Students Support Kobane!

Beth Redmond, NCAFC National Committee

Student and youth activists will be taking part in the London rally in support of Kobane and Kurdistan on 1 November – to show our support for democratic and left forces, including student and youth movements, in the region fighting ISIS.

We also want to show solidarity with the thousands of students and school students in Turkey who have taken action, against their own government, to support the Kurdish struggle.

The struggle is one of international significance from a feminist’s perspective; whilst fighting for basic and fundamental human rights for women, such as not being sold as objects into slavery, the people on the battlefield at the forefront of the fighting are inspiring women.

They need our support. It is a crying shame how little solidarity the British left is showing the Kurdish people, but we can begin to change that this Saturday.

Please meet us 2pm (1 November) in Trafalgar Square, by the bottom of the steps in front of the National Gallery. Look out for the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts banner.

For more information, ring 07891 714 146 or email [email protected]

The SWP, the Socialist Party & the Free Education Demo

Concerns have been raised with us about the involvement of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) and Socialist Party (SP) in the organising of the Free Education Demonstration. We want to be clear that neither organisation has substantially contributed to the organisation of the demonstration. Moreover, NCAFC would strongly oppose inviting representatives of either organisation to speak at the demonstration rally or on a panel at any event leading up to the demo, although we are not currently aware of any such proposals. If participants in organising meetings for the demo promote misogyny or rape apologism, we would challenge them, and ultimately we would ask them to leave.

There are many people new to student activism who have no idea why many have severe disagreements with the SWP, and we urge you to read the links below which detail what has happened within their organisation. These people include new members or associates of the SWP: if this is you, we urge you to read about what has happened and speak to others outside the group, and we hope that you will then choose to join us in challenging the SWP’s behaviour. We also note that, though most have left by now, there are some members who stayed in the SWP to fight for transparency and womens’ rights.

NCAFC members will continue to challenge members of the SP and the SWP for their organisations’ terrible track records with respect to sexism and abuse.

For more information about the two organisations please see below.

Information on events within the SWP:

Information on events within the SP:

The importance of occupied spaces: why we didn’t just book a room for the teach in

defendeducYesterday we held a teach-in at the University of Birmingham as part of the two weeks of action leading up to the National Demonstration for Free Education, happening on 19th November. There were workshops on a wide range of issues from “What is happening in Higher Education?” to “How to incorporate intersectionality into your activism” and a look at student movements in Quebec, Germany and Hong Kong. We deliberately chose not to book a room for this event but instead to take a space on campus without the permission of the university. This made our teach in an “occupation” under the university’s definition. Previous occupations have been greeted with court injunctions, security guard violence and suspensions. So why bother? Why not just book a room and make our lives easier? By Defend Education Birmingham

By not participating in the management’s room booking system, we chose to reclaim a space that should simply be available to us as students of the university. Room bookings serve to exclude students from academic spaces, creating narrow sets of criteria which determine who does and does not have the right to use university space. We believe that the university is a community and should be run by the students and staff who study and work here. We do not accept the authority of management to control the behaviour of the rest of the university community and determine where, when and what is appropriate for them to engage with. By taking and occupying, we challenge the barriers set by the university and empower students to use their university in a way not defined for them by management.

We felt that this is particularly relevant when this event was aimed at the mutual education of students. We have created a space within the university where students can educate one another about the neoliberalism within our institution and higher education as a whole, where we can critique and question underlying assumptions which we are prevented from doing in our formal education. We can expand the idea of learning beyond sitting in lectures and reading books to an experience where we share our knowledge and learn from each other in ways not sanctioned by management.

The space we took was ours to control. All decisions within it were democratically made by those participating in the teach in. Actions like these demonstrate an alternative to the hierarchical, undemocratic governance which we must endure in so many aspects of our everyday lives and show participants that things can be organised differently, in a way where those affected by decisions are the ones to make them.

