University marketisation sparks brutal cuts

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By Ben Towse

Across the country, university bosses are announcing brutal cuts to jobs, courses and departments. Teesside has forced all of its professors to reapply for their own jobs and banned their trade union from a meeting to discuss it. Durham wants to recruit 4000 more students while cutting staff. The Open University plans to slash a quarter of its budget, meaning swathes of jobs, to pay for a “digital transformation” plan. Similar stories are coming from around the UK.

Why are these cuts happening? Many of these universities are in good financial shape, and the government has not recently cut overall funding. There are three common themes in their announced reasons.

First, gaming the new Teaching Excellence Framework, and its research counterpart: government-imposed hoop-jumping exercises, supposedly assessing “quality” in universities. Manchester’s bosses reckon they can raise their scores, and so their fees, by becoming a smaller but more “elite” university – by slashing workers’ livelihoods and students’ opportunities.

Second, 2011’s introduction of a deregulated student numbers market. Previously, universities had quotas of students they could take, creating stability. Now the Tory-Liberal drive to marketise education has meant student numbers fluctuate, and with them, income. Universities are scrambling for savings because recruitment has dropped, or cutting socially valuable courses that are less profitable, or cramming in students to take our fees without properly funding staff to support us.

Third, universities are facing financial instability as their investments, costs and so on are hit by wider economic turmoil.

We can fight these cuts locally. Even within these constraints, we can demand that universities prioritise students and staff, education and research, over managers’ six-figure salaries and marketing gimmicks. Already, University of the Arts London bosses were forced to back off job cuts by a campaign including a student occupation. More local campaigns are organising, and NCAFC is here to help – get in touch.

But we also need to join up, through NCAFC, for a national fight against the marketised system driving the cuts. Yes, we need to reverse the reforms that introduced the TEF and the student numbers market, and scrap fees. But we must go further. Education can never fulfil the needs of the many as long as it is provided through a patchwork of atomised selective institutions, each straining to stay afloat amid the buffeting forces of the market, many sharing the same turf, and all competing for students, funding, and scores in government assessments,.

Market chaos breeds inequality, restricts intellectual breadth, and is a fundamentally irrational way to organise education. We need a coherently joined-up, comprehensive, public education system, based on cooperation not competition. Provision should be planned democratically by students, staff and communities to fulfil social need, not determined by big business interests and market forces. Jeremy Corbyn’s proposal of a National Education Service offers a space to articulate and win that vision, but it’s up to us to flesh out the idea and fight for it.

Winning the argument for Free Education

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In many countries, education is free as a right. And now, thanks to the huge popularity behind Labour’s pledge to abolish fees and bring back grants in the general election, we might be on the verge of seeing free education in the UK too.

So what is the case for taxing the rich to provide free education? Not only is it a question of students’ rights, it’s key to creating a more democratic, enriched and empowered society. Imagine a society in which nobody is taught to build bridges, create films, analyse history, provide medical care, investigate the universe, or programme computers.

The idea that education is a commodity, that students should pay for their own because it’s their own business and nobody else’s, is absurd. Education benefits the whole of society, so just like any other social good it should be shared and funded by society – first of all, funded by the richest. Education helps individuals to develop to our fullest potential and engage with the world around us creatively and consciously.

Regardless of whether it gets you a job, this is liberating: granting understanding, confidence, and breadth of vision. This true not just of individuals, but classes of society collectively. Education helps equip marginalised and exploited groups to analyse and describe their own situation, and fight back – in the struggle for the working class’s emancipation and against sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia and disablism.

Naturally, those in power want to control both who can access what education and what they’re taught. This is part of how they maintain their position. Cuts and tuition fees are a project to create a market, forcing universities and colleges to compete rather than cooperating as parts of a democratic public service.

Universities spend on flashy marketing at the expense of welfare services for students and wages for teachers. Departments teaching less profitable subjects are downsized, while money from businesses becomes more important, giving them the power to bias what we are taught and what gets research.

The government wants to reduce education to an industrial pipeline, supplying trained employees ready to be exploited for profit. We believe that every single person in society should have to right to access education. Abolishing fees is a crucial step to achieving that. If you agree, join us and join the fight!

