Early day motion in Parliament: ‘tuition fees and the funding of education’

portcullis1Ahead of an autumn of action and mobilisation, we have managed to get an Early Day Motion put down in parliament. Early Day Motion 294 is up and running, and is available here.

Get your MP to sign it!

It reads:

That this House notes the introduction and rapid increase in tuition fees in further and higher education since 1998 and acknowledges with concern the findings of the Third Report of the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee session 2014-15, on Student Loans; further notes that tuition fees and associated marketisation have decisively failed to create a sustainable funding system for universities; further notes that, in order to fund tution fees, the Government can now expect to loan in excess of £10 billion per year, much of which it will never recover; further notes the extreme negative impact of fees and privatisation on the stability of universities and colleges, access to education, student poverty and the conditions of academic and other staff; further notes that the number of people studying part-time has dropped by 40 per cent since the tripling of home undergraduate tuition fees in 2010; further notes that tuition fees no longer exist in Germany; believes that the choice being presented to the public, between an inaccessible and debt-driven market and a free system open only to a social elite, is no choice at all; believes further that progressive taxation is the only fair and workable way to fund education; supports the conclusions of the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee’s report that an overhaul of the system is needed; calls for an urgent review of education funding led by those who work and study in education; and further calls for the abolition of all tuition fees in further and higher education.

Suspended Birmingham students: We have paid a heavy price for our peaceful student protest

Protest against Student Suspensions at the University of BirminghamThis article was originally published on Comment is Free here.

We have both just been suspended from the University of Birmingham for nine months because of our part in an occupation that took place last November.

This year the university has collectively had us arrested three times, taken out an injunction banning us from occupational protest for a year, put us through a stressful nine-month-long disciplinary process,suspended us for two months, reinstated us briefly just to suspend us again only one month away from graduation.

Another student, Hattie Craig, has been given a six-month suspended sentence, meaning that if she breaks any university regulation between now and when she graduates she will immediately be suspended for six months. Publicly stating opposition to the actions of the University of Birmingham could end up with her being suspended on the basis that she brought the university into disrepute.

The University of Birmingham is trying to hide behind the quasi-legal process that it uses to conduct disciplinary actions. We were denied access to legal representation, despite us submitting multiple requests. The hearings were not held to any of the same evidential standards that would be required in a court: decisions were made on the balance of probabilities, and the outcomes shielded from scrutiny because the university does not allow recordings or take full notes.

Higher education in the UK is changing fast. The distinctions between universities and the private sector are being eroded by the government and university managers. The University of Birmingham has played a central role in this ongoing marketisation. The vice-chancellor David Eastwood (paid £400,000 for the privilege) sat on the Browne review that led to £9,000 tuition fees and a market in higher education; and he has restructured the university to the demands of business. Successful and famous courses such as archaeologysociology and biological recordinghave been closed down when they don’t fit with a narrow business logic.

The university’s statement says that “robust action” has been taken to maintain the university’s “duty of care” to its students and staff. These are the students and staff who have resisted changes at the university, and have condemned the attacks on academic autonomy, workers’ rights and student protest. Staff unions at Birmingham have complained about heavy-handed management, leading them to successfully ballot for a strike in 2012. Last year a court found that Thelma Lovick, a prominent neuroscientist, was unfairly dismissed in a process described byProfessor David Nutt as both “cock-up and conspiracy”.

What is happening at Birmingham is an example of the kind of education system that is being created in this country. The idea that university should be a critical place where students and staff can and should interrogate and challenge the status quo is under attack. At the same time, more and more students and workers are realising that our interests are opposed to those of a neoliberal higher education system. This year saw the biggest wave of action that we have seen in universities since 2010. Staff at universities had a wave of national strikes, while students across the country went into occupation. Next year – with the main parties soon to announce their manifestos for the next election – the student movement is only going to get stronger.

