Free Education. Now is the time

free ed now is the time 2

Now is the time.

The General Election and its aftermath has put free education back on the agenda. Thousands and thousands of people turned out to vote inspired by the idea of a publicly funded education system and degrees that don’t come with a burden of debt. Education funding is making front-page headlines and becoming a hot topic in Parliament, with Labour initiating a three-hour long emergency debate. More and more voices are speaking out against the disastrous debt-fuelled funding regime, and even those who once championed fee rises are now advocating scrapping them altogether. What for too long seemed like a far-fetched dream, now is looking more and more possible every day. Some say a change is inevitable – but we know that power concedes nothing without a fight, and we wouldn’t be talking about free education now if it wasn’t for those who spent the past seven years or more organising on their campuses and in their communities.

Now is the time to step up – to argue louder than ever that education can and should be free, accessible to all and run democratically in the interest of students, workers and society. To demand a National Education Service that’s free education for all, funded by taxing the rich and big business – no ifs, no buts, no compromises. This is our chance, an opportunity we simply cannot afford to miss.

How do we move forward? How do we harness the fresh excitement around free education, put serious pressure on those in power and make the idea reality? This is something NCAFC is currently discussing and we need your ideas! Join the conversation on the member’s loomio (our discussion and decision making platform) and help us plan a campaign to finally bring an end to tuition fees.

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Everyone who is a member can access the forum and contribute. You should’ve received an activation link when you joined NCAFC – contact us at a[email protected] if you cannot access your account.

If you’re not yet a member, join NCAFC now –

What do we want? Free education!

When do we want it? Now!

Teaching Excellence Framework Ranking Released

UCL students protesting TEF in December 2016

UCL students protesting TEF in December 2016

Today the rankings of the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) were released. TEF is at the heart of the ruinous Higher Education and Research Act (HE Act) that was voted into legislation in April 2017. It’s important to remember why as activists we have rejected the TEF and how we can fight the HE reforms.

What is TEF?

TEF was prompted by the government’s attempt to artificially create competition between institutions of higher education. While TEF is suppose to encourage “teaching excellence”, the framework itself does no such thing.

Two major metrics informing TEF are (1) employment rates & graduate earnings and (2) the National Student Survey

(NSS) results, neither of which have any relation to “teaching excellence”. Graduate earnings have nothing to do with the quality of teaching a student received, but rather how much businesses value a certain skill. This means we could see mass closures of arts and humanities courses, subjects viewed as less “marketable”.

The NSS has long been an ineffective tool for rating student satisfaction, but TEF exacerbates these consequences. Uni management will now be more incentivized to focus on gaming the NSS for positive feedback and pointing the blame at over worked staff members, rather than materially changing the conditions of students.

The main goal of TEF is to make sure that universities are providing skills that businesses want, so that they will be driven to invest in these unis. TEF will not make students consumers, but to make students a product to be bought by businesses.

What should we do?

NCAFC and others in the student movement must continue to reject TEF and the HE Act and fight for a free and liberated education.

We will surely see a rise in cuts and redundancies over the coming year. University of Manchester management have already made sweeping job cuts, citing the HE Act as the motivator.

We need to be ready to resist the destruction of our education. Remember that the link between TEF and fee rises was cut because of student backlash and we can do more. Spend this summer and autumn forming anti-cuts and free education groups on your campuses. If there are job cuts or course closures at your uni, use direct action to stop them. Pass a motion in your student union to boycott the NSS and if the motion doesn’t pass, campaign to boycott it anyway. Only through radical grassroots action can we stop the effect’s of TEF.

Final motions & amendments document for Summer Conference

Please take a look at the final motions document – now complete with the amendments proposed – that we’ll be debating and voting on tomorrow, here at our Summer Conference! Printed copies will also be distributed to everyone present.

Click here for the document


After the General Election, let’s keep free education on the agenda

This is a comment piece written by NCAFC National Committee member Ana Oppenheim.

students 4 labour 4 free ed

In the 2017 General Election, over 40% of voters backed parties which committed to scrapping tuition fees. The biggest of these was obviously Labour, which after almost two decades of supporting student fees (indeed introducing them in 1998), made a U-turn and made free university education a key manifesto pledge, alongside extra funding for schools and re-instating maintenance grants.

Free education was popular on the doorstep, and anecdotal evidence is backed by polls showing that nearly half of the British public thinks that scrapping fees is a good idea (37% are against.) While early reports claiming huge increases in youth turnout have not yet been confirmed, we know that Labour unexpectedly won seats in areas with high student population: such as Reading, Canterbury, Warwick, Leeds and Sheffield Hallam, where Nick Clegg lost his seat. These successes cannot be attributed purely to Labour’s education policy – other pledges, like £10 minimum wage and banning zero-hours contracts no doubt also appealed to young voters – but it’s certain that the vision of debt-free degrees inspired many.

For years, it felt like free education could not be further from the political mainstream. After the LibDem’s infamously broken promise in 2010, few politicians had the courage to speak out against the consensus on education funding. Labour toyed with ideas like reducing fees to £6000 or replacing them with a graduate tax – but these proposals failed to challenge the logic of making students and graduates pick up the bill for their degrees, and ultimately convinced no one.

It was years of sustained student activism that kept the demand for free education alive. Dismissed by many – even within the student movement itself – as unrealistic daydreamers, we kept organising on our campuses and nationally, spending days in meetings, occupations and demonstrations, winning the arguments in NUS and finally also in the Labour party. Following years campaigning which put free education on the political agenda, Corbyn’s Labour brought it back into the realm of possibility.

