NUS National Conference Priority Ballot

NUS national conference 2017 is taking place on 25th to 27th April in Brighton. At the conference, delegates will vote on NUS’s strategy for the coming year. However, only a minority of motions submitted to the conference will be discussed – and it is very important that delegates vote in the priority ballot (which is open NOW until midday on April 7th – check your emails for details) so that left wing and progressive motions get heard.

The National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts (NCAFC) is recommending that delegates vote in the following way: 

IN THE ORDER OF ZONES:
Education
Welfare
Society & Citizenship
Union Development

ON THE ORDER OF MOTIONS WITHIN ZONES:

Education Zone

Motion HE215 | Continue to Boycott the NSS
Motion HE216 | A national demo as part of a strategy to stop the HE reforms
Motion HE217 | Education Service
Motion HE203 | Postgraduate Teachers Against Marketisation
Motion FE206 | A New EMA
Motion HE218 | No To Fit to Sit
Motion HE214 | Partnership is (almost) dead, long live student power!

Welfare Zone
Motion 411 | NHS Bursaries
Motion 412 | Housing
Motion 402 | Mental Health and Hardship
Motion 409 | Mental Health: A Culturally Competent Framework
Motion 427 | The far-right is alive and well; we must unite to stop it
Motion 405 | Work work work work work
Motion 426 | It’s Time To Combat Anti-Semitism
Motion 429 | Gendered Islamophobia
Motion 420 | It Stops Here/Sexual Violence
Motion 423 | Right to Pray

Society & Citizenship Zone
Motion 511 | Defend migrants and support free movement
Motion 510 | Support Picturehouse Living Wage strikers
Motion 512 | Fight Climate Change!
Motion 504 | Scrap Trident
Motion 513 | NUS supporting the Abortion Rights Campaign for free, safe and
legal abortion in Ireland and Northern Ireland.
Motion 519 | Pay Inequality in Higher Education and Employment Rights of
University Staff
Motion 506 | Movement in Turkey
Motion 508 | Stand in Solidarity with Students Around the World
Motion 503 | Solidarity with the free West Papua cause
Motion 515  | Solidarity with the Palestinian People
Motion 505 | Abolish the Monarchy
Motion 509 | Solidarity with #JobstownNotGuilty

Union Development Zone
Motion 305 | Make University Sports Inclusive For Trans And Intersex Students

The Annual General Meeting (AGM) zone is always at the bottom of the agenda, but delegates do have the power to order the motions. We would recommend that you vote as follows:

AGM
Motion 602 | Make NUS Events Accessible to Disabled Students
Motion 606 | National Postgraduate Representation

NCAFC Candidates at NUS National Conference 2017

The National Union of Students (NUS) is holding its national conference in Brighton on 25th to 27th April, and there are a number of NCAFC candidates who are running in the elections. These candidacies were endorsed by the National Committee at our meeting in February.

As an organisation, we believe these candidates are the best people to deliver a fighting, strong, radical NUS which is accountable to grassroots activists and which builds and supports a mass student movement. These candidates are:

 

14434981_1245656745456312_8916817649291385348_oANA OPPENHEIM for Vice-President Higher Education

Ana is the current Campaigns Officer at Arts SU. She says: “I’m a socialist feminist, a Polish immigrant and I want your help taking the job of VP Higher Education. I’ve fought for students at my union in the boardroom and the streets, now let’s do it nationally. From rising fees to creeping marketisation to attacks on international students, I believe we need an unapologetic response. I will stand up for your rights, build grassroots activism and campaign for our radical vision of a free, democratic, accessible and liberated education.”

MANIFESTO: https://tinyurl.com/AnaVPHE

FACEBOOK PAGE: https://www.facebook.com/Ana4VPHE/

 

14484890_1414177388596595_137096563398685655_nJENNY KILLIN for Vice-President Welfare

Jenny is the current Welfare Officer at Aberdeen Students’ Association. She says: “Education can never be ‘free’ if it cannot be accessed by everyone; if it pushes us into debt, or destroys our mental health. It can’t be accessible if learning means we cannot afford our rent, or we have to miss class to pay the bills. It cannot be free when students do not feel safe to practice their faith. When they are under surveillance or threat of deportation. When students are faced with harassment and violence on campus. Right now, this is the reality for far too many; and right now, we need an NUS which can change that.”

MANIFESTO: https://tinyurl.com/JennyVPW

FACEBOOK PAGE: https://www.facebook.com/Jenny4Welfare/

 

15056336_10154111150893811_6222367053102884012_nHANSIKA JETHNANI for NUS Block of 15

Hansika is the current Education Offcer at Arts SU. She says: “As an officer and activist, I have campaigned against fees and TEF, and for the rights of international students and all migrants, on and off campus. When I moved to London four years ago to study Photography, I didn’t understand what activism was. My first ever demo in November 2015 quite literally changed my life. I realised the importance of resistance and the need for an unapologetic grassroots student movement. I’m standing for NEC because I want to ensure that our National Union of Students is at the forefront of fighting injustice and inequality across society.”

MANIFESTO: https://tinyurl.com/HansikaNEC

What Would Sylvia Do?

This article is part of the NCAFC Women & Non-Binary zine being distributed at this week’s NUS Women’s Conference. You can find the whole zine here.

By Justine Canady

Sylvia-Pankhurst-being-arrestedLiberalism has pushed the militant radicalism out of the current feminist movement. The focus on women in board rooms and self-preservation has left serious issues in the dust. In the age of Brexit, the rise of the alt-right, and the rise of poverty and homelessness globally, Sylvia Pankhurst’s militant and dangerous feminism is a lesson for us all. Women’s liberation, economic justice, and racial justice are inherently wed, and Sylvia’s story gives a vision of what our movement should look like.

Dangerous Feminism

Sylvia was an enemy of both the state and her own family. She was not interested in individual achievement (think “Lean In”), but pushed a revolutionary view of feminism. These sentiments are perhaps best illustrated by here quote “I am going to fight capitalism even if it kills me. It is wrong that people like you should be comfortable and well fed while all around you people are starving.” Unlike her mother and sisters, she was offensive and bold.In the MI5 Archives is a file dated 1948 discussing strategies for ‘Muzzling the tiresome Miss Sylvia Pankhurst’. She went on numerous hunger strikes and risked prison and violence to keep fascism off the streets. Sylvia fought her way into “macho” “men’s” spaces, like trade unions and Labour politics, to push feminist policies. Although these actions were no doubt dangerous and tolling, she understood that only through dismantling capitalism, would women and colonised people be free, thus she put her own physical safety on the line to fight for liberation.