The value of occupations does not stop there. Although ours did not aim to be disruptive, using occupations to disrupt the normal functioning of universities is a tactic which can be used to great effect. Whilst as students we cannot withdraw our labour in the form of a conventional strike as workers might, we can instead take space and use what we do have, our bodies, to create a similar effect in shutting down key processes in the university until our demands are met. They also create actions of resistance worth talking about and will often garner far more media attention than if students simply write to newspapers detailing their oppositions to the university and the higher education system.

The sheer level of repression faced by students who engage in occupation and tens of thousands of pounds management are prepared to spend on stopping them, as the numerous injunctions taken out to evict and prevent occupations from happening on campuses from Sheffield to London, Birmingham to Sussex show, demonstrate that occupations pose a great threat to management’s authority and their unquestioned neoliberal agenda which is so strong that they feel they cannot tolerate it.

In the run up to the National Demonstration for Free Education and beyond, students should be occupying their campuses, creating democratic spaces to educate each other about what’s going on in Higher Education and the alternatives we’re fighting for and disrupting the university to demand that that management come out in favour of free education and other measures to improve the rights, democracy and power of students and staff.

If you are in London tomorrow, then come to the teach-in at UCL:!/events/1487254114890866/

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Students Occupy Universities UK Headquarters



For information, contact: 07989235178 / 02076797219 / 07821731481

A group of London activists occupied the headquarters of Universities UK today, presenting the management with a “Degree in Bullshit: First Class Honours – Privatisation.”

The stunt took place in the middle of the fortnight of action, called by the National Campaign Against Fees And Cuts, in the build up to the National Demonstration for Free Education on November 19.

Students entered the building and attempted to meet with the Chief Executive in her office; however staff tried to prevent them from gaining access, blocking them and calling the police. Students managed to gain access to the corridor outside his office, but were prevented from going any

The Degree in Bullshit

further. After much negotiation, it was agreed that students could meet the most senior executive in the building: the Director of External Communications, however he refused to come and speak to the group of students or the press and instead insisted that only two people meet with him.

Shelly Asquith, SUArts President, said “We met with the Director of External Communications. He didn’t seem fazed about privatising our institutions or receiving this degree; he actually seemed almost proud.”

David Dahlborn, UCL Student, said: “When we met with the Director, he defended fees and marketization vigorously. Universities UK are foisting the neoliberal agenda over our higher education institutions, whilst we in contrast believe that they must be publicly funded and accessible to all. Having met with him, it seems the Bullshit Degree was well-deserved”

The police arrived and for a while detained the students, however all were allowed to leave without further recrimination.

Hattie Craig, National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts National Committee, said: “It is absolutely ridiculous that the police were called. All we wanted was to deliver our message to Universities UK, and it is a shocking mark of the state of Higher Education that trying to meet with those who influence our universities is met with hostility and threats.”

Beth Redmond, National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts National Committee, said: “The way that Universities UK treated our concerns has only strengthened our resolve to fight for free education and living grants for all.”


  1. Universities UK describes themselves as “the definitive voice for Universities in the UK.” It is a lobby group for Vice Chancellors and university managers, which has previously argued for raising the cap on tuition fees. (Source:
  2. The Fortnight of Free Education action was called by the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts and involves actions on campuses from Falmouth to Strathclyde, as well as several events in London.
  3. The Coalition of groups involved in calling the demonstration includes the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts (NCAFC), the Student Assembly Against Austerity (the student wing of the People’s Assembly) and the Young Greens. The demo is backed by the NUS.
  4. The National Demonstration on November 19 will assemble at Malet Street, London, at around 12noon and march round Russell Square, down Kingsway to the Strand, and then to Trafalgar Square, Whitehall and ending at Parliament by 4pm.

bullshit degree protest


Route announced for national demonstration as students prepare fight for free education

Contact: 07989235178, 07821731481

With three weeks left to go until the national demonstration for free education on November 19th, we are in a position to announce a route for the protest. The march will assemble at Malet Street at around 12noon and march round Russell Square, down Kingsway to the Strand, and then to Trafalgar Square, Whitehall and ending at Parliament by 4pm.

The demonstration is expected to attract thousands of students from all over the UK. Dozens of campuses are sending coaches, and the protest is due to be the largest of its kind since 2010.

