Higher Education

Sheffield’s fee rise shows why we need disruptive action

sheff tefJosh Berlyne, University of Sheffield

On Monday Sheffield University announced it will be raising tuition fees. As part of opting in to the Teaching Excellence Framework, fees will rise to £9,250 for undergraduates next year, and may rise to £10,000 by 2020.

This has happened despite over 3,000 students, staff and alumni signing an open letter calling on the university to opt out of the TEF.  It has happened despite Sheffield having a Vice-Chancellor who has consistently opposed tuition fees, and who has been vocal in his opposition to the TEF. This highlights a number of important points.

First, opposition to the marketisation and privatisation of universities—which fee rises, the TEF, and the higher education reforms more generally embody—will not be successful if it is localised. Universities are subject to the imperatives of a financial system which is out of their control. Any semblance of democratic control over the financing of higher education (if it could ever have been said to exist) has been blasted away; with central governmental funding slashed, universities must rely on tuition fees to sustain their budgets. As inflation rises, costs rise. This means tuition fees must also rise.

This leads to the second point. Since universities are subject to these financial imperatives, completely out of democratic control, winning the moral argument is not sufficient. No matter how convinced a Vice-Chancellor is that education should be free, they will always give in to the short-term financial pressures imposed on them. Students need to make it in the financial interests of the university and the state to act in the interests of students and workers. That means disruptive action.

The present state of affairs in universities means that the interests of students and workers are placed secondary to the financial interests of universities.  This is the wrong way around. The interests of universities should be put in line with the interests of students and workers.  The only way to do this is through democratic control.

The process of marketisation, which hands control over to the imperatives of the market, is being driven forwards by the present round of higher education reforms.  Thus resisting these reforms is a crucial part of the battle for democratic control.  The NSS boycott, which is being organized on 21 campuses across the country, is one way to generalize this battle.  In disrupting the ways in which universities are internally managed, and disrupting the management of the UK higher education sector as a whole, the boycott gives students the power to force concessions from the government.  On those campuses where a boycott is happening, students should get involved; on those where a boycott is not yet being organized, students should make organizing one their priority.

UCL students protest the Teaching Excellence Framework

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By Justine Canady, UCL

On 13 December, UCL we held a demonstration against the HE reforms at UCL. This protest was a part of a larger campaign started by our group of student activists, many of us from UCLU Labour Society, to defend higher education. Our campaign is focused on urging UCL’s Provost, Michael Arthur, to opt out of the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF). We are supported by numerous UCL Union officers and other UCLU societies.

UCLU Labour Society sent a petition in the form of an open letter (with 429 signatures) to the provost 16 December. The petition called TEF’s metrics “not relevant to actually improving teaching”, claiming that such an “arbitrary” framework would raise tuition fees, open the door for big business, create unfair requirements for staff, compromise academic freedom, and make UCL inaccessible to even more students. The letter goes on to say that Arthur called TEF “unnecessary” nearly a year ago.

There have been numerous closed-door meetings to discuss TEF, but Arthur has yet to publicly denounce the scheme. Our campaign promises to keep agitating until students’ needs are met and we hope to see other campaigns like this across the country soon. Next term, with the support of our student union, we’ll be building the drive to boycott the NSS unless and until the government drops the reforms.

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Union officers: 11 ways you can promote the NSS boycott now!

boycott-the-nssThe NSS boycott is a national campaign – to be successful, we need as many students as possible to know about it and participate, and Students’ Unions have a crucial role to play in that. Here are some ideas of how you can spread the message – use as many of them as you can, and more!

Set up an SU webpage dedicated to the campaign

You need an online space where any students can find out more information about the campaign and, crucially, what they can do to take part. Where possible this should include a mechanism by which students can pledge to boycott and request to opt out of communications from Ipsos Mori. This process is *normally* done via the University and so you may need to have conversations with the relevant university staff member(s) about how to facilitate this. Some institutions might be more awkward about it than others – make sure you stand your ground and insist that this process is a key part of the SU campaign. You want to be able to keep track of how many students have pledged, and from which departments/faculties, so that you can focus your campaign in specific areas if necessary.

