NUS supports National Demo as Students Prepare for Autumn of Rebellion

Unity-is-strength-NUS-bannerThe NUS today confirmed its support for the National Demonstration for Free Education on November 19. The demonstration has been called by a coalition of student activists, including the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts, the Young Greens and the Student Assembly Against Austerity. The support of the NUS will mean an increased national mobilisation from across the country, and it is predicted that thousands of students from across the country will descend on London to join the demonstration.

The demonstration will take place under the banner of ‘Free Education: No fees. No cuts. No debt’, marching once more through Central London and marks an escalation of opposition to the government’s programme of fees and privatisation in education and will provide a spark for further action. It will follow a week of direct action throughout the country, putting the debate over education funding at the top of the agenda in the run up to the General Election.

James Elliott, NCAFC National Committee said: “It is great that the NUS has followed the mandate of conference to campaign for free education. We know that free education is not won just by passing policy, but by taking concrete action on the streets and in our communities and colleges. I am glad that the NUS has caught up with the students it represents who have already been working hard to build the demonstration.”

Barbara Ntumy, NUS Women’s Committee said: “We need to send a clear message that education is not and should never be for sale. We need free education so everyone can access it not matter their background or circumstances. “

Kirsty Haigh, NUS Scotland Vice President Communities, said: “This demonstration is going to be the single biggest action in the fight for free education this year and so it’s excellent that the NUS are going to help us make it even bigger. Not only are the government not listening to our demands, but are trying to enact the opposite by lifting the fee cap. It’s clear the boardroom isn’t working so it’s time we take to the streets.”

NUS NEC to vote on motion for free education demonstration on Tuesday, 16th September – What You Can Do!

london-student-protests-300x200-1On Tuesday, 16th September, NUS’s National Executive (NEC) are set to vote on whether to offer support for the NCAFC and other student groups National Demonstration, taking place on the 19th November, 2014.

If you want to encourage NEC members to vote for the motion, we would encourage you to do the following:

  • Write to NUS NEC members directly using our model letter.
  • Tweet at the NUS NEC hashtag #NUSNEC to express your support for the motion, or post on your other social media platforms.

For more information, email: [email protected] or 07840136728

Occupy, Strike, Resist on your campus: 27/10 to 7/11

555092_10152064893696421_396765117_nThe National Campaign against Fees and Cuts is calling for students all over the country to take action on their campus between the 27th of October and 4th of November to demand “Free, just and democratic education”.

This follows decisions made at a series of democratic meetings during the past academic year. In January, 200 student activists met in Birmingham and democratically produced eight demands geared toward fighting for free education – funded by taxing the rich. In June, activists organised a meeting to coordinate that fight. It called for a wave of direct actions on campuses, under the banner of the demands voted for in Birmingham. The fortnight of action will precede the national demonstration for Free Education happening on the 19th of November in London.

We want you to get involved. You could:

  • meet up and organise with students on your campus
  • organise occupations, walkouts, blockades, demonstrations, rallies and open meetings during the fortnight of action
  • get in contact with us if you require any support and let us know if you are planning an action on your campus

The demands that were agreed at the Birmingham meeting on January 29th are as follows:

Free, just, and democratic education

  1. Education should be free with living grants for all. We demand that universities lobby for this, and that they should increase bursaries and pay them only in cash. We also demand that the government re-introduce EMA.
    2. We demand that the student loan book should not be privatised, and ultimately that student debt should be written off.
    3. We demand just pay and conditions for staff: a 5:1 pay ratio between highest and lowest paid staff. An end to casualised contracts, that universities should lobby the UCEA to accept staff union pay demands, no outsourcing of services, a living wage, and an end to the gender pay gap.
    4. We demand an end to the intimidation and victimisation of students: no disciplinaries for protest, cops off campus unless invited by students and management, no co-operation with migration enforcement and ejection of their officials from campus, no-cooperation with spying programmes such as prevent.
    5. Directly democratic education with all decisions made by, or accountable to, staff and students.
    6. We demand education for the public good: for financial transparency and accountability, against the influence of profit in education and research, against league tables, and for ethical investment and procurement.
    7. We demand that halls should be provided for the service not for profit, and should be provided in house.
    8. We demand equality, and an end to discrimination, in education.

 

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Free education motion for NUS NEC

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 16th September.

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, Gordon Maloney, Shakira Martin.

New Labour proposals for higher education ‘feeble and reactionary’. We’ll fight for free education

Students protest in 2004, when the Labour government increased fees to £3000

Students protest in 2004, when the Labour government increased fees to £3000

For press contact, call 07900482427,  07964791663, 07821731481 or 07929317220

Student campaigners across the country have  condemned proposals from Labour to give big business a greater role in higher and further education, and to means test youth benefits. NCAFC and other organisations are planning a national demonstration for free education on November 19th, proposing a real positive alternative to fees and privatisation.