The changes to higher education that the government implemented in 2010 were supposed to usher in a new era of student choice and student control. Though we never asked for them and actively resisted the changes, their supposed intention was to empower the student consumer. Instead, marketisation has created universities that are increasingly intolerant of dissent, will use the power of the police and the courts against their own students, put us through long stressful kangaroo courts, and will ultimately give out draconian sentences to try to scare others off from protesting. Just as the police had to violently beat students away from the fees vote in parliament, universities are using every means at their disposal to prevent students from interfering with their new logic of neoliberalism. We didn’t go away then, and we are not going to give up now.

NCAFC Summer Training Agenda released

11785On the last weekend of August, NCAFC will be holdings it’s annual summer training event in Brighton, at Sussex University.

The event is FREE and if you cannot get your SU to fund your travel and then unable to do so yourself but still wish to attend then please get in touch (againstfeesandcuts@gmail.com) and we can talk about subsidies. 

Register by emailing [email protected]om with your name, email address, phone number, your institution and whether you need accommodation for the 29th/30th/31st of August.

Students, officers and activists are invited to come and take part in workshops, discussion and debates focused on every aspect of the student movement. It will be a space for officers and activists to learn from each other, cover the major issues that are coming up in the year ahead, make plans, and get to know each other and have fun.

For four years, NCAFC has been at the heart of organising a democratic, campaigning, political student movement, and those years have seen a magnificent rise in student activism in response to the government’s cuts. Time and time again, however, we have seen grassroots activists leading the way and NUS following. As we approach a new academic year, it’s vital that we equip ourselves with the ideas and skills for the challenges ahead.

Come and meet other student union officers and activists from across the country and discuss how we build a student movement.

This year’s event will have a special focus on the upcoming Free-Education campaign. There will also be a meeting of the National Committee of NCAFC on the Monday following the training weekend, which all NCAFC members are welcome to attend.

August training agenda

FRIDAY (29/8/14)

7:00 – “meet and greet”, location: tba

SATURDAY (30/8/14)

10:45 – Registration
11:00 – Opening Plenary: What do we want the Free Education movement to look like?
12:00 – Small groups: introductions
12:30 – Access break
12:45 – Liberation Caucus 1
13:45 – Lecture: Education policy since 2010: where are we in the run-up to the General Election?
14:15 – lunch
15:00 – Workshop slot A: mobilizing (for the Free Education Campaign)
1. Getting other actors involved in the campaign (school, FE)
2. Getting other actors involved in the campaign (trade unions)
3. Mobilising your campus and setting up local activist groups
16:00 – Liberation caucus 2
16:30 – Access break
16:45 – Plenary: A brief history of student unionism: what are SUs for?
17:15 – Workshop slot B: student unions
1. Student Union commercial services
2. Student Union democracy
18:15 – Access break
18:30 – Liberation caucus 3
19:00 – Social

SUNDAY (31/8/14)

11:00 – Plenary: Liberation and class politics
12:00 – Liberation caucus 4
12:30 – Access break
12:45 – Workshop slot C: Other campaigns for the next year
1. Radical liberation campaigns and radicalising liberation societies/associations/forums
2. Housings and NHS campaigns (45min for each)
3. Living Wage and Workers’ rights campaigns
14:15 – Lunch
15:00 – Action Planning for Autumn in little groups
1. 15 minutes plenary to decide which things need planning (i.e. days of action)
2. Separate into those groups
16:30 – Access break
16:45 – Closing session
17:15 – FINISH

MONDAY (1/9/14)

10 am – 5pm: National Committee meeting

Motion to support Free education national demo at NUS NEC, 4th August

The following motion – which calls for the National Union of Students to support the national demonstration that NCAFC and other organisations have called for the 19th November – is being put to the NUS National Executive (NEC) on the 4th August.

If you would like more information or would like to support the motion, contact [email protected]

 

 

Fighting for free education and decent jobs for all

NEC believes

1. National Conference 2014 voted by a substantial majority, after a long and passionate debate, to “oppose and campaign against all methods of charging students for education – including tuition fees and a ‘graduate tax’ which is nothing more than a euphemism for ‘student debt’.” It voted “to make the case for free education and demand that free, accessible, quality education, and decent wages, public services and benefits, are funded by:

“a. Ending tax evasion and avoidance and cracking down on tax havens

“b. Imposing serious taxes on the incomes, inheritance and capital gains of the rich

“c. Taking the banks, and their wealth, under democratic control”

2. National conference voted to campaign around the slogan “Fund decent jobs for all”, by fighting for “expanded public services to create socially useful, secure, well-paid jobs”, with associated demands around job security and the Living Wage.