Send an all-student email

The easiest and most obvious way of reaching out to students. Make sure they hear about the NSS from you before they do from the university! Include a link to your campaign webpage as well as a clear and concise explanation of why the campaign is so important.

Do lecture shout-outs

It’s easy to ignore emails but most people will remember things they heard in person – especially when they’re in a lecture and (in theory) ready to pay attention! You need to figure out where the key lectures are for you to hit – remember that only a certain demographic of students are eligible to fill out the NSS and so you need to target the right people. Draw up a timetable of relevant lectures, chat to lecturers in advance to ask if you can have 5 minutes at the start to talk about the campaign and leave flyers/stickers for students to pick up at the end. Get to as many of these as you can!

Put up posters

Design your own posters or run a competition for students to make their own – think as creatively as possible! You can also encourage students to take down or deface university posters promoting the survey and share a photo!

Run stalls

You need to make sure the campaign is as visible as possible, and that there are people out there on the ground who can chat to students, answer any questions and, of course, win the key arguments! If possible, have a laptop/tablet at the stall so that students can pledge to boycott right there and then.

Work with your UCU branch

Remember that UCU National Congress passed a motion supporting the NSS boycott! If you haven’t done so already, get in touch with your campus branch to talk to them about how you can work together to promote the campaign. See if staff members would be willing to put up a slide about the NSS boycott at the beginning of their lectures to spread awareness – students generally really respect what academics have to say, and so as much visible support from staff as possible would make a huge difference to the campaign.

Make a video

Simple really – a brief video breaking down what the NSS boycott is and why it’s necessary that can be shared around social media would be really useful!

Do creative actions

Alongside all the regular comms and publicity strategies, you need stunts/actions which will create a proper buzz on campus about the NSS boycott. This could be a banner drop, a sit-in, a rally, a march and more! Collaborate with grassroots activists to ensure maximum impact.

Reach out to societies

If you have any activist groups on campus, political societies (Labour? People & Planet? A strong Fem Soc?) or even less obvious communities (like sports teams?!), speak to them and try to get key people on board e.g society execs – they could send out member emails/general communications about the NSS boycott which will really help with engagement.

Contact course reps

Following on from the previous point, you don’t just want students to hear about the campaign from the SU, but from their flatmates, their fellow society/club members and their coursemates. Hence course representatives are a key group to try and get on board; they will generally be used to chatting to fellow students and spreading awareness/information and so if you can work with them to do this with the NSS boycott it would make a huge difference. You should encourage them to bring the issue up in departmental meetings and ensure you’re supporting them in terms of winning the arguments.

Run workshops

Most importantly, don’t assume that students aren’t interested. The Higher Education reforms – from fee increases, enforced competition, universities shutting down and being replaced with private companies – will affect everyone. It’s your job to break down these issues and make the campaign as accessible as possible, so ensure you’re facilitating spaces where students can access necessary knowledge and information!

Fighting the commodification and casualisation of higher education

Mark Campbell, London Met UCU (Vice-chair), London Region UCU (Higher Education Chair)

Re-posted with permission from London Met UCU’s blog

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This Monday, London Met UCU published the damning conclusions of a workload survey we recently conducted. It’s main findings were the shocking, health damaging, increase in workload – following continuing mass redundancies, now affecting London Met’s permanent substantive staff. Essentially, contractual workload protections have been subverted through the convenient mechanism of line-managers not recognising ANY work other than face-to-face lecturer-student teaching as needing to be measured (but still expected under threat of discipline to be conducted). The documented survey comments highlighting those appalling lived-experiences are shocking.

However, what our survey also highlighted was the other, even more discriminating, and health-risking, side of the modern commodified dystopian university: a permanently exploited, zero-houred, reserve army of labour. These staff have zero job-security, zero-reward for years of service, zero-protection from redundancy (their zero-hour contract is constructed to allow them to be permanently-redundant between crumbs of work). The appalling conditions of casualised lecturing staff are not unique to London Met, and are shockingly highlighted in today’s Guardian front-page and accompanying articles.

London Met management may be ahead of the pack in their future-imperfect full on rush to a privatised market dystopia, but the rest of the university sector are now snapping at its heals and about to be let off the leash by the Higher Education Bill 2016.