Class Struggle

On International Women’s Day (8 March 1914) Sylvia Pankhurst after being expelled from the suffragette organization, the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) by her mother, Emmeline, and sister, Christabel, launched the Women’s Dreadnought, a working-class women’s paper. Sylvia called the Dreadnought “a medium through which working women, however unlettered, might express themselves, and find their interests defended.”
Unlike her mother and sister, Sylvia did not see the right to vote as in end of itself. The movement she started in East London was “not merely for votes but towards an egalitarian society – an effort to awaken the women submerged in poverty to struggle for better social conditions and bring them into line with the most advanced sections of the movement of the awakened proletariat”. Sylvia fought against harsh criticisms and prejudices, including those by her sister who said that organizing with working class women “a mistake to use the weakest for the struggle! We want picked women, the very strongest and most intelligent”.
In 1927, the birth of her only child as an unmarried 45-year-old woman horrified many people inside and outside of the labour movement pushed Sylvia to campaign for radical support for mothers- including maternity rights and better conditions for working-class women and children.

Anti-facism and anti-racism

Upon arriving to northern Italy and seeing the murder of the Italian Socialist Giacomo Matteotti in 1924, Sylvia became a devoted anti-fascist and founded the anti-fascist pressure group, the Women’s International Matteotti Committee. In Woodford, she worked to support the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War, helped Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany, and was the leader of anti-racism demonstration in the UK. After the Italian occupation, Sylvia launched a campaign against colonialism in Ethiopia. In 1935 she began a weekly journal, The Ethiopian News, that publicized the efforts made by Emperor Haile Selassie to lobby the League of Nations to prevent colonization. Sylvia died in Addis Ababa in 1960 and received a state funeral where was was named “an honorary Ethopian” for her work promoting the state’s freedom and self-determination.

Read the rest of the zine here

Why Celebrating Migrants Is Not Enough

March for Migrant Rights, London Oct 7, 2006Hansika Jethnani, NCAFC International Students’ Rep & NUS International Students’ Committee

Tomorrow, a national day of action has been called, One Day Without Us to celebrate the contribution of migrants to the UK, and to reject the politics of division and hatred. While it is important to recognize the fact that migrants do contribute to society, it is far more vital that we stand up for their rights in our campuses and beyond; and debunk the racist policies of the Home Office.

Celebrations are all well and good but are not enough. The benefits of globalisation and multiculturalism cannot be seen by many. To someone who works over 50 hours a week on two minimum wage jobs to support their family, the ‘wonderful contributions of migrants’ to the economy cannot be felt. The economic discontent faced by many, which so often translates into anti-migrant sentiments, is a result of the failures of liberalism to address wealth inequality, a scenario which is replicated across the world; one which has everything to do with capitalism and colonialism.

Wealth inequalities have never been tackled by ‘liberal’ governments in power.  From Obama’s administration to Blair’s Labour party, these people spent more time cozying up with multinational corporations, putting their business interests at the expense of the socially ostracized. And it is this very liberal mindset, combined with pandering to nationalism and fear mongering that has resulted in the current political climate – a fascist elected as a president of the United States and Brexit whose slogan was ‘Take Back Control’ winning an election.

Moreover, migrants dropping everything to risk their lives in search of better opportunities, is a result of the global crisis of neoliberalism and the remnants of colonisation. The understanding of this is always left out when speaking about migrants. The conversation around immigration needs to move from celebratory to truly highlighting the austerity policies of governments that have left so many people feeling disenfranchised. There is also a need to unite in our struggles: the exploitation of labour faced by a migrant worker is the same exploitation faced by a white British worker, cuts to public services affect migrants and UK citizens alike.

We need a movement that stands up for all migrants and fights against the global crisis of neoliberalism; not one that allies with our Vice Chancellors and big corporations who value immigrants for the wrong reasons. What we need is not nice words from bosses but radical self-organisation, migrants standing up for their own rights and against the rise of racism and fascism.

Because valuing Internationalism is so much more than celebrating the contributions that immigrants bring to society, and this is what we need to be speaking about, in our campuses and on the streets. Join the walk-outs tomorrow!

We must reject the “good vs. bad migrant” rhetoric

good vs bad migrantsAna Oppenheim, Arts SU Campaigns Officer & NUS National Exec

International students are not real migrants, are they? They only come here for a few years and leave. They pay lots of money and fund our universities. They don’t steal anyone’s jobs, are usually middle-class, well-behaved and widely accepted by society. This is why we should defend them.

These sorts of arguments will sound all too familiar to many of us. It comes as no surprise when they are used by MPs and Vice-Chancellors. Sadly, in one form or another, they are often also put forward by representatives of the UCU and sections of the student movement, usually when arguing that international students should be removed from migration statistics.

“Students coming into our country are not migrants, but here to study,” we hear, as if attacks on international students were happening in isolation from the government’s anti-migrant agenda. Yet visa restrictions, NHS charges, landlord checks, and the threat of linking international recruitment to TEF are policies motivated by racism – the same racism that’s behind laws targeting other immigrants in the UK.

A lot of the arguments used to defend international students fit into the wider narrative into migration, where our worth depends on how much we “contribute,” usually followed by “to the economy.” Migrants are good, we hear, because they are doctors, lawyers, entrepreneurs, or at least clean our streets – not because they are people who deserve the same rights and freedoms as everyone else. Similarly, a common case for supporting international students is that they “fund our universities” – instead of questioning the sky-high fees that students are charged in the first place.

Another common trope is basing a defence of migrants on how much their stories can move hearts, or how well they fit into society’s idea of a perfect citizen. Child refugees are welcome as long as they’re small and cute, not when they look like young men. Anti-deportation campaigns often emphasise that the person at risk is a “good student” and “popular in their community” as if whether or not one deserves basic rights depended on how well they do on their course or how many friends they have. Speaking of international students, many bring up reports about the British public’s positive attitudes towards them, when making a case for less restrictive policies. These arguments pander to existing prejudices and do nothing to challenge hate against the majority of migrants.

We will not effectively fight back by dividing migrants into good and bad, worthy or unworthy, students and workers. Our humanity does not depend on respectability or on how effectively we can be exploited. We can only effectively defend international students by combating racism and xenophobia in all their forms. We need to unite our forces with those facing the same struggles and strive for a world without discrimination based on nationality. There are no good or bad migrants but there are good and bad arguments.

Left-wing motions for NUS National Conference 2017

Delegates voting at NUS conference

On 25-27 April 2016, the National Union of Students (NUS) will be holding its national annual conference. NCAFC activists will be at the conference to argue for a left-wing, campaigning, democratic direction for our national union. As well as standing candidates for leading roles, we will push for left-wing policies, and hold the leadership to account where they have failed to fulfil their mandates.