3. Since National Conference, a coalition of student groups & campaigns have come together to call a national demo on November 19th under the banner of ‘Free education: no fees, no cuts, no debt.’

NEC further believes

1. With a year until the general election, there are clear opportunities to make substantial gains for students, if we put out a clear message and mobilise the movement

2. Based on policy passed by conference, we should be campaigning for a free, well-funded education system at every level and the creation of secure jobs with decent rights and a living wage. These policies entail a radical redistribution of wealth and power by taxation of the rich and big business.

NEC resolves

1. To affirm that NUS will campaign on these themes over the next year, using slogans such as “Fund free education – tax the rich” and “Fund decent jobs for all – tax the rich” when we march with the TUC on October 18th.

2. To formally endorse the national demonstration on November 19 and encourage unions to mobilise for it, and to advise the demonstration organisers on necessary safety measures to put in place

3. To also emphasise how cuts, unemployment and debt hit the most oppressed hardest, and the liberation aspect of these policies.

4. To issue a press release setting out support for the demonstration and the politics in this motion.

5. To support a ‘student bloc’ at the demonstration of the Tory party conference and a lobby at Labour Party conference around these themes.

Proposed: Daniel Lemberger Cooper

Seconded: Megan Dunn, Clifford Fleming, James Elliot, Kirsty Haigh, Maddy Kirkman, Abdi-aziz Suleiman, Dario Celaschi, Sai Englehert, Zekarias Negussue, Malia Bouattia, Vonnie Sandlan, Shreya Paudel.

PRESS RELEASE: UNIVERSITY OF BIRMINGHAM STUDENTS GIVEN 9 MONTH SUSPENSION FOR PEACEFUL PROTEST BY “KANGAROO COURT”

1426487_736568923039685_164713782_n-530x353FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CONTACT NUMBER: 07821842831, 07821731481

 Two students have been suspended from University of Birmingham for their involvement in an occupation in the autumn term. Simon Furse (22) and Kelly Rogers (22) have been suspended from their course until March 2015. Hattie Craig (21) was given a formal reprimand and a de facto ‘suspended sentence’ warning her of immediate suspension should she breach any university regulation. All were put through a panel which ended on 23rd June, but have had their outcomes withheld until today.

In an unprecedented move, University management intervened during the hearing and issued a recommendation to the disciplinary panel that one of the students, Simon Furse, be expelled. This would have been the first protest-related expulsion from a British university since 1974. The University recommended that Kelly Rogers be suspended for a full year, while Hattie Craig had a recommendation of 6 months.

The occupation was in relation to a set of ten demands, including that staff should be paid a living wage and the university should stop lobbying for fees to be increased. Since the occupation two of the demands have been achieved: the university have agreed to pay Living Wage for the next two years and have stopped fee waivers. The students were found guilty of a number of minor charges which in the past have warranted only a reprimand.

Simon Furse said “I have been suspended from the university despite the fact that the only evidence against me is a ten second video of me telling other protesters that they can go into a peaceful occupation. The protest was peaceful and lawful, but the university can just set up its own Kangaroo Court and do what it wants. University management have clearly decided that they don’t want any more protests against their policies, and have decided to victimise us to try and deter others from voicing dissent.”

Kelly Rogers said, “We protested peacefully to call for a better education for ourselves and future students, and for better working conditions for staff at the University. As a result, we have been punished for expressing our right to freedom of protest and freedom of speech. These rulings are vastly disproportionate and came as a massive shock”.