Now it’s our job to make sure it stays there, and becomes reality.

Why free education?

But despite the long columns written by pundits about Labour’s HE policy, the manifesto contains no more than a few short paragraphs. It doesn’t go into detail about the reasoning behind the policy, or what the proposal to create a National Education Service would mean in practice.

“No one should be put off educating themselves for lack of money or through fear of debt” says the manifesto. Critics were quick to point out that numbers of English 18-year-olds applying to university, including those from disadvantaged backgrounds, are at a record high. But these numbers don’t show the whole story. Numbers of mature and part-time students have collapsed since the last fee increase, meaning hundreds of thousands of predominantly working-class students giving up on higher education. Applications for arts courses fell by 17% after the tripling of fees and never quite recovered, as many students abandoned their creative dreams out of fear of debt. Recently, we’ve seen applications for nursing courses fall by 23% as soon as the NHS bursary got scrapped.

A recent study has shown that the prospect of debt does indeed discourage working-class students from going to university. While a growing number of student places combined with widening participation/marketing efforts by universities as well as the pressures of the job market mean more young people in HE, many are still put off by high fees.

However, access is not the only argument. It’s important to remember that tuition fees, in a wider landscape of marketisation, influence decisions made not only by students but also by universities. An institution constantly chasing the bottom line cannot be truly democratised. The interests of the market need to be prioritised over the needs of students and workers, pushing institutions to invest in marketing, shiny buildings and vanity projects while cutting courses that are costly to deliver and saving on staff. It’s no coincidence that since the last increase in fees, lecturers’ pay has been falling and casualisation is on the rise – while management salaries skyrocketed.

Presenting a degree as a product to be bought and sold changes the dynamic between students, staff and institutions. The customer relationship adds to the stress faced by both students (who worry about the debt they’re in) and staff (who are under increased pressure from management), which is a likely factor contributing to the university mental health crisis. The system also reduces education to a form of individual investment, rather than a public good that benefits society as a whole. Fundamentally, tuition fees are a tax on learning and aspiration – instead of income or wealth. Free education is not “the poor paying for the middle classes” if funded from the pockets of the very rich, for the benefit of all.

Let’s demand more.

These arguments were not put forward by Labour. The manifesto also lacked a broader idea for what education should look like, who and what purpose it should serve. The idea of a National Education Service is an exciting one, promising to make education truly accessible for all, from cradle to grave – but we can build on the idea and be even more ambitious in our vision.

Let’s demand universal living grants, so that no student has to get into debt or rely on their parents to afford food and rent while studying.

Let’s demand democratic institutions, accountable to students and staff – not ran by unelected management.

Let’s move towards abolishing hierarchies and league tables, challenge elitist admission processes, rethink how and what we’re taught.

Let’s debate and develop these ideas and spread them on our campuses, in Students’ Unions, in Labour clubs and CLPs, in activist groups or anywhere else we organise, in meetings and in the streets. There is a long way to go but we’ve never been closer to making them reality.

Motions for Summer Conference 2017 – amendments submission now open

17904344_1408909535835622_7626500089657334934_nIn the run-up to our 2017 Summer Conference, 17-18 June at University of the Arts London, members and affiliated groups have submitted the following motions about what NCAFC should be campaigning on and how the National Campaign should be run.

All members of NCAFC can submit amendments to these motions – just email them to [email protected] by midnight Thursday 15 June.

If you haven’t registered for conference yet, make sure you do (fill out the registration form) and book your transport today! You can find more info about what to expect via the Facebook event.

Motion 1: The outcome of the General Election

Proposer: NCAFC National Committee

This is a placeholder motion. The General Election falls after the motion deadline and before the amendments deadline, so you can submit motions – in standard motions format – responding to the election result as amendments to this.

Motion 2: Stop cuts and growing divisions in schools

Proposers: Alex Stuart, Ana Oppenheim, Maisie Sanders, Hansika Jethnani, Justine Canady, Alex Booth, Sahaya James

NCAFC Notes:

  1. Schools in England and Wales face cuts of up to £3bn by 2019-20.
  2. The cuts are taking place at the same time that a new generation of grammar schools, free schools, faith schools and academies are being funded.
  3. This underfunding will very probably lead to more teachers leaving the profession, placing an extra burden on an already stretched service.
  4. Particularly, we agreed to support campaigners at Forest Hill School, who are taking industrial action to fight cuts of over £1m.

NCAFC Believes:

  1. We should work with the trade unions and other campaigners to protect public services from cuts and privatisation.
  2. We should reaffirm our commitment to campaigning for a fully funded, publicly provided, democratically controlled, national education service.

NCAFC Resolves:

  1. To campaign against cuts to school budgets and seek to build links with the trade unions and other campaigners in achieving this aim.
  2. To encourage local young activists to participate in the campaign and engage with school students.
  3. To oppose new grammar schools, free schools, faith schools and academies and campaign for well resourced, adequately funded, non-academically selected, locally managed schools.

Motion 3: Organising young workers

Proposer: Workers’ Liberty Students

NCAFC Notes:

  1. British capitalists have driven down workers’ wages further and longer than at any time since the 19th Century.
  2. Almost a million workers – mostly young workers – are on zero hours contracts. Nearly as many are subject to spurious self-employment, of the kind common among “gig economy” workers such as Uber drivers or Deliveroo workers.
  3. The 2017 Labour Party manifesto has put the abolition of zero hours contracts (already a reality in France and New Zealand to name but two countries); and the demand of a £10/hour minimum wage, on the agenda for millions of workers in a new way. It has proved that these things are a possibility.