All university staff, permanent substantive or casualised, have a vested interest in fighting to end the commodification of education, and its equally evil twin, the casualisation of university labour. We need permanent secure contracts for all staff, that truly reflect and reward ALL the work that we do, and we need enough staff that allow us to deliver the sort of quality service that our students deserve. The neo-liberal model has failed. Time to remove it from education.

In these circumstances, and particularly at this critical time, its an absolute disgrace that the current UCU leadership have acted to disarm our members in that fight by dropping our national industrial action and pay campaign that was explicitly aimed at taking on all our employers over their collective guilt and complicity over both increasing casualisation and the equally shocking increasing gender pay-gap.

FInally, with regards to the Higher Education Bill 2016, we don’t need fatally flawed measures of ‘teaching excellence’ or ‘student satisfaction surveys’ – indeed, we should be supporting the NUS decision to boycott the NSS. Instead, what we really need is proper investment in the essential public good that a university education is. That starts with recognising the critical role that university staff play in forming and delivering that public good. It means recognising, as the NUS does, that ‘staff working conditions are students learning conditions’. It means recognising that society as a whole inextricably benefits from an educated workforce and critically engaged citizenry, therefore society should pay for it through student grants and direct university block grants via increased business taxation. We need to break the rod of mass student indebtedness and free from their shackles our indentured university employees.

This is why I, and thousands of others, will be marching this Saturday in London, United for Education.

 

Why we’re marching: Grants not Debt, Stop the College Cuts & Stop the HE Reforms

This Saturday 19 November we will be marching with students, education workers and supporters from around the country. This demo is one part of the movement we need to defeat the government’s brutal attacks on education. To build that movement and win, we need to be crystal clear about our demands – to reverse the cuts to maintenance funding, stop the cuts to colleges, and stop the higher education reforms. And about how we demand a free, universally accessible, democratic education system should be built – by taxing the rich and taking the banks under democratic control. Read on to find out more – and please share! On Saturday, you can help NCAFC spread the word by finding our stall at the assembly point to get involved in distributing bulletins and placards.


Grants Not Debt!

grants-not-debt-matt-kirby-810x539The government has now replaced maintenance grants with additional loans. This divisive, toxic policy saddles the poorest students with immense amounts of debt. The Tories have gone through with their destructive, anti-working class politics despite evidence that maintenance grants improve access and that debt deters students from higher education. But we won’t let them win!

Maintenance grants have been scrapped (1998) and won back (2004) in the past, and we can do this again. We will have to employ a range of tactics, from lobbying to direct action, with examples including the #GrantsNotDebt Westminster Bridge blockade in January and the NUS National Demo on November 19th. If students and workers come together on the streets and beyond, we can put enough pressure on the government that we will win the reintroduction of maintenance grants.

This victory is the first step in a wider aim though. Winning back maintenance grants will be a huge victory and will improve access for millions of students, but it is still not enough to guarantee a truly accessible education system. We must push on further. Our aim should be this: living grants for all students, with everyone getting enough to have a decent standard of life, as a part of a free, liberated and democratic education system.

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’ attack. The idea of a workable free education system is being developed by individual campaigners on the ground, by free education activists groups such as NCAFC, and now by the largest political party in the UK, the Labour Party. Collectively, we have the strength knowledge and potential for action to win back maintenance grants through the #grantsnotdebt campaign and build the type of education system we want. To do this, we must fight together.


Stop the college cuts!

esol-cutsSince 2010 we’ve seen massive cuts in further and adult education spending and, according to trade unions and a leading King’s College London report, we’re now on a rapid road to the systematic obliteration of further education.

In 2010, the Coalition government scrapped Educational Maintenance Allowance (EMA), the only support on offer for the poorest further education (FE) students. Since then, a stream of assaults on FE college funding have resulted in devastating cuts to jobs, courses and provision. Last year, the adult education budget was cut by a catastrophic 24%, and English for Speakers of Another Language (ESOL) classes by £45 million. With yet more funding set to be withdrawn, as many as 40% of colleges could close.

The services being cut are disproportionately relied upon by working class people, those returning for a second chance at education, and migrants – especially migrant women – seeking to learn the language. And education workers are suffering too, with swathes of redundancies, and those left behind pressed to work ever harder for less money.