Hannah Sketchley, from the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts, said: “We will be marching from the heart of the University of London – a symbolic site of protest over workers rights and the right to protest over the past year – to the centre of political power. We have no illusions that those inside will change their minds simply by persuasion: we are marching to make a point and build a movement.”

Hattie Craig, from the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts and Birmingham Defend Education said: “This demonstration isn’t just about one day of protest – it’s about building a movement for free education. Across the world, students have fought and won. The student movement has played a historical role of igniting a broader movement among workers and in communities, and we want to play that role again”…

Is your campus coming to the demo ? Here is the full list !

The list of campuses mobilising for the national demonstration for free education on November 19th is growing by the day. As well as the thousands expected to attend from across London and others making their own way down, a number of student unions and local activist groups have laid on coaches and mini-buses.
Below is a non-exhaustive list of transport being organised. If you are in one of these places and want more information on the transport available, either get in touch at [email protected] or contact your local activist groups (see fb links) directly.
If you have additions, get in touch.










Aberdeen University

Birmingham: ,


Cambridge: ,

Falmouth University: ,

Fife College

Glyndwr University

Liverpool Hope



Sheffield University:

Stirling University:

Strathclyde University:

Sussex University + Brighton University:,

Warwick University + Coventry University ,

University of West Scotland:

York University


Other campuses are expected to confirm their transport in the coming days:

Bath University!/freeeducationbath

Bristol University


Durham University:

Exeter University:

Kent University

Leeds University

Lancaster University

Nottingham: ,

Portsmouth University

Plymouth University:

Royal Holloway:


10 things you can do to build the national demo: don’t just build a demo, build a movement!

11348_793896857336896_6484437772730029559_nThe national demonstration for free education is barely 3 weeks away. On November 19th, we will on Parliament, and we need to make it a success. We’ll be releasing lots more about how to do actions and mobilise in the coming days. In the meantime, here are some things you can do:

1. Don’t just build the demo, build the movement! If you have an education activist group on campus, build it. If you don’t, set one up. Get everyone interested in getting involved together and hold regular, well-advertised meetings for the group. Your local education activist group is a vital point of reference for organising, and will be a place where a broad range of students can go when the movement gets going. Keep in touch with other groups in your area, and link up with the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts. For advice and support, just drop us a line.

2. Get involved in the weeks of action happening from now until the demo. Do teach-ins, stunts, banner drops, flash occupations and actions. Join the facebook group here, and get in touch if you want advice or support.

3. Make sure that your campus is mobilising. If your students’ union hasn’t booked transport already, push them to do this. If they won’t book transport, now is the time to make alternative arrangements. Make sure that people on your campus know how to get to the demo: make sure it’s on your SU’s website, that there is a facebook event for coaches, and that there are mass emails going out. If you’ve got coach tickets, sell them as soon as you can – you may be able to get more coaches if demand is high enough. For a general briefing on travel, click here.

4. Treat the demonstration as a mass campaign: don’t just leaflet, go into lectures and talk to people, and knock on doors in halls. Get an all-student email out now if you can. For guidance, see our materials page. Put posters everywhere. For the materials, click here. And why not organise a mass postering campaign, getting loads of activists in one city together with painting and stickers as well (this happened in London on Monday)?

5. If you’re from a political grouping or a local campus, mobilise people from where you’re from. A good way to do this is to form a bloc or to make a specific facebook event. For examples see here and here.

6. Invite all of your friends to the official Facebook event here.

7. Link up between universities and FE/schools. If you’re at a university, talk to students at the gates of your local school or FE college. If you’re at school or college, link up with your local university. We have produced special FE/school leaflets for the demo, and we’ll be hosting a mass FE meeting on November 1st at Elephant & Castle. Click here for the facebook event.