NCAFC Believes:

  1. That the pressures for a revolt over pay and working conditions, especially among young workers, are immense.
  2. That NCAFC should encourage and shape this revolt as far as we can.
  3. That ‘worker solidarity’, for student activists, should not only mean bringing solidarity from students to groups of workers in struggle: but it should also mean the understanding that millions of students are workers themselves and that it is our vocation, as activists, to organise them as workers and speed their revolt.

NCAFC Resolves:

  1. To build up an information hub on our website about struggles waged by young workers, or workers in the kinds of jobs that students commonly take.
  2. To build up as part of that hub a resource for activists wanting to know their rights at work and how to organise on the job.
  3. To encourage grassroots activists in FE institutions, but also HE institutions, to organise events around the demands for no more zero hours; £10/hour minimum wage and/or the themes of low-waged, insecure work and bullying bosses, and inspire and train themselves and others to organise on the job.
  4. To make it a given that the theme of workplace organising by and of student workers should occupy a space on the agenda of most of our national educational, political, and training events.

Motion 4: Rebuild the grassroots, fight university cuts across the country

Proposers: Alex Booth, Shula Kombe, Workers Liberty Students, Connor Woodman, Jasmine Simms, Tyrone Falls, Rida Vaquas, Chris Townsend, Hope Worsdale, Lily Mactaggart, Nathan Rogers, Stuart McMillan, Dan Smitherman, Ana Oppenheim, Demaine Boocock, Josh Berlyne, Hansika Jethnani, Sahaya James

NCAFC Notes:

  1. NCAFC was founded in 2009-2010 as a fighting coalition of grassroots education activist groups, with names like [Institution] Free Education, [Institution] Defend Education, [Institution] Occupation, or [Institution] Against the Cuts.
  2. In recent NCAFC conferences we have noted a decline in the number of campus-based Free Education activist groups, and we made reasonable adaptations in our methods and orientation to fit that context
  3. The Higher Education Reforms, heightened class struggle in campuses such as LSE, and sweeping job cuts at universities across the country have created the basis for a likely revival in campus activism
  4. Since the beginning of 2017 at least 10 UK universities have announced budget cuts which will lead to around 600 job losses, possibly more.
  5. At the University of Manchester, management explicitly cited the higher education reforms as a reason for cutting 171 jobs.
  6. The Free Education pledge in the Labour manifesto (in part a product of years of agitation on this point by the student left, led by NCAFC) has put arguments around free education and education as a public good back on the agenda in a big way.

NCAFC Believes:

  1. In response to a decline in campus activism, the previous national committee chose to re-orient NCAFC as a special interest group which would agitate for free education at a national level, in NUS, Labour, and the press, rather than organising serious mass actions ourselves.
  2. That there is no less need for direct action now than before: student debt is rising, cuts are still being made, privatisation continues to proliferate across various spheres of education.
  3. That there is definitely a basis in the new term for a revitalisation of campus grassroots activism in the NCAFC mould
  4. That NCAFC should take a conscious turn to rebuilding itself as a coalition of fighting grassroots groups.
  5. This means using our national reach to amplify the local struggles against job cuts and other education disputes such as the LSE Cleaners’ strike and rent strikes; and also intervene in those struggles to promote the development of grassroots activist groups
  6. That we should share NCAFC’s accumulated experience of grassroots organising to help local activists build up activist groups
  7. That we should combine the work of setting up local groups with a drive to convince already-existing grassroots activist groups of the NCAFC project –of the need to bring local education struggles together at the national level, to give the radical grassroots a political voice.
  8. That we shouldn’t be prescriptive about the precise forms that this local organising might take: namely, that some of these struggles will be led by activists in Labour Clubs, others in groups affiliated with the Greens, and others again with different names, backgrounds and political outlooks. We want to propose a united front to any and all groups involved in these struggles.

NCAFC Further Believes:

  1. There are three main factors driving these cuts: the removal of a cap on student numbers, the uncertainty caused by TEF, and the uncertainty caused by Brexit. In other words, these are at the razor’s edge of the marketisation agenda.
  2. NCAFC’s legitimacy comes from being a democratic grassroots organisation. These two things–a strong democracy and a strong grassroots–are inseparable.
  3. NCAFC’s strategy over the past year has had some success, particularly by pushing the NUS to organise a somewhat successful NSS boycott.
  4. However, it is also profoundly limited: the thorough trouncing of the Left at NUS National Conference this year demonstrated this, and the politics of the incoming leadership suggest that free education and confrontational action will not be at the top of the agenda.
  5. NCAFC needs to return to its roots and return to the grassroots. This will involve the hard work of building up local activist groups.

NCAFC Resolves:

  1. To make fighting these job cuts a strategic priority of the organisation over the coming months.
  2. To undertake all our preparatory work in the summer, and campaigning work in the new term, with the objective of discovering, meeting, training, building up and promoting democratic, regularly-functioning grassroots education activist groups, including in FE.
  3. To republish and replenish NCAFC’s literature on best practice in organising a local education activist group and consult widely about what kinds of support local groups need and want.
  4. To send NC members to travel to visit new or newly-contacted groups proactively, reimbursing travel and worrying about overall transport costs later.
  5. To have the NC do regular audits of where local education activist groups, or sympathetic Labour Clubs or other suitable bodies exist and what relations we have with them.
  6. To seek affiliations, and participation in our national events, of as many grassroots groups as possible
  7. To organise regional events where appropriate for fostering links with grassroots activists in a given area. And to mandate regional representatives to contact activists, students’ unions and trade unions on campuses affected by cuts, offering our support.