The government had been seeking to organise the implementation of these cuts through the “Area Reviews”, pushing a series of closures and big mergers in England, and narrowing curricula down to serve the diktats of business leaders rather than the ambitions and interests of students. A similar process was already implemented in Scotland in 2011 and nearly halved the number of colleges there.

Now the government has suspended the reviews, but the cuts are still coming, making the future even murkier as the cuts will be implemented even more haphazardly.

We remain firm that there is no “good” way to organise these cuts. Our demand is to reverse all the funding cuts, and then go further, boosting funding in order to expand provision instead of cutting it. We will keep campaigning for properly-funded colleges, freely accessible to all, working together as a coherent public service instead of competing in a market, with decent financial support for students and well-paid, secure jobs for workers. And with a newly radical official opposition party in Corbyn’s Labour offering us the opportunity to think big, we aim to develop and fight for the vision of an integrated, democratic, cradle-to-grave National Education Service. To stand a chance, we urgently need to organise and build democratic, grassroots, militant unionisation of students and staff in colleges.


Stop the HE reforms!

Education Not MarketisationEnglish universities are currently facing the most far-reaching and potentially disastrous set of higher education (HE) reforms in decades. If the reforms go through, student debt will rise, our teachers will be put under even more pressure, and private companies will be given a free pass to take over from and profit from public universities driven to collapse.

The flagship proposal is the “Teaching Excellence Framework” (TEF). Government claims that this is about putting teaching on a par with research in universities. However, this hides the fact that none of the TEF metrics (student satisfaction, graduate employment and dropout rates) directly measure teaching quality. They also tell us little about how teaching could be improved.

It also hides the fact that the imbalance between research and teaching has been driven by the aggressively-implemented Research Excellence Framework (REF), which has placed extreme levels of stress on academics. Both REF and TEF should be abandoned.

TEF is really about fees. Universities that perform well on TEF will be given the power to raise fees in line with (and in the near future, above) inflation. Universities that rank low on TEF will see their budgets continue to stagnate, as they are forced to keep their fees at £9,000 while inflation and costs rise. Without extra funding from government, university bosses will cut corners, slash wages, and close courses.

The Home Office have also made veiled threats towards international students. “Poorly performing” universities may have their international student numbers capped. These reforms will put universities like London Met on the brink of collapse.

Private companies will be given a free pass to capitalise on the closure of public universities like London Met. This is a continuation of reforms since 2012, when private providers were given access to the same, tax-payer subsidised, funding as public universities. These private providers offered courses with unacceptably high drop-out rates; thousands of young people, exploited for profit, had their dreams dashed. Millions of pounds of public money was wasted. Now the government want to relax regulations on these profiteers.

The HE reforms are deeply undemocratic. They will continue to shut students out of major decisions about higher education, instead favouring the input of businesses. Government have proposed a new “Office for Students”, which will have significant power in overseeing funding and university accreditation. With breath-taking hubris they have announced there will be no student representation.

We oppose these reforms outright. As government is taking a sledgehammer to public higher education, so we must take a sledgehammer to their reforms.

We want an education system free from fees and debt, accessible to everyone, and democratically controlled by students and education workers. In short, we want education for human flourishing.


Money doesn’t grow on trees: tax the rich and nationalise the banks!

People in the crowd hold up posters 'Free Education - Tax the Rich' at the National Campaign Against Fees & Cuts rally in Trafalgar Square.

Free, decently-funded education, grants, and paying education workers good wages, won’t come cheap. And as right-wingers like to remind us, money doesn’t grow on trees! We don’t want to increase the burden on ordinary people already struggling to pay the rent. So how are we going to pay for all this?

We’re told our society is short on cash. But this is a lie. Our society is extremely rich, but grossly unequal. The average FTSE 100 CEO’s income is 160 times that of the average worker. Half the world’s wealth lies in the hands of 1% of the population. And it was the rest of us, working for them every day, who generated that wealth.

Let’s put some of it to better use. We can fund free education by imposing serious redistributive taxes on the incomes, assets and businesses of the rich.

But this will only scratch the surface. If we’re serious about building a cradle-to-grave National Education Service – and creating an accountable economy, serving people not profit, with decent jobs, homes and healthcare for everyone – then we need to put the banks under democratic control.