Liam Byrne, the Shadow Minister for Universities, recently released a pamphlet outlining Labour’s current thinking on the future of higher education. ‘Robins Rebooted’, which can be viewed here, pitches itself as an attempt to move forward the debate on HE funding and to transform the face of higher and further education.

In practice, the report focuses almost entirely on linking a new system of business-run vocational education with an attempt to use the benefits system to force young people into training and education.

Its proposals for vocational education and access include:

  • The creation of ‘Technical Degrees’ – courses run jointly by institutions and business, putting “entrepreneurs” and big business in charge of bits of the curriculum
  • Creating a large number of apprenticeships
  • An ‘earn while you learn’ rationale, solving student poverty by making students work, not by increasing state support
  • Hinting that post-graduate education is unaffordable and may have to change
  • Dismissing concerns that MOOCS may undermine or jeopardize teaching quality or jobs.

This is paired with a new benefits regime which:

  • Makes education and training compulsory in English and Maths until the age of 18
  • Abolishes Jobseekers Allowance until the age of 21
  • Replaces pre-21 Jobseekers Allowance with a ‘youth allowance’, which will be means-tested against your parents’ income

Hannah Sketchley, NCAFC national committee and UCL Union Democracy and Communications Officer, said: “These proposals are by and large feeble and reactionary. After years of privatisation and attacks on access and bursaries, the last thing we need is a Labour policy that pointedly evades any commitment to reversing any of it, and which in fact gives business more power in the sector.”

Rachel O’Brien, from Defend Education Birmingham and NCAFC, said “A lot of the proposals are even worse than the status quo: they’re an attack on young people’s right to basic benefits, hitting the victims of Tory policy with yet more poverty and sanctions. Labour’s vision for a “high skill economy” will make us dependent on our parents until we’re 21 – that’s not progress.”

Kirsty Haigh, NUS Scotland Vice President  and NCAFC said: “Byrne is offering us a technocratic insider policy when what we need is an ideological alternative to what the Coalition are doing. If Labour offers piecemeal reform when the Tories have spent years installing an ideologically-driven vision of a privatised system, the Tories will get to define higher education for a generation.”

NCAFC has been fighting for a real positive alternative to fees and privatisation for almost five years: for free, democratic and accessible education funded by taxation of the rich and big business. Join the national demo for free education on November 19th.

Getting academic staff behind the campaign for free education

This article was originally given as a workshop by Luke Martell, an academic at Sussex University at NCAFC’s summer training.

 

How can academic and other staff at universities be mobilised behind the campaign for free education? There are ways we can appeal to their sectional or instrumental interest. There are principled reasons we can appeal to also, but members of NCAFC know these.

And sometimes you need more than this when it comes to staff.
Free universities

But first of all, if you’re having a campaign about free education, it’s a chance to think about free universities. These are in a third sector, not state or marketised, autonomous and co-operatively run. They provide education for the sake of education, not education to make money. They’re free as in autonomous, but also in that they don’t charge fees. The most prominent example in Britain is the Social Science Centre in Lincoln that is a sort of free university. The Free University Brighton is trying to set up a degree that will cost nothing, and be taught in the evenings by academics in their own time.

There have been other free universities in the UK and globally. Some have arisen out of campaigns, like the occupation movement. There was Tent City University outside St Paul’s, that was a sort of free university. The Bank of Ideas occupation of a disused UBS office in London set off a series of offerings of education for free.
Engaging staff in the campaign for free education

But the NCAFC campaign is about free education at conventional public universities. There are ways it can engage staff in the campaign. One is around consumerist student surveys like the NSS that feed into league tables, and internal forms of student feedback. These are starting to have implications for staff. At Surrey managers are proposing putting staff into capability procedures if they fail to get high enough grades in student evaluations. In theory, capability procedures are a way of helping staff who have a problem doing their job. But they can be used by managers to dismiss staff. We should have student feedback for democratic and accountability reasons. But this is a misuse of it and an insufficent basis on which to judge staff’s teaching. The campaign can engage staff by arguing for free education as an alternative to this consumerism and managerialism being used against them.

We can appeal to staff by talking about the unfree university’s diversion of expenditure from academic teaching. There’s been an expansion of spending on marketing at UK universities, especially since £9k fees were introduced. The money for this has to come from somewhere. At for-profit universities in the USA more is spent on marketing and recruitment than student support. Money’s being diverted into ‘wow factor’ buildings to look great to visiting parents and applicants, less designed for students and staff that work in them.

The campaign for free education can draw attention to the implications of outsourcing for academic staff, being done to free up money for the consumer university. This is happening in areas like estates, security and catering. Academics often don’t see the meaning for them. They can be reluctant to get involved in campaigns against outsourcing because they view them as an issue for unions like Unison, Unite or the GMB. But academic staff should be involved in these out of concern for fellow staff and students. If that fails they should be involved by seeing other outsourcings as a precursor for the hiving off to for-profits of their own areas.