Motion 5: Making motions debates more accessible

Proposers: Hope Worsdale, Shula Kombe, Uma Kotwal, Clementine Boucher, Marie Dams, Connor Woodman, Josh Berlyne.

NCAFC believes:

  1. Currently, debates on motions at NCAFC conference take the format: speech for, speech against, and summation.
  2. This format does not encourage nuanced debates–even if extra rounds of speeches are granted–and encourages a confrontational, rather than comradely, style of debating.
  3. The speed with which motions are debated means that to engage properly, a lot of background knowledge is usually necessary.
  4. At last Winter Conference, a very small range of people got up to speak on motions, and those who did were overwhelmingly cis men.

NCAFC further believes:

  1. As an organisation we pride ourselves on being open, democratic, and encouraging a culture of free and healthy debate.
  2. Debate should be rigorous and incisive, but not needlessly confrontational.
  3. Debate should also be inclusive–it is important that everyone feels able to contribute to discussions and debates. That is a sign of a healthy democratic culture.
  4. There may be a number of reasons for lack of participation in debates on motions:
    1. People generally not feeling confident to speak publicly
    2. The confrontational style of debate being off-putting or anxiety-inducing
    3. Too much background knowledge being assumed, and not enough time to ask questions or make points around the topic which do not directly address the motion
  5. Changing the style of debate, by adding a section for questions and for “speeches around”–that is, speeches which are related to the motion but which are not clearly for or against–could alleviate some of the problems outlined above. Something similar to this format was used at Women & Non-Binary Conference last year, and was well-received.

NCAFC resolves:

  1. To change the format of debates to include questions and speeches around. As such, the format would be:
    1. Speech for
    2. Speech against
    3. Questions
    4. Possible extra round of speeches – at the chair’s discretion
    5. Speeches around – number of speeches taken is at the chair’s discretion
    6. Summation speeches

Motion 6: Stop the Labour Purge

Proposer: Surrey Labour Students

  1. We note that, at the 27 May Labour Students conference, the organisation’s Blairite leadership kept control of the organisation by expelling and excluding numerous left-wing Labour Clubs and activists from the event. This included suspending and excluding Surrey Labour Students explicitly on the grounds of its affiliation to NCAFC. They described NCAFC, absurdly but worryingly, as a “rival” organisation to Labour.
  2. This is an attack on the right and ability of Labour Clubs and Labour-supporting students to campaign for free education and other left-wing policies. It is also, clearly, part of the broader drive of the Labour Party machine to purge left-wing activists to undermine Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership and repress and disperse its left-wing membership. This has included members of socialist groups such as Workers’ Liberty and Socialist Appeal being expelled, as well as people who have left other left-wing parties including the Greens and Left Unity to join Labour. In the run-up to the previous Labour Students Council, the meeting was gerrymandered on a smaller scale by expelling individual left-wing delegates.
  3. Unfortunately, shamefully, some on the left, e.g. at the top of Momentum, have not only failed to fight these purges but even in some cases endorsed them. The day after the 27 May conference, after Momentum-affiliated left candidates lost elections by margins smaller than the number of excluded left delegates, Momentum Youth & Students committee embarked on an unconstitutional purge of its own membership through a snap vote, excluding those who have been purged from Labour and members of “democratic centralist” organisations.
  4. Many NCAFC members are Labour Party members; many are not; some are members of other parties. But given what has happened to Surrey Labour Students NCAFC has a direct self-interest in opposing and speaking up against the Labour purge; as well as a more general interest, as part of the grassroots anti-capitalist left, in fighting for rank-and-file democracy in the labour movement.
  5. Moreover, we recognise that the escalation of the purge, targeting NCAFC and attacking entire local groups, follows from and cannot be separated from earlier rounds of more limited purges against individual left-wingers. The bureaucracy felt able to escalate because it had been largely permitted to get away with earlier rounds. And if they get away with their latest moves, they may go further.
  6. We will do everything we can to oppose the persecution of the socialist left in the Labour Party and support our comrades who are active in the struggle against the purge and for Labour democracy.

Motion 7: A strategy for action to defend higher and further education

Proposers: Ana Oppenheim, Sahaya James, Ben Towse, Monty Shield, Maisie Sanders, Justine Canady, Zack Murrell-Dowson, Tyrone Falls, Omar Raii, Andrew Peak, Chris Townsend, Rida Vaquas, Alex Booth, Nathan Rogers, Alex Stuart, Savannah Sevenzo, Dan Smitherman

NCAFC Notes:

  1. This motion might need to be amended depending on the General Election results!
  2. The HE reforms passed through Parliament, though our campaign, including the NSS boycott, did extract some concessions, in particular tightening regulations on private universities and delaying the link between TEF and fee increases. We also raised the profile of these reforms and the harm they will cause.
  3. The major wave of local cuts announced on HE campuses across the country this year, driven by the pressures of the market forced on universities in successive rounds of marketisation – in particular the removal of controls on student numbers and the new TEF, as well as financial instability as universities are left exposed to wider economic turmoil.
  4. The ongoing myriad local battles over cuts in FE colleges, driven by the government’s brutal regime of budget reductions.
  5. Ideas of and support for free, public and funded education have gained prominence through the General Election campaign and NES.