The basic purpose of a banking system is to hold money while its owners aren’t using it and put it to work in the economy through investment and lending. So it has immense power to shape the economy through investment decisions – and, through short-termist profit-driven decisions, to plunge the rest of us into financial crises – while also providing personal services like savings accounts and mortgages.

Just like railways, healthcare or education, there’s no good reason why something so essential and powerful should be run according to what maximises private owners’ profits, instead of for social good. Especially after we funded a £850 billion bail-out! By taking these immense reserves of wealth and economic power into the hands of the many, we can choose democratically to invest in developing public services like Corbyn’s National Education Service, and in creating jobs and homes. We can orchestrate converting a climate-destroying fossil fuel economy into a sustainable infrastructure for the future. In short, we’ll have the tools needed to fundamentally transform society for the better.

NCAFC responds to the attempt to undermine the NSS boycott

PRESS RELEASE: NUS TO BALLOT MEMBERS ON RISK ASSESSING BOYCOTT

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact: 07895405312, 07584092431, 07901844980

EDUCATION NOT MARKETISATIONThe National Union of Students (NUS) announced on Friday that it will ballot all members on whether to publish a risk assessment and an equality impact assessment of the proposed boycott of the National Student Survey (NSS).

All members will be asked, “Should NUS conduct and publish a risk assessment and equality impact assessment before finalising the NSS boycott / sabotage action?” The ballot was demanded by officers at 35 students’ unions.

In April, student delegates to NUS National Conference voted to boycott the National Student Survey until government scrap the proposed higher education (HE) reforms. By refusing to fill in the survey, students will disrupt government’s flagship proposal, the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF), along with other key market mechanisms. The motion passed at NUS National Conference stated that, “The HE reforms currently being considered by the government represent a fundamental attack on the idea of education as a public service. It is a blueprint for the marketisation of the sector, introducing private providers and variable fees, and orientating the whole sector towards the needs of employers.”

The HE reforms include plans to raise tuition fees and encourage private companies to set up universities. The White Paper on Higher Education also claimed that government has no duty to prevent the closure of public universities. Josh Berlyne, a Sheffield University student, said, “Calling a national ballot to risk assess a boycott? It’s ludicrous. Public education is in crisis right now, and these people are worried about students not filling in a survey. Students and academics are crying out to stop the HE reforms—2,300 at Sheffield University signed an open letter saying so. And while all this is going on, there are students’ union officers who want to slow down the only serious proposal to stop these reforms.”

Sahaya James, student at University of the Arts and NUS National Executive Council member, said, “On one level, calling for a risk assessment of the boycott is laughable. But it’s also insulting. Risk assessments exist to prevent deaths and serious injuries at work. They’re not meant to be used as an underhand tactic to prevent unions from taking effective action. It’s a joke and a disgrace.”

More information on the ballot can be found here: http://www.nusconnect.org.uk/groups/shape-our-work/articles/chief-returning-officer-opens-national-ballot

Model motion: Sabotage the NSS!

The government’s Higher Education White Paper, Success As A Knowledge Economy, proposes reforms which, if implemented, will pave the way for the end of public higher education as we know it.  Higher, variable fees will be introduced; private providers will be given help into the market as public universities are allowed to collapse; and “teaching excellence” will be measured on the basis of “student satisfaction” and the kinds of jobs graduates go into–rather than good quality teaching.  NUS is organising a national sabotage of the National Student Survey as part of a strategy to resist these reforms.  Get your SU to organise a local sabotage of the NSS by passing this motion at your SU Council!

 

SU notes

  1. The government’s May 2016 White Paper outlined extensive reforms to higher education.
  2. The flagship reform, the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF), will rely on data from the National Student Survey (NSS) and Destination of Leavers from Higher Education (DLHE) survey.
  3. Institutions which score highly in the TEF will be able to raise fees in line with inflation from 2017-19, followed by even higher level fees in 2019-20. (1)
  4. NUS is mandated to organise a national boycott or sabotage of NSS and DLHE as part of a strategy against the reforms.