8. Change your profile picture and get everyone you know to do the same. Click here and here for profile pictures.

9. Tweet on the hashtag #freeeducation

10. If you haven’t already, contact your university or college trades union branches. There will usually be at least two trades union branches on campus, one for academic staff, and one for support staff. Examples include Unison, Unite, UCU, and EIS (Scotland). There will also be branches in your local area. These organisations may have some experience or networks that you can tap into, but most importantly they may have bigger campaigning budgets than your students’ union, and should be willing to use it to help you fight for education. It is also likely that staff will engage in strike or marking boycott action soon, so get involved with this: solidarity is a two-way street!


Free Education and PhD students

ucl_ucu_strike_28jan2014_marchingFree education isn’t just a question of abolishing undergraduate fees, writes NUS Postgraduate rep Ben Towse.

PhDs exist in a grey area somewhere between being ripped off as students and exploited as workers. Free education is an issue for us, and that’s why PhD students will be marching alongside other school, college and university students on 19 November.


The hurdles begin with even qualifying for a PhD. Most PhD programs now require you to hold a Masters’ degree – but with fees skyrocketing and financial support drying up, this prerequisite is out of reach of more and more prospective students.

Masters funding could fill an article (or book) of its own, so for the sake of argument let’s say you make it through, and even get a studentship covering your fees and paying a maintenance stipend for you to live on (of course, you’d better be a UK resident – international students don’t have equal access to some Research Council studentships).

Stipend cuts

You’ve made it! Superficially, this is what we are demanding for everyone – non-repayable financial support and no fees. But even those on stipends are being squeezed by austerity. Mirroring the policies that have ground down public sector workers’ wages, the real value of Research Council stipends has been literally decimated – slashed by 10% since 2010*, cutting into our ability to support ourselves and our families.

And these are the lucky ones. The supply of studentships has long been too few for the number of students, and that situation is worsening. In 2011, the Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council cut more than a third of its project studentships. It focussed remaining funding in programmes that harshly restrict the number of international student places and are limited to a smaller number of institutions, helping to further stratify our education system into tiers and potentially locking out those who can’t move themselves and their families to these hubs.

Academic freedom

Some research students find funding from private industry, but this comes with strings attached, as their profit-motivated funders have the leverage to stop them following the evidence if it leads to conclusions that are bad for business (for instance in environmental research), and can block students sharing their discoveries for the common good. Of course, government-sponsored funding too is yoked to the narrow interests of capital, determining what is cut and what is prioritised – it’s not only the arts and humanities being squeezed, but blue sky scientific research too.

Unfunded PhDs

The result is that huge numbers are left paying their own way through PhDs, scraping together savings, earnings, family assistance and borrowing to pay fees and support themselves. Universities don’t even bother to track students’ funding arrangements properly (perhaps they’d rather not collect data that would highlight the problem), but we know that 40% of PhD students’ fee payments are not coming from a funding body.

Many are forced to go part-time in order to work enough hours to survive (assuming they can find paid work). So despite financial precarity, they lose out on full-time student benefits such as Council Tax exemption and childcare grants. In a survey of London part-time PhD students, one-third of those reliant on personal sources of money reported sustaining fees and living costs on less than £10,000 annual income. The result? At my own university, about half the part-time PhD students are worried that funding problems will force them to drop out, and half report suffering moderate or extreme stress.

This situation ensures the continued domination of academia by those privileged enough to be able to make it through the system. And beyond access, this is also about the injustice of capitalist exploitation. By any reasonable assessment, research students are workers. We produce knowledge and innovations that improve our society and benefit our universities and industry more broadly, and we do it for pay that is falling or non-existent. Bluntly, we make lots of money for other people and get little or none of that money ourselves. From this perspective, an unfunded PhD begins to look rather like a several-year-long unpaid internship, placed as the gateway to a career which is itself desperately insecure.

Fair Play for TAs

As well as our research, PhD students bear an increasing share of the teaching work as universities seek to cut costs and shift to casualised workforces. If we’re not being cajoled or bullied into performing this labour for free, we’re being chronically underpaid. Wages that are often already insultingly low even on paper are further undercut as almost half the hours we work go unpaid: as a result, almost one-third of us earn less than the minimum wage per hour of labour. Basic rights agreed in law and universities’ own regulations are quietly forgotten when it comes to casualised workers.