NCAFC Believes:

  1. It’s NCAFC’s job to help local grassroots campaigns develop and take action against these cuts at the campus level, and to link them to the fight against the cuts and government reforms at a national level that are the root cause of the local problems – which means linking up the local campaigns and acting as a platform for national-level action.
  2. There are striking similarities between current events and the situation in 2009-10 when NCAFC formed to give a national voice to local campaigns against campus cuts driven by government policy – but this time we have the benefit of 7 years of experience, and it’s up to us to apply that experience to make today’s fightback even more powerful.
  3. We have a responsibility to raise the political level – to show people the root causes of the local issues they are facing, and to offer a convincing and inspiring alternative way to organise education.
  4. What Parliament does, the streets can undo! The passage of the HE reforms is not the end of that fight. We can make the reforms impossible to implement and force their reversal. Such a reversal would be necessary as a first step in attaining our goal of a free, democratic education system – and any call for reversing the reforms should be made in the context of also raising that more positive, radical goal.
  5. We need a strategy that combines reaching out to local groups and nurturing them, with coordinated protest, direct action and industrial action at the national level. This strategy will include:
    1. Outreach and assistance to the grassroots
    2. A national demonstration followed by a coordinated day of action
    3. Continuing the NSS boycott
    4. Further action as the situation develops
  6. We are an organisation with limited funds that cannot do everything. So it’s important that our plans take this into account, avoid overreach, and the components complement each other to minimise work. This strategy does that.
    1. The work of reaching out to local groups to help them build, raising the sights of local groups to tackle the national root causes of their local disputes, and engaging local groups in building national actions like a demo and the NSS boycott, fits together well – in the same visit or call to a campus group, an NCAFC representative could touch on all of these.
    2. Moreover, offering the chance to get involved in a coherent strategy at the local and national levels will strengthen the bonds between NCAFC and local groups, and between local groups.

NCAFC Resolves:

  1. To link opposition to all campus cuts with specific demands to reverse the successive rounds of marketisation in HE and reverse the cuts in FE and fund it decently, and a broader demand for a free, public, democratically-coordinated education system to replace the current one governed by fees, cuts and market chaos.
  2. To adopt the following multi-pronged strategy and make it the major priority of our activity over the coming period:

Outreach and assistance to the grassroots

  1. NCAFC has to work to reaching out to local campaigns on HE and FE campuses, help them to develop and organise protest and direct action, and link up with each other.
  2. We are aware of more specific motions being drafted on this, which we don’t wish to duplicate.

National demo

  1.  Political narrative / demands /slogans: (N.B. the proposers expect this may be amended depending on the election outcome.) The political narrative of the demo should be to unite the various local anti-cuts campaigns at a national level, to protest against both all the campus cuts in solidarity with each other, and the national-level government policies driving them. The NC should write a title and set of politically clear slogans/demands that:
    1. cover opposition to all the campus cuts,
    2. cover a call to reverse the successive rounds of marketization (including the current reforms) in higher education and funding cuts in further education,
    3. and which contrast the current governing of education by fees, cuts and market chaos, to our positive demand for a free, democratically-coordinated public education system.
  2. Details: The demonstration should be in London, on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday in the first half of November
  3. Follow-up: Before the demo, NCAFC should announce a national day of action 1.5 to 2 weeks after the demo, and promote this at the demo.
  4. What purposes does a demo serve?
    1. A national demo is a key way for local activists and anti-cuts groups to build a network of activists and sympathetic students on their campuses at the beginning of term which will later help them in taking more radical actions such as occupations
    2. The student movement is unique in that there is such a high turnover of people which a new wave of potential activists joining colleges and universities every year. A national demo is a key way to introduce these students to radical politics.
    3. Often campus organising is hard and demoralising, especially when you have a small number of activists and an unsympathetic student union. A national demonstration can be an invigorating event for these activists; showing them that they are part of a national movement and that there are students similar to them organising elsewhere.
    4. Most big campus actions we see, especially where there isn’t an established anti-cuts groups, come after a national demo.
    5. Not all demonstrations – even A to B marches – are the same. With NCAFC organising, the politics can be clearer, the dynamic can be different, creative actions on the day can be welcomed, and most importantly the demo can be run not as an isolated event but as part of an escalating strategy.
    6. The HE Reforms are the most serious attacks on universities since the introduction of £9K fees, and we are currently seeing a wave of campus cuts at universities across the country which are the result of this marketization of HE through the TEF, as well as the earlier removal of student number controls.
    7. NCAFC’s role is to link up local campaigns against campus cuts and to link the local to the national, and a national demo is a very effective way of doing this, making clear that these course closures, campus cuts and job losses are not isolated events, but are part of a national trend and the result of marketisation.
    8. A national demo is an excellent way to spread our demands to as many students as possible outside of our normal sphere of influence
    9. A large demonstration early in the academic year will help set the tone of students politics for 2017/18 and especially with a right wing turn in the NUS there is a need for combative, anti-bureaucratic, left-wing politics to be front and centre

Further action as the situation develops

  1. As the situation develops, we should add other actions and activities to the plan, judging what is appropriate as we go. These could include attempting to coordinate waves/days of local direct action, calling or backing national demonstrations on particular campuses to support key disputes that have the ability to set national precedents, and many other possible ideas.
  2. NCAFC Winter Conference should offer a chance to regroup those engaged by the action up to that point, and review and revise our strategy going forward.


(The remaining bit of the motion – relating to the NSS Boycott 2018 strategy – will be debated alongside the alternative strategy proposed below in the next motion, and alongside any other strategy proposals on this topic submitted as amendments.)