The 3-day hearing followed a 7 month disciplinary process, which we consider to have been politically motivated and lacking in impartiality. The disciplinary hearings themselves were marred by a failure to observe basic principles of procedural fairness. For example:

The students were denied the right to legal representation, despite the legal and factual complexity of the proceedings, the length of the hearings and the fact that their right to education is at stake

  • The University of Birmingham admitted to having identified the students from an internal ‘blacklist’ of around 30 student activists

  • Students were denied access to minutes of the disciplinary. When they requested them, they were told that they could only acquire them via a Subject Access Request “if they still existed” at the time. No verbatim minutes were taken at all, with the University citing “data protection” reasons.

  • Students were not given proper access to all of the allegations against them, with many of the allegations being raised in the course of narrative commentary and conjecture by University management.

 The students have noted each instance of unfairness and failure of due process. They are actively considering all avenues of appeal, including a challenge in the High Court.

Student loan sell-off abandoned: now we fight to abolish fees and debt

Vince Cable, the Lib Dem Secretary of State for Business, Innovation & Skills, has announced a U-turn on plans to sell the remainder of the higher education student loan book into private hands. This is a victory for students who have been fighting this threat over the past year with a campaign of protest and direct action. A combination of pressure from this campaign and changing financial assessments, as well as a likely desire to separate the Lib Dems from their Coalition partners in the run up to next year’s election, appears to have pushed Cable to move against the wishes of others in government who wanted to keep pursuing the sale as part of the wider agenda of privatisation and marketisation in education. Now we need to keep up the pressure for the government to make this announcement official, and go further to demand a public education system that serves society and is free and accessible to everyone.

NCAFC and other student groups and unions have been campaigning against the plans since they were revealed by leaked documents a year ago. NCAFC warned about the threat in 2011, when we fought David Willetts’ Higher Education White Paper, some of which was then shelved. The sell-off could have resulted in a retroactive change to repayments – forcing graduates to pay back more than they originally agreed in order to make the sale more attractive to private investors.

But we won’t stop here. We stand for free education – the abolition of all tuition fees and an amnesty on all existing student debt. This includes the pre-1998 loans that have already been privatised, with worrying results for the graduates paying them back. And we stand for decently-resourced education, made accessible to all – funded by taxing the rich and putting the wealth of the banks to democratic use, not by selling off public assets for a bit of quick cash.

From this defensive victory, it’s time to go on the offensive. Along with other student groups, we’ll be fighting for free, funded, public education with a campaign of protest and direct action over the coming months, including a national demonstration in London on Wednesday 19 November. Be part of that fight: build the campaign on your campus and in your community, and join the national movement.

BREAKING: Lib Dems ditch student loan sell-off

vcxA year ago, the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts launched a campaign to stop the privatisation of the student loan book. The government planned to sell off all student debt accrued between 1998 and 2012 – estimated to be around £12bn.

Student debt is an unattractive investment for most companies, as there is so much of it that a large proportion will never be paid back.  Because of this, there are only two ways to make a profit: either the government has to effective subsidise the sale of the loans via a ‘synthetic hedge’, or repayment rates and conditions on the loans would have to rise. The latter option would have meant a vast and retroactive hike in tuition fees.

In September 2013, we wrote an open letter from the campaign to the Lib Dems on the eve of their party conference. We demanded a guarantee that they would not sell off the loan book.

When we received no such assurance, we occupied the constituency offices of numerous Lib Dem MPs – including a hilarious incident involving Vince Cable himself.

After a year of being slowly discredited, the policy has now been dropped, according to the Guardian. However, it is important not to be too triumphalist about this u-turn: it is clear that the Lib Dems are attempting to re-brand themselves ahead of the 2015 election, and we must not allow them to do so. Cable’s tone in dropping the policy focuses on its economic aspects – but then again, politicians never admit being scared of public pressure and protest.

You can read the full story here. 

Callout: march with the student bloc at the Tory Party conference

student bloc profile

FACEBOOK EVENT HERE.

From 28 September to 1 October the Tories will be in Birmingham for their Party Conference. TUC Midlands have organised a march and rally on the conference for the 28th. The National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts (NCAFC) together with the Midlands groups – Defend Education Birmingham, Warwick ASN, and Leicester Defend Education – are calling for a student bloc on the demo. 