Motions for NUS conference are submitted via student unions – students propose them to their local union’s democratic structure, and if they are voted through, the union sends them to NUS conference. We encourage activists to submit left-wing motions, and also to stand for election as delegates and come to the conference to argue and vote for them! The motions below have been written by NCAFC activists for supporters to propose to their unions – they do not necessarily represent the views of every NCAFC member. Some of them are stand-alone motions, and some of them are amendments to proposals from the NUS leadership (the Zone Committees) – you can find those proposals here. NUS motions are organised into “zones” according to their topic, and each student union can submit up to 1400 words. You will need to:

  1. Put up to 1400 words worth of motions (see word counts in the list below) to your SU’s democratic structures (e.g. Council, General Meeting, Executive or Referendum). Remember to find out when there’s a meeting before the NUS deadline (5pm 28 February 2017) and check how far in advance you need to submit your motions to that meeting.
  2. Campaign to win the vote!
  3. Make sure your SU submits them to NUS using this form before 5pm 28 February 2017conference.nusconnect.org.uk/policy/submit-policy

Please let us know if you are going to put motions to your union, if you would like help, or if you have other motions you’re submitting additional to those listed here: email [email protected]. We can let you know which motions are already being put through SUs and which need to be picked up. Please also get in touch if you are going to be a delegate to NUS Conference and want to coordinate with other NCAFC activists there!


Priority Zone

Defend the right to organise, speak and protest on campuses

Amendment to motion “Liberate Education”

ADD:

Conference Believes

  1. There is a wide range of threats to students’ and workers’ rights to free political organising, expression and protest on campuses currently.
  2. Progressive and liberatory movements like ours cannot change the world without changing hearts and minds. We need political freedoms to challenge bigoted and dominant ideas, convince people, and take action.
  3. Restrictions on free expression usually attack progressives and oppressed groups. Our best defence is that willingness to defend open discussion and free speech be as widely and firmly embedded as possible.
  4. A small number of political groups, mainly fascist organisations, do not simply campaign for their ideas, they organise to use physical violence against progressive and marginalised groups. While arguing against their ideas, their organisations also pose an immediate physical threat to us, and so we need appropriate action in self-defence.
  5. Freedom to express and explore ideas is essential in the academic sphere; education institutions need to be havens for subversive, radical and controversial thought.

Conference Further believes:

  1. Problems for free expression and organising on campuses currently include:
    1. PREVENT, which targets, surveils, harasses and stigmatises Muslim students and political activists expressing radical ideas. Additionally the government wants universities to ban otherwise legal speakers
    2. Our institutions’ senior managers often want to keep controversial discussions off-campus, and prevent postering and campaigning that would disrupt their corporate image. They victimise protesters; use injunctions and violence against protests; block staff strikes on anti-democratic technicalities; get trade unionists deported or made redundant.
    3. Police harass and assault black people and protesters.
    4. The law antidemocratically restricts student unions and trade unions.
    5. Cuts and marketising reforms in HE and FE make our institutions serve the narrow interests of big business, shutting down academic freedom and diversity in teaching and research.
    6. Some student unions have become hostile to political discussion and organising that sounds radical or controversial, student activism difficult.
    7. The use of bans to shut out speakers with bigoted, right-wing and disagreeable views, instead of combating them by actively countering and defeating their ideas through argument and protest.

Conference Resolves:

  1. To launch a joined-up campaign to tackle all these issues and stand for students’ and workers’ political freedoms to express and discuss ideas and organise on campus.
  2. To foster a culture of open political discussion in the student movement, in order to have an active, healthy and participatory democracy.
  3. To re-affirm our “cops off campus” policy, and campaign for law prohibiting police from campuses without democratic permission from students and staff.
  4. In general, to combat regressive and bigoted political ideas using protest and argument. This can be difficult and exhausting, so we should support each other to do as much as each of us feels able.
  5. To re-affirm our No Platform policy against fascist organisations, but to limit our use of this self-defence tactic (acting to deny a group the ability to organise and advocate their ideas) to groups that organise to use physical violence against marginalised groups of people and progressives.

Education Zone

Fight the HE reforms

Amendment to the HE Zone Proposal, “JoJo don’t know much about quality: what a wonderful world HE could be”

ADD:

Conference Believes:

  1. The current Higher Education reforms, including the introduction of the TEF as well as easier access to degree awarding powers and university status for private providers, are an attack on the very idea of public education. They need to be resisted as a whole – it is not enough to oppose individual elements, such as fee increases or specific TEF metrics.
  2. The reforms would have a devastating impact on education workers as well as students, and student-staff solidarity is essential to resisting them.
  3. NUS has a policy to boycott the National Student Survey unless and until the reforms are withdrawn.
  4. A long-term boycott of the NSS will cause significant disruption to the running of the HE system and the implementation of the TEF, and could give students the leverage we badly need.
  5. Given that the NSS scores are averaged over three years for use in the TEF, the boycott will have maximum impact if continued nationally into future years – this has always been the case.
  6. We can build on the impact of the boycott this year to have even greater participation in the boycott in future years, which will be necessary if the government presses on with HE reforms.
  7. The way to improve the quality of education is through adequate public funding and democratising institutions. Our alternatives to metrics and marketisation must be based on the principle of democracy, not just tokenistic student representation.

Conference Resolves:

  1. To maintain the NSS boycott in future years, as a tactic in a wider campaign against the whole HE reforms, not just limited to fee increases and their link with the TEF.
  2. To actively reach out to Students’ Unions and encourage all SUs to participate in the boycott, as well as promote the action to all students.
  3. If the HE reforms pass into law, to continue the campaign with a call for their reversal and advocate for a publicly-owned education system, run democratically for social good.
  4. To work closely with UCU on the campaign.

DELETE conference resolves 8 and REPLACE with:

  1. NUS will take a democratic approach to political education, seeking to empower and support students to educate themselves and each other, and to engage in political struggle. NUS should support member unions in supporting their students in doing so.
    As part of supporting their political education, to support students in struggling for the interests of our class and other oppressed groups, and struggling to create a better society for everyone. To support students to develop the skills and organisations necessary to do so.

Supporting a National Education Service

Conference Believes:

  1. That NUS has a commitment to supporting a free, democratic and accessible education system.
  2. That the National Education Service (NES) is the Labour Party’s flagship free education policy.
  3. That Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn reaffirmed his support for this policy during the 2016 leadership campaign and included a commitment to abolishing tuition fees and providing free childcare services.[1]
  4. That work is being done by the grassroots activist organisation the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts (NCAFC) to develop the idea of what a National Education Service would look like.