Continuing the NSS boycott

  1. On campuses where SUs or activist groups took up the NSS boycott, it had substantial success, making a serious dent in participation rates. Multiple institutions and many departments around the country were dragged below the 50% data publication threshold.
  2. Through this campaign, we not only began to exert direct pressure, we reached huge numbers of students with basic information about the negatives of the HE reforms, and engaged them in taking collective action.
  3. The NSS boycott was set-up as an ultimatum unless and until the government dropped the HE reforms – with the aim of getting us material leverage over the government. Its demands must continue until the reforms are reversed.
  4. We need to work to make the 2018 round of the boycott bigger and better. We should press NUS to organise for this, and do what we can if and where NUS falls short.
  5. The NC should draft and raise proposed activities for NUS to help build next year’s boycott, and pressure NUS to carry them out (and against any attempt by NUS to scab on its policy and abandon the boycott).
  6. NCAFC can also act as a platform to share the most successful boycott campaigns around the country and help spread their lessons.>
  7. NCAFC will help local activist groups to pressure their SUs to support the boycott and not scab, and to campaign for the boycott with or without their SUs.

Motion 8: Our role in an NSS boycott next year

Proposers: Hope Worsdale, Shula Kombe, Stuart McMillan, Chris Townsend, Josh Berlyne, Connor Woodman, Sahaya James.>

NCAFC believes:

  1. The higher education reforms are already leading to budget cuts and job losses.
  2. One of the main metrics to be used in the Teaching Excellence Framework–the government’s flagship university reform–is “student satisfaction” scores, measured by the National Student Survey (NSS).
  3. This year 26 students’ unions organised NSS boycotts as part of a nationwide campaign initiated by NCAFC and run by the NUS.
  4. On at least nine campuses, NSS fill-in rates dropped below the 50% publication threshold thanks to NSS boycott campaigns.
  5. The demands of the NSS boycott have not been met: rather than being withdrawn, the HE reforms have been approved by Parliament and are ready to be implemented.

NCAFC further believes:

  1. In order to win demands and roll back the HE reforms, the NSS boycott must continue over a number of years and must involve more campuses. This was the intention, right from the start.
  2. To push fill-in rates below 50%, the NSS boycott should be organised by students’ unions. SUs have the networks, “legitimacy,” and money to engage a broad enough layer of students. Money is especially an issue: Sheffield SU spent well over £2,000 on the boycott campaign, and was successful. Warwick SU, similar in many ways, spent much less but the response rate was not brought below 50%.
  3. Some sort of national body is needed to coordinate the boycott and negotiate with government. Ideally, this would be the NUS.>
  4. The incoming right-wing leadership of the NUS, including the incoming Vice-President Higher Education, cannot be relied upon to organise an effective boycott.
  5. NCAFC alone does not have the capacity to organise an effective boycott next year.
  6. A provisional committee should be set up, with representatives from each campus prepared to organise NSS boycotts next year. It should be responsible for coordinating the boycotts, expanding the national campaign, and representing the boycott nationally in negotiations with government and in the media.

NCAFC resolves:

  1. To contact activists and SU representatives involved in the boycott this year, inviting them to a meeting in July or August where the provisional committee will be set up and planning for the boycott will begin.

Motion 9: How we engage with the NUS

Proposers: Hope Worsdale, Connor Woodman, Shula Kombe, Josh Berlyne, Ana Oppenheim, Chris Townsend, Demaine Boocock.

NCAFC Believes:

  1. Since its foundation, NCAFC has intervened in the NUS, arguing for free education and universal living grants, and standing candidates on left-wing platforms.
  2. These interventions have been successful in shifting NUS to the left. For example, NUS now supports free education and universal living grants.
  3. Until recently, NCAFC’s candidates for Full-Time Officer (FTO) positions ran fairly low-budget campaigns.
  4. In the past two years, NCAFC has run more slick, professional and expensive FTO campaigns, with little reward.

NCAFC Further Believes:

  1. Our interventions into the NUS should have a clear purpose: to make the NUS more democratic, more grassroots-oriented, and to make it fight to win free education and living grants for all.
  2. This means that FTO campaigns are not just about winning by any means necessary. They are about winning without compromising on our core politics, and using the platform we are given to convince people of our ideas.
  3. However, this of course does not mean that strategy is irrelevant to our NUS interventions. It is sensible and healthy for NCAFC to make decisions which are to the strategic benefit of our campaigns/candidates, so long as these decisions do not contradict our political positions.
  4. Our interventions should not drain NCAFC of all or even the majority of our resources, especially where money is being spent on non-political items or gimmicks.

NCAFC Resolves:

  1. To carry out our future NUS interventions along the lines set out above.

Motion 10: Organising with the broader student left

Proposers: Josh Berlyne, Shula Kombe, Lina Nass, Hope Worsdale, Connor Woodman, Stuart McMillan, Demaine Boocock.

NCAFC Believes:

  1. NCAFC is a pluralist, non-partisan organisation which accepts anyone who agrees with our aims and principles as a member.
  2. NCAFC has a history of working with the broader student Left on campaigns, national demonstrations, and within NUS.

NCAFC Further Believes:

  1. NCAFC should continue to work with those who share its aims and principles.
  2. NCAFC should not unnecessarily isolate itself from the rest of the student Left by being excessively hardline and refusing to work with others except on our own terms–the whole Left, including NCAFC, is weaker for it.
  3. Open and honest criticism is vital for the Left; NCAFC should not avoid criticising other left-wing groupings or organisations in the student movement. Where disagreements do arise, however, criticism should be done in an open, honest, and comradely way, and dealings with the rest of the Left should be done in good faith.