Since coming to power in 2010, the Tories have: 

  • Tripled tuition fees with no democratic mandate, making a university education in Britain the most expensive in Europe
  • Abolished Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) and attacked access funds, cutting millions of working class students out of post-16 education; 
  • Ordered and celebrated brutal attacks on protests: kettling, horse charges, mass arrests, police violence, and the authorisation of rubber bullets and now water cannon. Undermined and attacked teachers and the public education system: freezing pay, scrapping pensions, casualising the workforce and selling out schools to creationists and big business;
  • Embarked on a chaotic experiment in turning higher education into a market, creating a tiered education system with elite institutions for rich students, and underfunded universities for the rest of us. They have taken teaching quality, the needs of society, working conditions and the right to access education as collateral damage;
  • Fostered a system in which universities can call on police brutality to repress students, like those involved in Defend Education Birmingham, where the university has collaborated with the police to brand peaceful protests as domestic extremists and arbitrarily arrest them, and has suspended and disciplined students and attacked the right to protest;
  • Drowned us in debt. They are currently attempting to privatise the Student Loan book, selling our loans to private holders at low cost and leaving students facing unsurmountable debt, potentially insecure repayment conditions, and a future determined by profit rather than by concern for society.

The men who masterminded this dirty work over the last four years – Michael Gove and David Willetts – have been sacked or demoted in the Cabinet reshuffle. But there is no sign of a policy change in education. Further neo-liberalisation is presented as the only way forward.

We are calling on students from all over the country to march with us on 28 September in Birmingham to oppose the Tory Government. 

We want the fight for education to be part of a broader fight by working class people in Britain.

We want to stop its assault on education and demand that it be accessible to all free of charge; that educational institutions be democratically run by those who work and study within them; and that this be publicly funded with no strings attached.

New universities minister: what does this mean for the student movement?

tumblr_inline_n8urhxcyNZ1s7t44sBY SHELLY ASQUITH, President of University of the Arts London. Original post here.

Unlike Willetts, Greg Clark has a working class background: educated in a comprehensive school and the son of a shop assistant. Don’t let that fool you though, the new Minister for Universities is just as much of an elitist Tory as his predecessor. Here’s where he stands on some of the key issues:

He voted for higher tuition fees, obviously. He voted to scrap the Education Maintenance Allowance and is in favour of free schools and academies. So there’s nothing rebellious about him on the headline education reforms.

Tax the rich? When it comes to taxation, he’s in favour of raising VAT which hits ordinary people. Meanwhile he also doesn’t think contributions on earnings over £150,000 should be increased. Clark is against a mansion tax, against a bankers’ bonus tax and in favour of a lower rate of corporation tax.
He also voted to cut council tax benefit, which millions of students rely on.

Welfare
If you find yourself in need of a safety net, Clark doesn’t think your welfare payments should rise with the cost of living – keeping the most vulnerable in poverty.

International students
Clark was in favour of curbing the rights of asylum seekers and supports the Government’s Immigration Bill which will charge international students for accessing the NHS.

New deal for work? No thanks – Clark has voted against proposals for Government to create jobs for young people who have been long-term unemployed.

Housing
Perhaps failing to recognise the urgency of the housing crisis, and the fact that fewer than half as many houses are being built than are in demand, Clark has been a firm defender of the Localism Bill, which scrapped regional home-building targets.
Clark is also a proponent of the social-cleansing bedroom tax, which penalises the poorest tenant’s with second bedrooms, despite whether a relative has passed away or left for study.

Clark favour’s the lobbying bill, which aims to restrict campaigning by charities during elections (that would include students’ unions lobbying over the NUS’s newly adopted free education policy). NUS Scotland seems to have a solution to that barrier though: just break the law.

To gage who Clark’s allies are in the sector, just look at who’s offered him a warm welcome this week: University Alliance and Higher Education Academy which supported the new fees system and has even argued for a removal of the £9k cap. Given the apparent support from these organisations which are effectively clubs of Vice Chancellors, it’s probably safe to say Clark’s in favour of overblown pay for senior managers.

The fight goes on.

NUS and free education: learning from history

freeedUnderstanding the history of NUS when it comes to free education may be helpful in building a campaign. [Read more...]