Conference Further Believes:

  1. That the NES currently represents our most realistic chance of achieving a free education system in the foreseeable future and represents a positive vision of what we can argue for in opposition to the Conservative Government’s attacks on education.
  2. That the NES is an exciting framework for expanding ideas on what our education system should look like, from schools to Further and Higher education.
  3. That we should have a free, publically owned, democratic, secular and accessible education system and support the commitments to abolishing fees and providing free childcare that are already a part of the NES policy.
  4. That any future National Education Service should have, at its core, a commitment to:
    1. Providing adequate funding to education institutions, providing universal living grants to students and secure jobs with good pay and conditions for workers, and abolishing tuition fees.
    2. Removing the barriers to education that exist because of society’s structural and cultural inequality, such as oppression based on class, gender, sex, sexuality, race and ethnic background, and disability.
    3. Being a life-long education service available to anyone regardless of age.
    4. Expanding the democratic control of education institutions by students, staff and other campus workers.

Conference Resolves:

  1. To officially affirm our support for a National Education Service and argue that it should be based on the core commitments outlined above.

[1] www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/ana-oppenheim/national-education-service_b_11581140.html


Welfare Zone

NHS Bursaries

Amendment to motion “Mental Health and Hardship”

ADD:

Conference Believes:

  1. Nursing, Midwifery and other allied health professional students do not currently pay tuition fees. They receive bursaries and a reduced-rate student loan to help with living costs.
  2. A fixed number of places are funded based on local ‘workforce plans’, designed to fulfill the needs of the NHS.#
  3. The government plans to end these bursaries from 2017, replacing them with tuition fees and maintenance loans
  4. The Royal College of Nursing oppose this as ‘unfair and risky’ and the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) as ‘threatened the future of maternity services in England’.
  5. Nursing, midwifery and allied health admissions have fallen by 20% this year – in some institutions almost 50% – compounding the NHS understaffing crisis.
  6. Many current healthcare students are mature or graduates, but graduates will be unable to access loans.
  7. Many healthcare students have strong vocational training commitments alongside summative academic work, making further paid work difficult.
  8. The bursary is currently insufficient to live on.

Conference Further Believes:

  1. All medical, dental and allied health professional students should receive bursaries, or living grants, which are sufficient to live on without other sources of funding.
  2. The removal of the bursary will reduce access, particularly for graduates.
  3. The experiences and backgrounds of mature students, graduate students and students from lower socio-economic backgrounds contribute to the diversity of healthcare professionals, which is important.
  4. Other healthcare students’ bursaries are at risk.
  5. Healthcare workforce planning should be planned to meet the needs of the population.
  6. Universities will likely cut less popular, specialised courses while expanding popular courses, meaning students may gain vocational qualifications for which there are no jobs, whilst other job vacancies and health needs go unfilled.
  7. The NUS should campaign for an end to fees and marketised education and for living grants for all students. However, the specific situation of healthcare students means that separate NHS Bursaries campaigning can make different alliances and win easier victories.

Conference Resolves:

  1. To campaign for reinstatement of, retention of and expansion of NHS bursaries for healthcare students.
  2. To work with relevant trade unions and engage with healthcare students to campaign on this.
  3. To highlight the particular situation of healthcare students in broader campaigns against marketisation of education and fees, and for living grants.

Living Grants for All!

Amendment to motion “Mental Health and Hardship”

ADD:

Conference Believes:

  1. NUS previously supported universal living grants, and NUS LGBT+ currently does.
  2. The maintenance grants and EMA were insufficient to live on.
  3. Many people fall through the gaps in any means-tested system that assumes parental support – in particular those with unsupportive families, such as many LGBT+ people. The “estrangement” system is broken, but even if we can improve it, it can only help those students who cut themselves off completely from their families.

Conference Further Believes:

  1. Every student should be able to afford to live decently.
  2. Universalism – public services available to absolutely everyone – is a core progressive principle for our movement.
  3. There is plenty of money in society to restore universal grants, plus fund good public services – it’s in the bank accounts and businesses of the wealthy.

Conference Resolves:

  • In 1, after “all students,”:
    “with additional supplements reflecting the needs of student carers and disabled students,”
    and after “these demands”:
    “using the #GrantsNotDebt hashtag.”
  1. Demand this is funded through progressive taxation, such as an increase in corporation tax and taxes on the richest.

Society & Citizenship Zone

Support picturehouse strikers!

Conference Believes:

  1. That workers at Picturehouse cinemas have been striking since September for the Living Wage, sick pay, maternity/paternity pay, and union recognition
  2. That the owner of Picturehouse, Cineworld, made £30 million profit in the first half of 2016.
  3. That many students are employees of Picturehouse That Picturehouse often sells memberships and conducts marketing through Student Unions.

Conference Further Believes:

  1. That we support the demands of the Picturehouse workers and we want them to win
  2. That they set a good example for all low-paid workers and their victory will encourage others
  3. That striking for better pay is an excellent way to fight inequality

Conference Resolves:

  1. To publicise the Picturehouse dispute and encourage members to support their strike fund
  2. To encourage students who work for Picturehouse to join BECTU and find out about the dispute
  3. To encourage student unions to deny Picturehouse access to Freshers′ Fairs and other marketing opportunities until they concede the things that their staff are demanding.

Solidarity with students, workers and the Kurdish movement in Turkey

Conference Believes:

  1. That following the failed coup attempt last July, the Turkish government has been stepping up repression – including by sacking or suspending over 100,000 public sector workers, including over 30,000 school teachers and 5,000 university staff (disproportionately in Turkey’s Kurdish areas), with numbers rising all the time; imprisoning journalists; attacking free speech and the right to criticise the government; and more generally attacking workers’ and students’ rights.
  2. That the Turkish state is continuing and stepping up its brutal war against the Kurdish people and their fight for self-determination.

Conference Further Believes:

  1. That UCU has protested against the Turkish government’s violations of academic freedom and purge of education, and supported the fight for democratic rights in Turkey. We should too.

Conference Resolves:

  1. NUS will release a statement of solidarity with students, education workers, the labour movement, journalists and the Kurdish movement in Turkey, opposing the Turkish government’s repression against them.
  2. NUS will write to Egitim-Sen (the Education and Science Workers’ Union – one of Turkey’s largest trade unions, which has suffered particularly heavily under the repression) offering our solidarity and seeking links.
  3. To donate £300 to solidarity fund established by the Education International union federation to support Egitim-Sen against repression.
  4. The VP Society and Citizenship, the NEC and the Zone Committee should investigate how we can build solidarity, including by establishing direct links with students’ organisations in Turkey.