 

Victories for workers at SOAS and LSE

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Last year saw two major victories for workers’ struggles at London universities. First, outsourced LSE cleaners and their union, United Voices of the World, won a ten month campaign for equal rights with other staff at the university. Their victory means they will be brought in-house in the Spring of next year.

Soon after, SOAS’s 10-year-long Justice for Workers campaign was also successful. Outsourcing of all core staff at SOAS will end by September 2018. The victories at LSE and SOAS seemed impossible just 12 months ago, but now they could and should pave the way for an end to outsourcing across the higher education sector and beyond. At the centre of both struggles were inspirational migrant workers who were willing to put their own jobs on the line to fight for equality.

LSE saw 7 days of strike action with picket lines from 5am until 6pm. It is vital to remember these victorious workplace struggles, led by the workers and their unions, were given a massive boost by acts of student solidarity. At LSE and SOAS they joined pickets, organized protests, disrupted and occupied campus spaces. This all garnered press attention and added to the pressure on management to negotiate with the workers and meet their demands. Furthermore, at LSE a key issue for many cleaners was the feeling that the rest of the university did not value them. In response, students organized regular breakfasts to tackle this and built a genuine sense of community.

This sense of community and solidarity in struggle should be extended to our lecturers and teaching staff as well. Just like the cleaners and other campus workers, it is university management that is to blame for the exploitative conditions many staff find themselves in: if faced with insecure contracts and casualisation, limits on academic freedom, and low pay.

And of course, it is university management that charge us extortionate rents, refuse to provide us with inadequate mental health services, and so much more. Management is our common enemy and as students we should stand in solidarity with all workers fighting for their rights on our campus. What happened at LSE and SOAS shows us what we can achieve when we stand together.

Grants Not Debt

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By Shula Kombe

In 2016 the government has now replaced maintenance grants with additional loans. This has saddled the poorest students with more debt than their rich counterparts because, without parental support, they now have to take out a much larger loan at the start of their courses.

All the evidence suggests that maintenance grants improved access for working class students. Yet the Government scrap them because the Conservatives are a party that represent the interests of the ruling class and big business, including in education, as opposed to the interests of workers and working class students.

The Government was successful in 2016, but we are fighting back. Maintenance grants have been scrapped (1998) and won back (2004) in the past – and we can do it again.  To win, we need a range of tactics, from lobbying to direct action, such as the #GrantsNotDebt Westminster Bridge blockade we organised in January 2016.

We must push for more than a return to an inadequate system of maintenance grants, though. What we need is not a scaled rate, but instead one level of grant that is enough to live on for all students. This means that no matter whether a student is shut out of their family, for whatever reason, and no matter how poor or rich a student’s’ family, they will be able to access university. Like the abolition of tuition fees, we can fund this by taxing the rich – those in society who can actually afford it.

To move forward we need to redouble our efforts – building the movement by convincing more and more people of our positive alternative to the Tories’ attacks on our education system, and harnessing our collective power. Join us on the national demonstration for free education on November 15th, where we’ll be demanding living grants for all students.

 

Why is my rent so f***ing high?

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By Flavius McFlavourdale

A consistent trend across universities is the skyrocketing of rent in university halls. Universities stay quiet about rent hikes and we assume they’re a weird force of nature. However, there is no reason why rent should be so high and increasing at the rate it is. So why is my rent so high? There are basically two reasons for this.

Firstly, since 2010 direct funding to universities has been been completely cut and now universities are entirely reliant on your £9,000+ fees for funding. Whereas before university funding was always guaranteed, now it is insecure – unis now need to spend copious amounts of money on PR, visit days and brochures, to attract your loans. However, it also means that unis look for other ways to make funding more stable – one way to do this is to increase rent and channel this money back into management and expansion.

Secondly, universities are acting ever more like businesses (a direct result of policy changes in higher education) – universities now aim ever more for profit and expansion. As such they want to gather enough money to make this possible. They do this by amongst other things: cutting paying, putting staff on worse contracts – and of course making the rent very damn high!