NCAFC Resolves:

  1. To deal with the rest of the Left as outlined above.

#GE2017 Debate: the case for voting Labour

This is an opinion piece on the 2017 General Election, written by NCAFC activist and UCL sabbatical officer Mark Crawford. You can read an opinion piece presenting the case for voting Green here.
Want to join the debate? Send your opinion pieces to [email protected]!

polling station

Something rather remarkable has happened over the last two years.

The abolition of tuition fees and as well as the much broader cause of free education – as championed by NCAFC and other activists since 2010 and before – is now the flagship policy of the largest political party in Europe.

Jeremy Corbyn’s twice election to the leadership of the Labour Party represents an unprecedented shift in mainstream political thinking – and with the party’s manifesto littered with so many bold promises for young people, at its core is our best offering from a major political party in a generation.

Our Shadow Education Secretary’s pledge to construct a National Education Service, with all the sound echoes of our now pained NHS, is truly radical in potential; as well as abolishing the highest the tuition fees in the industrialised world, it promises universal public childcare, well-funded apprenticeships and adult education for all from cradle to crave.

For higher education, scrapping fees – from as early as this year if Labour are elected to office – would in a stroke bring the market forces currently ensnaring our universities to a grinding halt. It would represent the wider realignment of higher education as a social utility, accountable and accessible to the public as a whole.

Our communities would still ultimately be governed by undemocratic managements; neither staff nor students would have the final say over how our learning and work spaces are run. But such a shift in how are universities are funded and supported would make so much of what we as students want and need – from better pastoral support, to better pay for academics and fully-funded research – not only possible, but immediately achievable.

It’s easy to think, perhaps, that we’ve been here before. In 2010, free education came in the polish of Nick Clegg; and it was cautious support from young people that helped bring the Liberal Democrats their modest share of seats in the Commons, whereupon they proceeded to form a Coalition with the Tories and treble university tuition fees. It was a betrayal for which they paid sorely.

But there’s a difference here that can’t be understated. The Lib Dems have never been a party of working people, the majority of our society; the austerity they rolled out across our society came from a decision to harm millions rather than tackle the interests of banks and the rich. Even now, their proposal to fund the NHS they wrecked is through additional taxation on the working people whose wages and welfare they cut.

Contrast that with the proposal immediately before us. A Corbyn government will nationalise the railways and bring utilities under public service; it will introduce inflationary rent caps, save the NHS and fund state welfare. And it will do all of this, crucially, through taxation where it belongs – by raising corporation tax on big business and income tax rises for the very wealthy.

To be sure, Labour’s refusal to back freedom of movement in Brexit Britain make for a worrying capitulation to the right. But it’s also unnecessary and plainly out of step with the rest of the party’s manifesto, which identifies the real culprits of our unequal society; under a Corbyn government, we will have to continue to fight for the rights of migrants and international students, but we’ll have far more scope to call out racism than we would under the xenophobic nationalism of the Tories.

Ultimately, the entire political shift now embodied by the Labour Party is one whose programme, if enacted, would take serious steps to reduce inequality and return much of our country’s economic prosperity to those of us who actually generate it.

By the measure of some opinion polling, the short few weeks of this general election campaign have brought this newly revived Labour Party from irrelevance and mockery to the most popular political party in the country. But that will only count if we get out, campaign and vote.

Let’s make June 8th the day the tide turned – the day that that the Western world’s unthinking lurch rightwards froze, and in its place a politics that fought racism and inequality was returned to power.

#GE2017 Debate: the case for voting Green

This is an opinion piece on the 2017 General Election, written by the Young Greens Equality and Diversity Officer Georgia Elander. You can read an opinion piece presenting the case for voting Labour here.
Want to join the debate? Send your opinion pieces to [email protected]

polling station

It has never been more important for young people to make our voices heard in politics. Under this Tory government, we’ve seen our futures snatched from us: in rising tuition fees, the scrapping of grants and the cuts to further education funding; in the callous decision that under-21s don’t deserve a minimum wage – or housing benefit, for that matter; and in Theresa May’s reckless approach to leaving the EU and throwing away the benefits of free movement and international co-operation. From where we’re standing, the future can look very bleak.

But the Green Party has a different vision. We know Britain can only succeed if we invest in young people – which is why we would scrap tuition fees, write off all existing student debt, reinstate the Education Maintenance Allowance and invest far more in education.

We also want to tackle the mental health crisis currently facing young people in this country. It’s a crisis fuelled by poor quality housing, financial stress and academic anxiety, and compounded by this government’s utter failure to invest in mental health services. One in four of us will experience a mental health problem at some point in our lives – and yet currently, less than one pound in every hundred spent on the NHS goes towards tackling these issues. We’d address this inequality, ensuring parity of funding between mental and physical health, and guaranteeing that anyone who needs psychological therapy can access it within 30 days.

But our universities, our health service and far more is at risk if we don’t get a good Brexit deal. British academics and institutions are already losing out on collaborative research projects with EU partners, and highly skilled EU citizens who staff our schools and hospitals are leaving the UK because our government refuses to provide them with the certainty they deserve. The Green Party will fight to keep free movement, to urgently guarantee the rights of EU citizens living here, and to retain the vital workers’ rights and environmental protections the EU has given us. We also think people have the right to a say on the final Brexit deal – we’d back a ratification referendum at the end of the negotiations so we don’t end up with a deal that nobody voted for.