Defend migrants and support free movement

Amendment to motion “Brexit means Brexit or so we’re told”

DELETE conference believes 9. and REPLACE with:

  1. That the outcome of the referendum, thanks in part to a dishonest Vote Leave campaign that misled many people, was regrettable. The outcome was also in part caused by the fact that the major remain campaigns inadequately explained the genuine causes of and solutions (such as those outlined above) to the problems many people experience. As such, it did not properly challenge the narrative of many arguing for Brexit.

ADD

Conference Believes:

  1. Recently announced plans to restrict international students’ visas, including linking universities’ ability to accept international students to “teaching quality,” most likely measured by TEF scores.
  2. In recent years, the government scrapped the post-study work visa, introduced NHS charges for non-EU students and deported tens of thousands of international students.
  3. Often the response by Vice-Chancellors and sections of the student movement to such attacks is insistence that international students are not migrants and should be treated differently,
  4. The arguments often emphasise how much international students contribute to the British economy by “funding our universities” (justifying sky-high fees) or emphasise the differences between students and migrant workers instead of challenging prejudice against both.
  5. The recent slide into anti-immigration, anti-free-movement politics by even some people on the left, including the Labour Party left.

Conference Further Believes:

  1. We must continue to defend free movement without shame, compromise or capitulation.
  2. Free movement is not against the interests of working class people. Migrant workers are part of the working class too; our politics of fighting for workers’ rights does not respect borders imposed by our rulers. Furthermore, the evidence shows that immigration does not substantially depress pay or conditions.
  3. Restricting immigration will therefore neither help UK-born nor migrant working-class people. Instead, such politics divide students and workers, damaging our ability to organise and fight against the common enemy that is actually responsible for low wages, shortages of housing and jobs, and overstretched public services – the rich and powerful, and the parties and politicians who serve their class interests.
  4. That attacks on international students and other migrant groups are based on the same racist and xenophobic ideology, and can only be defeated through active solidarity, not creating further divisions.
  5. We need to politically combat anti-migrant ideas, and advocate real solutions in their place, not concede the debate to right-wing lies.

Conference Resolves:

  1. To campaign to defend and extend freedom of movement and the right to free, accessible education for everyone, regardless of nationality. Blame not migrants, but the rich and powerful, the ruling class, for the problems facing working class people.
  2. To argue and campaign for a programme of immediate real solutions to the problems facing working class people, including: uniting migrant and British-born workers in trade unions to fight for improved pay and conditions for all; reversing anti-union laws; raising and enforcing the minimum wage; decent housing accessible for all; secure, decently-paid jobs, training and education for everyone; serious taxes on the rich and their businesses in order to redistribute wealth and reverse cuts, fund decent public services and rebuild the NHS.
  3. To fight against any further attacks on international students, including through direct action if necessary.
  4. To challenge the “students are not migrants” approach within the student movement and more broadly on the left, and to fight uncompromisingly against capitulation by the left and the student and trade union movements on migrant rights and free movement.

Scrap Trident

Conference Believes:

  1. Parliament voted last July to renew the UK’s Trident nuclear weapon system, at a cost of at least £205 billion.
  2. It was discovered in January that the Government had covered up a June 2016 test failure of a Trident missile.

Conference Further Believes:

  1. The supposed “deterrent” value of nuclear weapons depends on willingness to use them, which would mean vast numbers of civilian deaths immediately and for years to come.
  2. The government wants to spend billions on murderous weapons of mass destruction at the very time it is gutting public services. Our society is not short of money – there is huge wealth in the pockets of the rich – but this is a terrible way to spend those resources.
  3. The shipyards producing nuclear weapon-carrying submarines can be converted to produce something socially useful, without job losses.
  4. The workers involved in these projects should be guaranteed decent alternative jobs producing something socially useful, with no loss of pay or conditions.

Conference Resolves:

  1. To condemn the government’s decision to replace Trident and any further use or endorsement of nuclear arms.
  2. To campaign against replacing Trident and for nuclear disarmament on the basis set out above.
  3. To facilitate student unions to campaign for free education, jobs and services instead of nuclear weapons.

Fight Climate Change!

Conference Believes:

  1. The view of leading climate scientists that climate change exceeding 1.5°C is now likely
  2. Donald Trump’s appointments of fossil fuel executives such as Tillerson; his executive orders favouring construction of new fossil fuel pipelines; and his statements contradicting climate science
  3. That the government admits that 2.3 million families were living in fuel poverty this winter.
  4. That consumer energy prices are expected to rise 5% in 2017 – a price rise driven by gas prices.
  5. Profits of the Big Six energy firms (British Gas, EDF Energy, E.ON, npower, ScottishPower and SSE) have increased tenfold since 2007.

Conference Further Believes:

  1. That organising our energy infrastructure for private profit instead of public use is wrong
  2. That private ownership of the energy infrastructure in the UK hurts people and obstructs renewable energy development
  3. That urgent action is needed on climate change – faster than is comfortable for the fossil fuels industry
  4. That the energy industry should be put under public ownership and democratic control.

Conference Resolves:

  1. To campaign for the nationalisation of the Big Six under democratic control as part of a renewed drive for student action against climate change
  2. To support protests against Trump’s rollback of progress on climate change

Abolish the Monarchy

Conference Believes:

  1. That Britain is still ruled by a hereditary monarch, who claims to be appointed by God, and who is the head of the official state religion
  2. That the Queen is due to receive an additional £2.8 million from the taxpayer in 2017-2018, making her total income in that year £45.6 million
  3. That in 1975 the Queen′s representative in Australia used royal powers to sack a left-wing Labour government.

Conference Further Believes:

  1. That Church and State should be separate.
  2. That the monarchy is an insult to human dignity: we ought to be equals and citizens, not subjects.
  3. That the monarchy is dangerous for democracy.
  4. That the monarchy should be abolished.

Conference Resolves:

  1. To issue a statement calling for a Republic.

Motion on BAE

Amendment to motion “Placements, Apprenticeships and Education For Good”

Conference Believes:

  1. BAE Systems, the UK’s biggest arms company, made over £25bn in sales in 2015, largely thanks to aircraft sales to the theocratic Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
  2. The aftermath of the attempted 2015 ‘coup’ in Turkey, which has seen 40,000 people imprisoned, crackdowns on civil liberties, allegations of widespread torture… and £330 million worth of arms sales to Turkey by the UK.
  3. The urgent need for more equipment for the NHS and production of new technologies to meet the challenges of climate change.
  4. The history of labour-movement led “conversion plans”, such as the 1974 Lucas Plan, drawn up by workers at the Lucas Aerospace plant, which provided a detailed plan for converting the arms factory to produce hybrid cars, hydroelectric turbines and kidney dialysis machines instead of warplanes.