To maintain these conditions, our employers rely on our transience and disorganisation, our ignorance of our rights, and our hesitancy to rock the boat in case it affects the academic patronage we desperately need to progress our careers. In some institutions, much like many cleaners, postgrad teaching assistants are even outsourced to private companies that contract us back to our own university on cheaper pay and conditions.

We are organising to fight back in a number of places – most notably right now at SOAS where an impressively militant, democratic rank-and-file campaign is recruiting members and fighting senior management over unpaid labour. This needs to be generalised to every campus.

Free education

So what is free education for PhD students? At every level of education we demand the abolition of fees and the provision of stipends for all – not ground down by inflation but maintained at a level allowing us, and our families if we have them, a decent standard of living. We demand that as teachers, our wages are increased, we are paid for the hours we work, and we are granted secure, decent terms of employment. And we demand academic freedom: the liberty to pursue our research and challenge the interests of capital and the state, which means freedom from the control of industry funders who can cut off our studentships or determine the priorities of public research councils.

That’s why we will be marching on 19 November, and why beyond the demonstration we need to organise on our campuses and in our workplaces, to build ourselves into a force capable of fighting and winning this struggle in the long-term.


* Calculated using these figures and this RPI calculator

Free education is a feminist issue

Comité-femmes-GGIWomen’s access to higher education may initially seem like a non-issue in Britain; especially considering that women undergraduates now outnumber men. But this comforting statistic masks the particular injustice of the fees and repayment system to women, writes Rida Vaquas.

The existence of fees themselves is a proliferation of gender inequality. Women will accrue a greater debt burden over their lifetime than men, due to the graduate pay gap which leaves women earning thousands less than men. Repaying their loans over a longer period of time necessarily means that for women, there will be a greater cost in interest. Every hike in fees is an attack on women, every penny of debt is one that women will feel more, and for longer. To make the demand for the abolition of fees is therefore to demand financial equality between students of all genders. It is no wonder that when the Australian Gough-Whitlam government abolished tuition fees in 1974, after demands from feminist organisations, enrollment of women students more than doubled.

But even with abolition of fees, more needs to be done to make free education ‘free’ for all women. Women are more likely than men to be primary carers of children; yet the support provided for student parents is highly limited at best.

The maximum childcare grant, which only full time students are eligible for, is £150.23 a week. The weekly fees of the on site nursery at the University of Warwick are between £269.50 and £276.00. In other words, the childcare grant doesn’t even cover childcare, let alone anything else a child may need. Support for part time student parents is virtually non-existent, being entitled to neither the childcare grant nor the Parental Learning Allowance. This renders university education unaffordable for many women who are mothers, left without means to support their children or their studies. Free education must entail free on-site nurseries and childcare support and a better grant for all parents, regardless of whether they are part-time or fulltime students.

Support for primarily women will always be viewed with suspicion among those who believe education ought to be restricted to an elite of their own. Boris Johnson revealed a little more than he would care to admit when he suggested women attend university ‘to find husbands’. It reveals that education, won by women after protracted struggles, is still seen as not vital to women’s lives. Moreover, it devalues the educational labour of women, a devaluation that exists hand-in-hand with the devaluation of the paid and unpaid labour women are compelled to do for capital. It’s not new either; the Open University, when it was first set up, was lampooned for being a ‘housewives’ university’ – a criticism made because it seemed to be benefiting women who otherwise could not enter higher education. Removing financial obstacles constructed to keep women out of education is an attack on capital; it asserts that women’s education is of equal value to men’s, not subsidiary to it and is a part of uncovering all the ways capital more or less covertly takes advantage of women’s labour.

Education can and must do more for women than it does currently. Jennie Lee, on the establishment of the Open University spoke of “a great independent university which does not insult any man or any women whatever their background by offering them the second best, nothing but the best is good enough.” The concluding words should be what propels us onwards, against the tide of neoliberalism, to building a truly exhilarating education system that everyone can participate in equally and one in which every circumstance is sufficiently provided for.

