it was quietly released that the budget for Widening Participation, the programme at UAL which works towards creating better access to arts education for people from working class backgrounds, is being cut by £500k. This, combined with the cutting of places on Foundation, courses which provide one of the few areas in which the ‘attainment’ gap for Black students does not exist, mean that access to arts education for students from diverse backgrounds is diminished.

o-OCCUPY-UAL-570

This leads us to Demand #3: No institutional racism

While our demands and concerns are centred on our anger and frustration with the institution of UAL, our fight is part of the larger struggle. Under this Conservative-led government; undergraduate fees have tripled for Home/EU students, our loans have been privatised, school curriculums have been narrowed, and bills have passed which require lecturers to report students who express ‘radical’ views.

Demand #4: Free education

The building in which we are occupying epitomises the notion that our university now feels and behaves more like a business than an art school. We are sitting in a fish-bowl room, with floor-to-ceiling windows, round glass conference table and chrome swivel chairs. UAL rents this building from Argent, a property developer who ‘make places for people’. Argent’s owner is one of the major donors to the Conservative Party. Their security, wearing the infamous red beanie hats branded with ‘King’s Cross’ have already notified the police, and are circling the site with sniffer dogs.

So, Demand #5: We have the right to protest

This university should first and foremost be an establishment for education, not for money-making. Students should have the right not only to move in and out of this occupation as they wish, but should always have free access to the university buildings.

The cuts to over 800 placements on Foundation courses at UAL without any student consultation is unacceptable. But this forms just one of the issues students and education staff are facing and fighting against. We need to make a stand against privatisation, nepotism, commodification of education and lack of diversity now.

Follow the occupation on Twitter at @OccupyUAL, or on Facebook:facebook.com/occupyual

#OccupyUAL
#LiberateUAL

The Occupiers at LSE – “The student is no longer a student”

Students at LSE have occupied the central meeting room of the university administration, in rejection of this University System built around profit. This is a statement from them.LSE

 

Universities all over the UK have implemented the privatized, profit-driven, and bureaucratic ‘business model’ of US higher education, a system which locks graduates into huge debts and turns the university into a degree-factory and students into consumers. The hike in fees in 2010 and the implementation of market-driven benchmarks as the primary organizing model, are only two aspects of this process.

 

When a university is more concerned with its image, its marketability and the ‘added value’ of its degrees, the student is no longer a student – they become a commodity and education becomes a service. Institutional sexism and racism, as well as conditions of work for staff and lecturers, becomes a distraction for an institution geared to profit.

 

LSE has become the epitome of a university build in the service of, and in the image of, the same corporate and financial institutions which nearly brought the world to a halt in 2008.

 

We occupy in opposition to this.

 

Last November over 10,000 students took to the streets in London demanding Free Education. Since then, there have been occupations in several universities around the country – from Birmingham to Warwick to Sheffield – demanding an end to this profit-driven university system. Just last week, Senate House was occupied by women and non-binary activists from the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts in support of the free education as a liberatory demand.

 

We join the struggle of these experiences, and take part of a growing international movement that wants to re-imagine our university system, in rejection of the current one.

 

We want a university run by students, lecturers and workers, run on a direct democratic and liberated basis. We call on the university to divest from companies that benefit from fossil fuels that are destroying our planet and Israeli apartheid.

 

Inspired by the experience in Sheffield, and the occupation of the University of Amsterdam, we aim to build the Free University of London. We want to build a platform of liberated spaces where we are able to re-imagine, re-create and re-define our educational system. It is to be accessible to all, non-hierarchical and democratically run, a place where knowledge is not seen as a commodity but something valuable in its own right.

 

We seek to build towards the the national protest in Birmingham called by the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts on 28th March (https://www.facebook.com/events/425105397638482/). We want to build a mass movement that spreads beyond LSE to the whole country.

 

While our aim is to achieve a free, universally accessible and democratic high education we must never forget the slogan of the anticapitalist movement – ‘A free university within a capitalist system is like a lecture hall in a prison’.

 

In Solidarity,

The Occupiers at LSE – the Free University of London