Conference Further Believes:

  1. That Britain’s manufacturing industry should be converted to socially useful production along the lines of what the Lucas Plan advocated
  2. That we want nothing to do with BAE as currently constituted. No amount of money or employment is worth the deaths of our friends in other countries.

Conference Resolves:

  1. To instruct officers to refrain from any co-operation with BAE systems, of any kind.
  2. To call for the conversion of Britain’s defence manufacturing industry to production of socially-useful machinery to support medicine, civilian employment and the fight against climate change.
  3. To promote the history of labour-movement conversion plans such as the Lucas Plan.

Solidarity with the free West Papua cause

Conference Believes:

  1. That West Papua is the western half of the island of New Guinea, the other half being Papua New Guinea.
  2. That Indonesia has occupied West Papua since 1962/3.
  3. That the occupation was internationally legitimized by an ‘Act of Free Choice’ in 1969, whereby just over 1,000 hand-picked Indonesian representatives were bribed, coerced and threatened into voting for integration into Indonesia. [1]
  4. That international media and NGOs have been largely barred from entering the territory under Indonesian rule. [2]
  5. That credible estimates put the number Papuans killed since 1962 at over 100,000. [3]
  6. That several scholars have considered the term ‘genocide’ in relation Indonesia’s actions. [4]
  7. That indigenous Papuans overwhelmingly desire independence from Indonesia, and are ethnically, culturally and linguistically distinct from Indonesians.
  8. That Indonesia often runs operations to harass and intimidate the overseas independence movement. [5]
  9. That Papuan students have often led the campaign in the urban areas of West Papua to liberate their country, and have been met with brutal repression in turn. [6]
  10. That the UK has long supported the Indonesian occupation militarily, diplomatically and economically, and formally supports Indonesian sovereignty in West Papua. [1]
  11. The existence of several international campaigns for a new referendum in West Papua, including by the unified representative body of Papuans, the United Liberation Movement for West Papua, and by a British swim team. The swim team will be swimming a global petition up Lake Geneva in August 2017. [7]

Conference Further Believes:

  1. The Indonesian occupation of West Papua is illegitimate and should end immediately.
  2. We should express solidarity with legitimate self-determination struggles, and particularly with students organizing to resist military occupation.
  3. The Act of Free Choice was a farcical denial of self-determination, and a new, free and fair referendum on independence should take place in the territory. Such a referendum should include the eligibility of all indigenous Papuans.
  4. The UK Government should cease all military training and arms transfers with Indonesia, and should cease supporting Indonesia’s claims over the territory.

Conference Resolves:

  1. To release a statement of solidarity with the free Papua cause, Papuan students and with the Free West Papua Campaign based in Oxford.
  2. That the NUS will give support to students in the UK engaging in solidarity work with the West Papuan struggle.

[1] http://wire.novaramedia.com/2016/04/5-things-you-need-to-know-about-indonesias-occupation-of-west-papua/

[2] Human Rights Watch (2015), Something to Hide? Indonesia’s Restrictions on Media Freedom and Rights Monitoring in Papua, Human Rights Watch: New York.

[3] http://www.abc.net.au/news/2012-08-27/human-rights-abuses-in-west-papua/4225844

[4] Sloan, J. S. & Tapol, The Neglected Genocide: Human rights abuses against Papuans in the Central Highlands, 1977–1978, Asian Human Rights Commission: Hong Kong & International Coalition for Papua: Wuppertal; Anderson, K. (2015), ‘Colonialism and Cold Genocide: The Case of West Papua’, Genocide Studies and Prevention: An International Journal, 9(2), pp. 9-25; Brundige, E. et al. (2004), Indonesian Human Rights Abuses in West Papua: Application of the Law of Genocide to the History of Indonesian Control, Allard K. Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic, Yale Law School: Yale; and King, P. & Wing, J. (2005), Genocide in West Papua? The role of the Indonesian state apparatus and a current needs assessment of the Papuan people, West Papua Project, Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, University of Sydney.

[5] http://lacuna.org.uk/protest/silencing-west-papuan-independence-supporters-overseas/

[6] MacLeod, J. (2014), Merdeka and The Morning Star: Civil resistance in West Papua, UQP, p.136.

[7] https://www.ulmwp.org/global-petition-swim-west-papua-launched-westminster


Union Development Zone

Education for resistance

Amendment to motion “Civic engagement through political education”

DELETE conference believes 1,2,3,4 and REPLACE with:

  1. Young people are repeatedly affected with the impact of policy decisions they do not agree with. There are many recent examples including unwanted reforms to education, the UK leaving the European Union and spiralling costs of living. These policy decisions are harmful, in particular to working-class people and people from other oppressed groups, and to young people within these groups.
  2. One aspect of this is because progressive young people are not politically engaged and active enough. In addition to when young people are actively shut out and not given a vote, we know much of this comes from lack of confidence. Another core reason for harmful policy is because our society and democracy is ran for the interests of the richest in society, old and young, and so contrary to the interests of the working-class and other oppressed groups, in particular young people in these groups.
  3. Confidence involves understanding the issues and understanding how participation can make a difference. There is also a necessary aspect of confidence which develops through active participation in struggle, especially struggle which is at least partly successful.
  4. Young people are not the only group who are often shut out of politics and are less politically confident – so are working class people and oppressed groups, and young people from those groups are particularly impacted.

ADD:

Conference Believes:

  1. A significant and necessary proportion of this education can and should be achieved by supporting and encouraging young people to actively engage in progressive struggle. This also helps us develop the skills and organisations necessary to bring about further progressive change.
  2. Barriers to young people’s and students’ participation in politics also include policies restricting activism, such as anti-union laws and Prevent, as well as universities trying to silence dissent.
  3. Political education can be liberating and empowering, but it can also be sanitised, teaching only “safe” and “respectable” forms of civic engagement and used to discourage radical action.
  4. Direct action can be a necessary and effective tactic in achieving social and political change, as countless examples in history prove – from the mutinies that ended WW1 to suffragettes, strikers to the civil rights movement, and poll tax non-payment, to name just a few.

DELETE from conference resolves 1:

  • “accredited”

DELETE conference resolves 5,6 and REPLACE with:

  1. NUS will take a democratic approach to political education, seeking to empower and support students to educate themselves and each other, and to engage in political struggle. NUS should support member unions in supporting their students in doing so.
  2. As part of supporting their political education, to support students in struggling for the interests of our class and other oppressed groups, and struggling to create a better society for everyone. To support students to develop the skills and organisations necessary to do so.