I support free education as an action of solidarity in the worldwide struggle for education for women on equal terms as men. And that’s why I’ll be marching on November 19th as a first step in making this happen.

Free education is about more than abolishing tuition fees

To consider free education debate solely in terms of the abolition of tuition fees indicates the poverty – in more ways than one- of the education debate, writes Nathan Akehurst

Tuition fees are important. The repayment scheme may be more progressive, but the reality is that fees do deter undergraduate applicants and make postgrad study unthinkable for most. University applications have sloughed off significantly in the post-2010 world, and anyone that tells you higher fees don’t damage access departed the real world a long time ago. The abolition of fees is sustainable, just and necessary, but that’s not an argument to principally enter into here.

One of neoliberalism’s defining features is the willingness of the right to appropriate the language of the left- and thus we have heard shrilled from the podiums of Labour Students the refrain that fee abolition benefits the wealthy disproportionately. I strongly disagree that this is the case (as did hundreds of NUS delegates when the free education vote was won) but that discussion only needs to be had if you have already stripped the substance of free education down to an argument about where the burden falls for the cost of courses. If we’re at that point, it may already be too late.

To my mind, students are worrying less about fees and more about how to get through day-to-day living. I just graduated from the University of Oxford, where those on the maximum student finance grant and loan receive over an extra £3000 per year, plus additional support schemes in the form of hardship funds, academic prizes, subsidised food, and so on. To my knowledge no other university in the country provides a similar level of financial backup, and yet I still struggled to make it through the year.

The costs of halls alone can hit around £1800 per term in places, i.e. almost all of even the maximum loan and grant. If we confine the maximum provision to being spent over a ten-week term alone, you’re looking at roughly £200 a week of which at the very minimum, half will end up going on rent. Then there’s energy bills, food, academic resources, travel…and dare I say it, clothes, phone bills, drinks or the odd evening out. And through all this we’ve assumed that those on the maximum grant and loan are either fully supported by the nation’s poorest families the whole way through holiday periods, or can simply walk into adequate jobs as soon as each term finishes. ‘Get a job in term time’ is another piece of advice regularly dished out. Firstly, it’s not that easy, and secondly, degrees are hard and time-consuming; having to work long hours can be a strain on academic work, or is hard for students with caring responsibilities.

I don’t especially like using the term ‘squeezed middle’, but it doesn’t get any better even when you creep up the wealth chain a bit. The means-tested grant gets whittled away until finally only the basic £1100-odd termly loan is remaining. That’s fine if you’re an only child to very generous parents on about £50k a year. It doesn’t take into account that families might have numerically reasonable incomes but multiple children, other costs to meet, or just might be a bit stingy, or indeed actively hostile. The student finance system is predicated from top to bottom on the notion of a stable, nuclear family. I hope I don’t even need to go in to how this isn’t the case for a very sizeable number of students, or that it’s the already vulnerable who are most likely to suffer as a result of Student Finance’s assumptions.

To be very clear, students are not being paid enough to survive. So as part of the call for free education, we have to be very clear in demanding a grant at the level of the living wage, paid for the whole year round. It’s a difficult demand to make because the deluge of Daily Mail editorials about the state haemorrhaging our hard-earned money into the pockets of scrounging students is so easily foreseeable. But it is one that would be fair, and also economically useful for the same reasons that raising welfare benefits or introducing a citizens’ income would. It comes down to the simple economic truism that poorer people recycle their income more quickly.

Of course, given the barriers involved in accessing higher education, and the demographics that tend to go, such a policy in isolation wouldn’t help those at the bottom effectively enough. It works when standing alongside the return of EMA, fair funding and pay in HE and FE institutions, school reform, stronger unions, freer curricula and the provision of a place in HE for anyone who wants it. That is what free education has to mean. We can argue the minutiae of policy points all day, and I’m the sort of person that would be happy to, but primarily we need to be keeping in sight a wider vision. Not just the abolition of fees, but a society that values the democratisation of learning. I will be marching on 19th November for a future in which everyone has equal and complete access to education, self-enrichment and development; a future in which we are free from hardship and free to empower ourselves through learning.