 

SU believes

  1. The reforms fundamentally attack the idea of education as a public service.
  2. There are many reasons to oppose NSS, e.g. that it systematically discriminates against BME academics. (2)
  3. Sabotaging NSS and DLHE will disrupt the introduction of TEF, giving us leverage.
  4. A local-organised boycott/sabotage should only be done as part of a national boycott/sabotage organised by NUS.

 

SU resolves

  1. To organise a boycott/sabotage of NSS and DLHE, including:
    1. Refusing to promote NSS or have any pro-NSS material with the SU logo on;
    2. In term one 2016 running a campaign collecting pledges from finalists to boycott/sabotage the NSS;
    3. Working with UCU to discourage NSS promotion by academics and encourage academics to actively promote the sabotage instead;
    4. Promoting the sabotage through posters, leafleting, door-knocking and social media especially when the survey is released;
    5. Taking part in national actions and demonstrations linked to the NSS boycott/sabotage.
  2. To work with the University and UCU to create a local, non-metric-focused alternative to NSS to assess and thereby improve students’ learning experiences.

 

(1) https://www.timeshighereducation.com/news/higher-education-white-paper-key-points-glance

(2) https://www.timeshighereducation.com/news/biased-students-give-bme-academics-lower-nss-scores-says-study

Boycott the 2017 National Student Survey to stop the higher education reforms!

Boycott the NSS to stop the HE reformsThis NUS conference, we are putting forward a motion to boycott or sabotage next year’s National Student Survey (NSS) and the Destination of Leavers from Higher Education Survey (DLHE).These surveys are bad in themselves: they’re used as a weapon to beat academic staff with and as an excuse to restructure departments. Student satisfaction ratings like these are also racially-biased and gendered, so that women and black academics score lower, and they are essential to maintaining a market in education which pits us all against each other.

There is a good case for not participating in these surveys regardless of any other factors, but in this instance we want to use the importance of these surveys to HE bosses as leverage to defeat the current reforms which represent an attack to education as a public service. We are proposing that NUS will mobilise students to sabotage or boycott the NSS and DLHE if the HE reforms and the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) are not withdrawn and we need your help in getting the NUS to do this.

What are the HE reforms and the TEF?

The HE reforms were outlined in the Higher Education Green Paper of November last year. They contain proposals to further marketise higher education, which will make it easier for for-profit private provider to enter the market, for fees to be increased, for universities to shut down and for business to dictate what we learn. A core component of these reforms is the TEF. It will use statistics from the NSS and the DHLE, as well as other data, to supposedly measure the quality of teaching. This means that good teaching will be at least partly defined by the extent to which it increases the value of our work to employers and big business. Scoring well in the TEF would also allow universities to put up their fees, increasing the cost of education and creating further competition in a tiered system between different universities. If these proposals go through, they will radically transform our education for the worse.

Why boycott/sabotage the NSS and DHLE as a strategy?

In order for the TEF to function as intended, students have to participate in both of these surveys. These surveys are also used in other league tables and calculations which those who wish to create a market in the HE sector are dependent upon. If students, en masse, either refused to fill in the surveys at all or sabotaged it by giving artificially maximum or minimum scores, the results would become of little use and would wreck plans for the TEF, having a knock-on impact on other HE reforms and causing havoc with other procedures already in place to manage and marketise the sector. This should act as a major disincentive for the government to go through with their agenda.

How would it work?

If this motion passes, the Vice President Higher Education, in consultation with National Executive Committee and education workers who are affected by the TEF, would carry out research and devise the most effective boycott/sabotage strategy. In June, NUS will write to the government and announce that the NUS will mobilise students to sabotage or boycott the NSS and DLHE if the HE reforms and the TEF are not withdrawn. If the government refuses to withdraw the HE reforms, the NUS will work to mobilise students to sabotage or boycott the Spring 2017 NSS, and the next year’s DLHE. The campaign should begin at the start of Autumn Term 2016 collecting pledges from students that they will carry out the action if the HE reforms are not withdrawn.

How can you help?