But it needn’t be this way. There is enough wealth in our society to make education and housing and accessible for all and get rid of financial barriers to education. We can only do this through collective and disruptive action. One way in particular has been to organise rent strikes whereby students withhold rent en masse and gain collective leverage over university management. Students from London, to Brighton to Bristol have been involved in this and in some cases have made massive wins as big as £1 million in rent cuts and freezes and bursary increases.

Let’s make housing accessible for all! Let’s cut the rent!

Free Education is within our reach – if we fight for it now, we can win!

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The snap General Election earlier this year has transformed the fight for free education. Labour’s pledge to tax the rich and fund free education was so popular that the Government are now on the back foot and feeling the pressure.

As students and workers united together, now is the time to go on the offensive. If we do, we can keep up this pressure on the Conservative Government and make sure that if a Labour Government gets into power it follows through on its promises. That’s why we’re marching on November 15th.

Right now our education is being attacked from every angle. The marketisation of Further and Higher Education is driving enormous cuts in courses and staff across the country. This lets big business and private companies in to make money, and shuts out those who want and need accessible education the most.

Tuition fees are at the heart of this marketization. They lead to inequality between institutions and eroded job security and working conditions of staff and campus workers. The Teaching Excellence Framework meant to ‘drive up standards in teaching’ is directly linked to the intensifying exploitation and casualisation of university staff.

Scrapping all fees cuts the legs out from underneath this marketization agenda. We must demand that no student, home or international, should pay a penny in tuition fees. We want an end to the cash cow treatment of international students. And we want an end to the regressive maintenance loan system which sees poorest students graduating with the highest amount of debt. This is a debt which is causing a widespread mental health crisis amongst students.

But this system could be about to change. In its place we demand living grants for all: every student across further and higher education should get enough money to study and live on. No more working part time jobs, no more having to depend on family for money, and finally an end to dealing with the bureaucratic mess that is Student Finance and SAAS.

You may have heard people argue that we don’t have the money to pay for free education. That is a myth. We know there is no shortage of wealth in our society: enormous riches lie hoarded in the pockets of a few. We should tax the extortionate wealth of big business and corporations and put it to better use by investing in an education run by and for students, workers and communities, just as we should for other public services like the NHS.

Join us in organising action to win: on our campuses, in our communities, and on the streets.

Free education accessible to everyone is within our reach. By taking action in our thousands, we can seize it now. March with the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts on 15th November: for an end to tuition fees and for living grants for all students, funded by taxing the rich.

Free Education. Now is the time

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Now is the time.

The General Election and its aftermath has put free education back on the agenda. Thousands and thousands of people turned out to vote inspired by the idea of a publicly funded education system and degrees that don’t come with a burden of debt. Education funding is making front-page headlines and becoming a hot topic in Parliament, with Labour initiating a three-hour long emergency debate. More and more voices are speaking out against the disastrous debt-fuelled funding regime, and even those who once championed fee rises are now advocating scrapping them altogether. What for too long seemed like a far-fetched dream, now is looking more and more possible every day. Some say a change is inevitable – but we know that power concedes nothing without a fight, and we wouldn’t be talking about free education now if it wasn’t for those who spent the past seven years or more organising on their campuses and in their communities.

Now is the time to step up – to argue louder than ever that education can and should be free, accessible to all and run democratically in the interest of students, workers and society. To demand a National Education Service that’s free education for all, funded by taxing the rich and big business – no ifs, no buts, no compromises. This is our chance, an opportunity we simply cannot afford to miss.

How do we move forward? How do we harness the fresh excitement around free education, put serious pressure on those in power and make the idea reality? This is something NCAFC is currently discussing and we need your ideas! Join the conversation on the member’s loomio (our discussion and decision making platform) and help us plan a campaign to finally bring an end to tuition fees.

** https://www.loomio.org/d/42VLOK1i/now-is-the-time-free-education-go-go-go **

Everyone who is a member can access the forum and contribute. You should’ve received an activation link when you joined NCAFC – contact us at a[email protected] if you cannot access your account.

If you’re not yet a member, join NCAFC now – http://anticuts.com/membership/

What do we want? Free education!

When do we want it? Now!