ADD:

Conference Resolves:

  1. That the political education we offer should include information about different forms of direct action and the ways it was used in history to fight injustice.
  2. To resist attacks on our political rights and freedoms, including the disarming of our collective organisations through anti-union laws
  3. To defend students’ unions, activists and student journalists whenever they are being victimised, by the state or by universities, for their political activity.

REPORT: Winter conference – January 2017

16177827_1318398124886764_2877095227501292097_o

This weekend, approximately eighty students from all over the UK gathered to once again discuss the future of the free education movement at NCAFC’s annual winter conference. The conference was held, for the first time in all its 7 years, at the University of Warwick, where local free education activists had just won a series of key concessions following a two-week-long occupation of a corporate conference facility.

This two-day event started with an inspiring opening plenary addressing the question “what have radical students ever done for us?”, with a series of three speakers putting forward the student movement’s radical and exciting history all the way from the 1970s to 2010. Such historical context provided strong motivation looking forward, as the need for the kind of grassroots education activism that NCAFC engages in was strongly stressed. More broadly, the conference was focussed on developing our vision for the National Education Service; a policy put forward by Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn. There were three workshops throughout Saturday which focussed on what such a service would look like, both structurally and with regards to its methods of teaching in a liberated way, which all fed into a valuable discussion at the end of Saturday about our vision for the NES. This was the beginning of an ongoing discussion that all NCAFC members are strongly encouraged to participate in going forward. On Sunday, a series of political and organisational motions were passed and the block of 14 on our national committee was elected. Throughout the weekend, there were also several autonomous liberation, sectional and regional caucuses held, with a variety of officers elected to represent these groups on the national committee.

What conference voted for

The full text of the motions passed by conference can be found here. In short, conference voted to:

– Support the right to education and complete free movement for all migrants, not just students
– Challenge the “good migrant vs. bad migrant” rhetoric that has become normalised in society, including parts of the student movement
– Continue fighting against HE reforms through protest, direct action and campaigning regardless of whether the bill passes or not
– Develop and promote our vision for the National Education Service (NES) in harmony with workshops held at conference and affiliated education workers
– Open up the submission of motions to not only local anti-cuts groups affiliated to NCAFC, and any organised political grouping within NCAFC, but also the National Committee, or a group of at least seven NCAFC members.
– Abolish the NCAFC Secretariat, which had been deemed a redundant role by the National Committee
– Maintain our organisational commitment to direct action, and encourage and support it where relevant
– Integrate new NC members through an initial training brief and implementing a ‘buddy system’
– Implement a new safer spaces policy

Election results

NCAFC has a national committee consisting of a Block of 14 elected by Single Transferable vote (with 40% reserved for women and non-binary candidates) and reps from liberation caucuses, regions and other sections.

The new Block of 14 are:

Ana Oppenheim (UAL)
Hope Worsdale (Warwick)
Sahaya James (UAL)
Jenny Killin (Aberdeen)
Clementine Cherbou (Bath, currently based in London)
Anabel Bennett (London)
Dan Smitherman (Warwick)
Savannah Sevenzo (Sussex)
Julie Saumagne (Warwick)
Stuart McMillan (Sheffield)
Andy Warren (KCL)
Ben Towse (UCL)
Lina Nass (Aberdeen)
Kat Hall (Warwick)

Other new reps are as follows:

Women and non-binary:
Maisie Sanders (KCL) and Justine Canady (UCL) [Jobshare]

Black:
Shula Kombe (Manchester)

LGBTQ:
Julius Jokikokko (UAL) and Zac Muddle (Bristol) [Jobshare]

Disabled:
Nathan Rogers (SOAS) and Freddie Seale (Queen Mary) [Jobshare]

Further Education:
Alex Booth (City & Islington College)

Postgrad:
Mark Crawford (UCL)

International:
Hansika Jethnani (UAL)

South East:
Alex Stuart (Surrey) and Lily MacTaggart (Oxford)

These new reps join existing regional reps elected in Summer:

Scotland:
Lewis Macleod (Aberdeen) and Jennifer Sweeney (Aberdeen) [Jobshare]

North:
Josh Berlyne (Sheffield)

Midlands:
Connor Woodman (Warwick)

London:
Monty Shield (Queen Mary)

The South West rep position (previously held by Zac) will be filled at the next regional meeting.

The Radical History of Students’ Unions

c0me-and-join-usBy Zoe Salanitro

Today is NUS’ #LoveSUs day and many of us are left asking: what’s to love? The most recent Tory proposals for Higher Education look bleak: rising fees, changes in loan repayment terms and the continuation of PREVENT, which is eroding the relationship between students and staff.  Yet a lot of SUs don’t appear to be doing anything about it. There has, undoubtedly, been some successes in a number of student unions, such as Warwick, that have managed to freeze fees for existing students but so far not enough to defeat the government or, indeed, put off university management for long. Despite the appearance of campaigns such as #LoveSUs, Student Unions haven’t always been bastions of glow sticks and ‘sabb selfies’ – there is an important radical history to SUs, one of ambition and daring, that we should look to for inspiration in the months ahead. We mustn’t forget everything we have we fought for – including our seat at the table.

The occupations in universities across the country in the late 1960s and early 1970s, including the universities of Birmingham and Liverpool led to SU representatives gaining seats on major university committees such as the senate. Students at the University of Warwick occupied the Senate House building which to led to the university constructing a dedicated SU building. Often protesting and having a seat at the table are pitted against one another when in fact their histories are intertwined. Sabbatical Officers and union representatives that have a seat at the table but lack the force of students to back them are weak and easily ignored by management. The threat of direct action and disruption to the university are the very reason we won these positions and remain key in winning any large demands. This isn’t limited to universities either, in 1968 Hornsey College of Art went into occupation for six weeks over the withdrawal of their Student Union and  through their occupation succeeded in challenging the composition of art education in the UK.

The University of Cambridge Students Union was formed on the back of a series of protests against the Greek fascist dictatorship in the 1970s. A wave of occupations in the early 2000s led to universities twinning with Palestinian institutions and, such as in the case of Sheffield, led to the development of scholarships for students from Gaza.

The proudest moments in the history of SUs have been instances of international solidarity even when, at the time, it’s put students against the government. The most famous and successful example, the boycott of Apartheid South Africa, led to direct action and campaigning at almost every major higher education institution in the country. The important role SUs have played in campaigning for international issues is crucial to remember in light of recent calls for student unions to only focus on ‘student issues’ as if somehow we can be separated from the rest of the world or ignore the international composition of the student population. It’s also important to remember that, usually, the people who say we should focus on ‘student issues’ have done little to no campaigning on them.