If we’re going to get enough students to participate in the boycott/sabotage to make it effective, we need this motion to pass at NUS National Conference. It’s already been successful at NUS Postgraduate Conference and NUS LGBT+ Conference, and we know with enough work we can get it to pass nationally as well. Lobby your delegates to vote in favour of it or take a motion to your SU council to mandate them to vote for it. Share information about this campaign and look out for upcoming actions to get involved with. If you’re coming to NUS Conference, get in contact with us and let us know that you’re up for campaigning there. Email [email protected]

To spread the word, please click attending, invite and share this facebook event: https://www.facebook.com/events/1723705774533592/

The motion itself can found in this document, listed under 201b: https://s3-eu-west-1.amazonaws.com/nusdigital/document/documents/23606/CD10_Final_Proposals_Motions_-_20160322_v3.pdf

Government wants retrospective repayment hike on undergrad & FE loans – admits £9k fee system is unsustainable

UCL Defend Education blocks MP Vince Cable's offices with red boxes representing debt, during the campaign against loan privatisation which also threatened to hike up repayments

UCL Defend Education blocks MP Vince Cable’s offices with red boxes representing debt, during the campaign against loan privatisation which also threatened to hike up repayments

Ben Towse, NUS Postgraduate Committee

After years of denial and dismissal, the government has quietly admitted that the fee and loan system it introduced for undergrads starting in 2012 in the face of the mass protests of 2010, and later extended to further education (FE) students over 23, is “unaffordable in the long term”. Our protests and criticisms, derided at the time, have been vindicated, but it is a bittersweet victory. Repayments on the loans are lower than initially expected, because the repayments are determined by income, and too many graduates will be on low incomes because of the Tories’ low-wage austerity economy. Now the government wants to reduce the national debt further. So instead of going for those who can afford it – by taxing the rich and businesses – they propose to gouge billions of pounds out of students and graduates, by increasing repayments on all post-2012 loans, changing the terms students signed up to when they started their courses.

Changing the repayment threshold

The policy was buried in the recent Budget, and three days ago the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills (BIS) opened a consultation. When the post-2012 loans were introduced, repayments were to taken from income over £21,000, to protect lower-waged graduates. In order to keep that threshold the same in real terms, from 2016 it was promised to rise in step with average incomes. The Tories now propose to freeze that threshold at £21k until at least 2021 – so as inflation and living costs rise, the threshold will fall in real terms, meaning repayments are increased, and lower-waged graduates who would not have expected to make repayments will now have to.

The second, less preferred option presented is to freeze the repayment threshold in a similar way, but only for new borrowers – i.e. students starting in 2016 and later. The government does not like this option because it will make it less money and that money will only come in from 2020 onwards, failing to contribute to their political target of paying off debt during this Parliament. Maintaining the system the Tories introduced just 3 years ago, and not changing the repayment terms for anyone, is barely considered an option in the consultation – it is described as “unaffordable”.

Raiding the pockets of lower- and middle-income graduates

What will the impact of these retrospective repayment hikes be? Andrew McGettigan says about 2 million borrowers will be affected. The government projects that graduates on starting salaries of £21,000 to £30,000 would repay an additional £6,100 each over the lifetime of their debt before the remainder is written off at the 30-year mark. Graduates starting at £40k, who would previously have expected to pay off virtually their entire debt before the 30-year mark, will repay just £300 more under the new system. And those lucky few starting on £50k will actually pay slightly less in total under the new system than the old one, as the increased repayments will ensure they pay off their debt sooner, before interest accumulates! So this policy directly raids the pockets of middle and lower earners, leaving the better-off largely unaffected or even richer.

The government expects to make £3.2 billion in extra repayments from existing undergrad borrowers, and an unspecified additional amount from future students. By comparison, they will make just £35 million out of existing FE borrowers, in part because these students will be repaying out of lower salaries. FE loans seem to be included in these changes not because the government has considered a case for doing so, but because it would be bureaucratically too difficult to separate them out of the undergrad-focussed loan system they were bundled into in 2013. The consultation gives almost zero attention to the effects on further education.

Crossing a line

This is not only an injustice in terms of the regressive gouging of even more cash out of graduates. Crossing this line, showing the government is willing to retrospectively alter the terms of repayment, and setting the precedent that student debt holders are a piggy bank that can be raided any time the state needs some spare cash, could have a grave effect on prospective students’ willingness to take on debt and enter university or post-23 FE study. When introducing this system, the government made much of how prospective students need not worry about taking on debt, as it would only be paid off “when they could afford it”. How are students, particularly those without the safety net of wealthy and supportive families, supposed to be encouraged to take up study and get into debt if the repayment terms can change at any time on the whim of the government? The effect on widening access could be grave.