Academic support like IT and libraries will be outsourced and so will academic areas. Universities will increase online distance learning. It will be done by private IT firms taking work which could be done by in-house IT workers, and by casualised tutors, maybe sought through agencies. The for-profit International Study Group which provides foundation courses for international students is trying to muscle into first year undergraduate teaching.

Workers suffer from outsourcing in terms of pay and conditions. But perhaps where they suffer most is through changes to their pensions. These aren’t protected by TUPE processes for transferring workers to new employers. Making the link between unfree universities and worsening pensions is worth doing this year because the big campaign for UCU at pre-92 universities will be around new proposals for USS pensions.

We can point out to staff how unfree universities are altering the structure of education. One big change that has gone under the radar is the widespread closure of adult education at universities. Money is going into areas of growth, in terms of student income.

We can point out how staff in other areas stand to lose if theirs is contracted. There’s an argument I don’t like much because it’s about international competiveness. I don’t think global divisions is a principle we should adhere to. But if we have to to mobilise some staff, we can point out how higher fees will be leading to applicants going to overseas universities, for instance in the Netherlands and other continental locations, where high quality higher education is offered at much lower cost.

All these things I’ve talked about are driven by marketised fee-charging education and affect academic and other staff. There is less pressure for these at free tax-funded universities.
Staff and student action

A good factor in recent years has been combined staff and student action. I agree student and staff union reps should meet collectively regularly, and students should be on joint union committees. I’ve been impressed with students taking action on selfless campaigns for low-paid workers. In the past the student movement has often been focused on student and educational issues. And I agree it’s important that students take action on their own campuses as much as through national organisations and demos.

Staff can take industrial action, but students can take direct action. This is dangerous for staff, although it’s also dangerous for students, as we’ve seen in disciplinary procedures. Students can occupy and we’ve seen road-blocks by students on staff strike days.

At the same time staff need to be more imaginative about action. Some will disagree about this, but one day strikes have limits. Managers look out their windows on strike days and see a quieter campus. The day after it’s back to business as usual. Unions need to find more disruptive forms of action. NCAFC can play a role in persuading likeminded staff to look for more effective methods.
For free education

Free education, or maybe we should call it collectively funded education, is less prone to the problems for staff that I’ve mentioned. It’s possible. Look at Germany where the remaining states that charged fees, which weren’t that high anyway, are now stopping this. Free education is cheaper. We now know that the system of loans and defaults will be more expensive than the free education that came before. In an election year it’s worth bringing up again that there was no democratic mandate for increasing fees to £9k. The Conservatives won a minority of seats and formed a government by allying with a party who stood against increases in fees. Free education involves more community. There are less divisions than you get with outsourcing where workers are employed by different companies rather than just one, and where inequalities grow between senior managers whose salaries are inflated and low-paid outsourced workers who have their pay and pensions cut.

The campaign for free education is also a chance to rethink what we mean by free education. It’s taken to mean the tax-funded higher education up to 1997 when New Labour first introduced fees. That free education is what we’re fighting to get back. But this was also a higher education system that was inegalitarian and undemocratic. The campaign is not just a chance, rightly, to defend free education but also to rethink what we think it should be.

Movement for Blairism

By James Elliott

 

This month NUSs flagship training event, Lead and Change, was held in Lancaster and Oxford. The brainchild of former NUS Senior Manager Jim Dickinson, this key introduction to NUS for sabbaticals was delivered this year by Movement for Change, a Blairite community organisinggroup, funded by tax-dodging Lord Sainsbury, who emerged out of David Milibands unsuccessful party leadership bid and mostly run by his backers and former SpAds.

 

Movement for Change preaches a form of community organisingdistinct from grassroots campaigns against workfare, the Bedroom Tax and worker exploitation. They seek to replace trade unionism, and Living Wage campaigns organised along these lines circumvent workers, lobbying on their behalf rather than encouraging them to organise for themselves.

 

This is a paternalistic, condescending approach to organising, rooted in winning Blairites elections rather than improving the condition of workers and students. Hence, many university cleaners resent these kind of Living Wage campaigns, whereas radical movements like 3cosas have the workers at the centre.

 

Movement for Change is heavily linked to Progress, a Blairite party-within-a-party, promoting a hard-right agenda in Labour, demanding privatisation and austerity, also mostly funded by Sainsbury. The only known member of Progressboard, which appears to control the organisation as there is no internal democracy, is Alan Milburn, who went from Blairs Health Secretary to working as an adviser to David Cameron, and recently called for Labour to embrace an avowedly pro-business agenda and match it with a more overtly pro-business tone.

 

We should reject this kind of high-level involvement by Blairites in our national union. NUS shouldnt be cosying up to Blairites who introduced tuition fees and their false appeals to community organising, and should instead be building grassroots campaigns against austerity and for free education, with workers and students, not businesspeople, at their heart. 

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