Moreover, there is a tired idea thrown around far too much which claims unions are divided into people interested in political causes and people who are involved in sports or societies. This idea holds no weight; in fact sporting students have shown what thoughtful, political involvement with the SU and university looks like. From the predecessors of BUCS, who joined the massive student protests in the 1970s against cuts to grants, defeating the then education secretary, Margaret Thatcher; to the sports teams across a number of unions who joined in boycotts of South African Apartheid by refusing to play South African teams among other things.Most recently, Goldsmiths Rugby team took action in solidarity with the Palestinian cause by displaying a Palestinian flag on their uniform..

Tokenistic campaigns like #LoveSUs are mostly a bunch of bland union hacks giving themselves a pat on a back, however whether it’s LSESU who rioted against the appointment of a director of the school who had been complicit in Rhodesia’s white minority rule and for occupying a space for nursery or the colleges and schools, often with little union infrastructure that took action against EMA cuts in 2010, this article can only begin to scratch the surface of SUs’ radical history. However, these, among many other struggles outside of student unions are part of the rich tradition of student activism beyond strategic plans and risk assessments.

It’s our turn to add to this radical tradition.

Come to our conference in January and support the NSS boycott!

Why Are We Boycotting the National Student Survey?

boycott-the-nss

What is the NSS boycott?

The National Student Survey (NSS) is a questionnaire final-year undergraduate students are encouraged to fill out, ostensibly to measure ‘student satisfaction’ with their course. Following a motion passed at NUS conference this year, students across the country will be campaigning to boycott the Survey when it opens in January 2017. This is part of a wider strategy to stop the higher education reforms currently rolling through parliament, by jamming one of the reform’s key mechanisms.

The boycott as a tactic to stop the HE reforms

The Survey itself is a terrible series of metrics for measuring teaching quality – but that’s not the central reason for the boycott strategy. Primarily, the boycott is a tactic being utilised in a wider campaign to stop the government’s higher education reforms.  

The whole student movement – along with the largest academic union – is united in opposition to the HE reforms, which are forcing marketisation on the university sector, raising tuition fees, and allowing private providers further access to education provision. They constitute a wide-ranging assault on the principles of free, liberated, critical education.

To stop this legislation in its tracks, we need some leverage. Persuading and lobbying government ministers is a tried and failed strategy; the government are intent in ramming these reforms through, and at the moment we are failing to stop them. As Marco Giugni, a scholar of social movements from the University of Geneva puts it, “the power to disrupt the institutions and, more generally, the society is the principal resource that social movements have at their disposal to produce a political impact”. We need to rebalance the power asymmetry facing us by mobilising large numbers of students in an attempt to jam the mechanisms that are essential to the reform’s smooth functioning.

Why boycotting the NSS will give us leverage

The scores of the NSS are an integral part of the system of marketisation, metrics and magic tricks being imposed on higher education. They will be directly related to the right of universities to raise tuition fees (as the scores contribute to universities’ ranking in the Teaching Excellence Framework [TEF], and institutions which rank highly on the TEF will have the right to raise fees).

The NSS can only work if the data it produces has some credibility. Ipsos MORI, the company which runs the Survey, refuses to use data from universities which fail to get 50% of their students to fill out the Survey over a number of years. If we can drive down participation in the Survey below 50% (this may take a sustained boycott over two or more years) then the data will be officially junk, unable to be used. Achieving this doesn’t require uniform engagement with the boycott by all students and all unions; the level of participation required for tactical success is well within the abilities of the NUS and NCAFC to achieve. UCU, the largest academic union, is also in favour of the tactic, opening up copious opportunities for effective student-staff solidarity.

If we can wreck the Survey’s data, it will have a number of effects, including rendering one of the prime measures used in calculating the TEF (a central part of the marketisation of higher education) useless, harming the government’s efforts to impose competition on the sector. It will also incentivise those universities with strong boycott campaigns on campus to pressure the government to enter into negotiations with the student movement. Universities where less than 50% of students fill in the Survey will be unable to raise tuition fees, giving them a strong financial interest in a seeing a settlement between students and government.

Crucially, the NSS boycott is no panacea, a one-off golden bullet aimed at the heart of the HE reforms. It will probably have to be performed over a number of years, and will have to be combined with a range of other tactics, from a local to a national level: information events, national demos, direct action and more. But the NSS boycott is a major tactical innovation with real potential for our struggle.

Over two thousand students sign open letter demanding Sheffield opts out of TEF

sheff-v-tef

By Josh Berlyne

Over 2,300 students have signed an open letter demanding that the University of Sheffield opts out of the proposed Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF).  For the past month and a half, the SU-led Shef Better Than TEF campaign has been collecting signatures and raising awareness of the government’s proposed higher education (HE) reforms.

The HE reforms threaten the very existence of public higher education.  Government have explicitly said that they will not step in if public universities collapse, while they are helping private companies into the market.  All this is being done on the basis of almost no evidence, just the mantra “competition drives up quality.”  Finally, the TEF purports to measure teaching on the basis of metrics which do not directly measure teaching quality.  Universities that perform well on TEF will be allowed to raise their fees above the £9,000 threshold, and there have been recent hints that universities which perform badly on TEF will have restrictions on the number of international students they can take on.  These are regressive policies.

Unlike most reforms, the TEF is optional—university bosses have the choice whether to opt in or out of the framework.  Sheffield SU has been campaigning hard to convince the University to opt out.  This is an uphill struggle, however. 

Despite the fact that our Vice-Chancellor is vocally opposed to the HE reforms, and despite the fact that he supports free, fully-funded higher education, it is not in his material interests to take concrete action and opt out.  When the SU officers presented the open letter to the Vice-Chancellor, his response was that we should collect more signatures.  He wants a joint statement with the SU, and potentially to turn this into a national campaign.  And yet he remains closeted about whether the University will opt out.  It is entirely consistent, in his eyes, to campaign against the reforms while also participating in them.

This is because universities, run like businesses, must think of their short-term interests.  It doesn’t matter that the long-term future of higher education is under threat.  If they cannot raise their fees in the short-term, their budgets will be squeezed and life will get a little harder.  Unions will get more militant.  Students more angry.  Top salaries might even need to be cut.  No university wants to be the only one to opt out, so they will all opt in.

This is why an escalation of the campaign is necessary.  An open letter is not enough – we need demonstrations and more.  Thanks to demands from Free University of Sheffield activists, the campaign is being democratised—with strategy meetings open to all.  We hope that this will encourage new activists to get involved, and give it the energy it very much needs to ramp up the campaign.