So too could the effect on choice of courses. If the government can change repayments at any time, the pressure is on to get high-paying jobs that will pay off more debt faster, before the next government policy swerve. Why risk delaying repayments? Students will be pushed even harder to abandon academic exploration and focus only on the subjects that will net us the most lucrative jobs.

We have to stop this – and we can

The student movement must fight the threat of both retrospective and future changes to increase repayments. We will defend current students and graduates, but we won’t sell future students down the river either. Instead, all increases must be stopped, and then fees, loans and existing debt should be scrapped and replaced with free education and living grants for everyone in further and higher education. The government should tax those who can afford it instead of raiding us to bail out their economic problems.

It will not be enough for NUS and student unions to write polite responses to this consultation and wait for the government to respond. We need to kick off serious action, including protest and direct action, and we need to do so as soon as possible. The NCAFC National Committee is holding a meeting open to NCAFC members next week to discuss stopping the maintenance grant cuts, and this issue will be on the agenda too. Join us to plan the fightback.

Fight job cuts at Aberdeen University!

Aberdeen student left bannerBy Dexter Govan, Aberdeen Defend Education Campaign

There’s trouble brewing in the north east of Scotland. As Aberdeen faces an oil crisis that’s led to thousands of redundancies, the University of Aberdeen is hoping to add to that number. For those that haven’t made the the 186 mile trip north of the Tweed, the University of Aberdeen is one of the oldest universities in the English-speaking world. Founded in 1495, it went on to play a critical role in the development of the Scottish Enlightenment. A proud legacy the current management appear determined to ruin.

The philosophical school of Scottish Common Sense owes much to the University of Aberdeen, and it is a dire shame that our principal Sir Ian Diamond (of the Welsh Diamond review) appears so bereft of it. Due to what may be described kindly as appalling mismanagement or accurately as a zealous commitment to enforce austerity thinking onto the HE sector, the University of Aberdeen has decided to make ‘savings’ of £10.5 million in staffing. By their own calculations this translates directly into 150 redundancies. What is absolutely unacceptable is any suggestion by university management that this will not affect the coveted ‘Student Experience’ at Aberdeen.

The axe will fall on teaching staff. It will be our tutors, our lectures, our university community that will be hit like broadside by these vicious, vindictive cuts. And the sickening but predictable irony of it all, is that it will be imposed on us by a management team who take home six figure salaries and a principal who earns over £300,000 a year.

So as students we must fight these job cuts, which will mean not only the destruction of peoples livelihoods, but will leave a gaping wound in our community. Voluntary redundancies will make up some of the cuts, but many more will be compulsory. Originally planned for July, the University and College Union have negotiated a temporary reprieve from the bloody cleaver of the ‘New Strategic Plan’. Many of the university managers may see this a success on their part. After all, delaying any compulsory redundancies until November gives them more time to bully staff into accepting voluntary redundancy. However, this delay is in fact a victory for the union. It’s a victory because it pushes direct strike action into term time. It’s a victory because it means students will return to our campus. It’s a victory because as students we will stand with staff and grind this ancient institution to a halt.

Of course the management team at the university will attempt to play students off against staff. Students will get emails saying that the management are committed to our education, and hope that we aren’t alarmed by staff out on picket lines defending their livelihoods. We will be more than alarmed, we will be incensed that behind this patronising rhetoric is the power to end this dispute. There is no giant hole in the finances of the university. Instead management see an opportunity to maximise profits. Our loyalty as students isn’t to any vice-principal, it’s to the over-worked teaching staff in our university community. It is an indicator of the severity of the situation that before the reprieve, UCU Aberdeen balloted for strike action – it passed overwhelmingly. It will surely pass again when voluntary redundancies fail in November. Before then we can’t afford to remain idle, as students and staff we must stand united and ensure that every student on our campus knows about the callous actions of our institution. We must ensure that we mobilise our community to fight the cuts and reject the rapid decline of our university teaching. Come November our community of students and workers will show that the university does not exist without us, and that a threat to one is a threat to all. We hope that others across the country will support us in this struggle.