It’s no secret that the Green Party isn’t likely to be forming the next government. But for the last seven years we’ve had just one MP, the amazing Caroline Lucas, and on her own she’s done more work than half of the House put together. Electing a strong team of Green MPs to join her in the house of commons would mean an even louder voice for young people, for marginalised groups, for the most vulnerable in society. And whoever forms the next government, we’re going to need it.

Labour Students targets NCAFC members

Alex Stuart, Chair of Surrey Labour Students and NCAFC South-East Co-Rep, writes about the attack on his Labour club by the Labour Students leadership. If you’d like to write an opinion piece for, get in touch. See below for NCAFC’s comment.

On Saturday 2surrey labour students7th May, Labour Students held a ‘Transitional Conference’ to elect national officers for the coming year. All Labour Clubs were invited to send four delegates, as per the new constitution. Surrey Labour Students is one of such clubs and they elected and submitted their delegation in the proper and timely manner. A few days later, we were contacted by the National Secretary. Instead of confirming our delegation and providing further details about the conference, he ranted and raved about our club’s affiliation to NCAFC. The e-mail suggested we had violated the new constitution by affiliating to a rival organisation to the Labour Party. Following this, our club was barred from voting at the conference.

We dispute the accusation that NCAFC is a rival organisation to the Labour Party. Many NCAFC members are also Labour Party members and they do important work in their Labour Clubs, Young Labour groups and local parties. NCAFC welcomes the Labour Party’s recent commitment to scrapping tuition fees and restoring maintenance grants and many members will be campaigning for a Labour government in the coming days.

Nevertheless, we are concerned by the implications of this accusation. We believe the Labour Students office are trying to find grounds to refuse our delegation and even remove our club. This is a political attack against the left that has been seen across the Labour Party, with thousands of socialists expelled without the right of appeal. A reason given for expulsion was being associated with socialist organisations such as the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty or Socialist Appeal. Others have been expelled on spurious grounds such as retweeting a tweet by the Green Party. We don’t believe the Labour Party membership should be decided by a historically right-wing, undemocratic central office, with the ability to expel and discipline members that they don’t like. Instead, we want to transform the Labour Party into a member-led, democratic party where political differences are sorted through debate and democratic votes.

If we don’t challenge the sort of expulsions described above, we may soon see Labour members expelled on the grounds of being an NCAFC member. The logic of the purge is to, step-by-step, shut down left-wing members’ ability to organise with each other, to cut left-wing voices out and, where that’s not possible, to chill them into silence.

NCAFC has worked tremendously hard to contribute to the acceptance of free education by the Labour Party. We must stand up and defend this most central idea. We want NCAFC and Labour to work together to achieve a common goal: a free, liberated, accessible education service for all.

From the NCAFC National Committee:

Surrey Labour Students has been attacked by the outgoing Labour Students leadership for its affiliation to NCAFC. They have made spurious claims that this association breaks Labour Students rules. The real reason they are being attacked for participating in a non-party campaign for free education is simply that the current Labour Students officers want to cut out left-wingers and supporters of the fight for free education. We oppose this attempt by the Labour right to bar left-wing voices from Labour Students and offer solidarity to Surrey Labour Students. Dealing with political disagreements through bureaucratic manoeuvring like this, instead of through democratic debate and votes, is wrong. We have sent this message to Surrey Labour Students:

Dear Surrey Labour Students,

We are appalled to hear about the spurious and unfair attacks made on you by the Labour Students leadership for your involvement in the National Campaign Against Fees & Cuts. These attacks are obviously politically motivated. The current Labour Students officers oppose the campaign for free education and they oppose Labour’s welcome manifesto commitment to it and other left-wing policies. Rather than contesting their political opponents in open debate and democratic decision-making, they are clutching at straws, trying to use bureaucratic means to cut them out, denying their right to a voice and a vote.

We offer you our solidarity and support and look forward to continuing to work with you and the many other Labour members who are part of NCAFC, in the fight for free education.

In solidarity,

NCAFC National Committee

NCAFC Summer Conference 2017 – democracy deadlines


At this year’s NCAFC Summer Conference in London there will be democratic sessions where members will discuss, debate and vote on policy put forward by our members, which will set the political and strategic direction of our organisation.

Motions can be submitted by activist groups affiliated to NCAFC or alternatively by a group of at least 7 NCAFC members, whilst amendments can be submitted by individual members.

The deadline for motion submissions is Sunday 4th June at 5pm. Following this the submitted motions will be published and then the window for submitting amendments will open, closing at midnight on Thursday 15th June.

Please send all motions and amendments to [email protected]

And don’t forget to register for conference – it’s completely free.

See you at conference!

Identity politics: the possibilities and limits

This is an opinion piece written by a NCAFC activist who wishes to be named as Sleepy Commie. If you want to write an opinion piece for the NCAFC website, get in touch with us via [email protected]!


I am a queer, disabled woman of colour, and I want the left to talk about identity politics.

I have always experienced life in terms of failure: failure to be beautiful (the criteria are set by whiteness), failure to be socially graceful (the criteria are set by neurotypicality), and so on. As a result of this constant negative branding of my existence, my mental health completely disintegrated by the time I turned 17.

To then discover vast online communities of people fighting to promote alternative criteria, people who confidently defined identities like mine as not only acceptable but desirable, was a complete revelation. I immersed myself in these communities, made friends and grew in confidence. I no longer had to think of myself as faulty – instead, I explored the various facets of my identity without inhibition and managed to construct an understanding of who I am, rather than admonishing myself for who I am not.

I discovered language to articulate every aspect of discrimination that I faced. I was finally able to explain why everyday racialised interactions were hurting me so much, and to understand that although these microaggressions were indeed relatively minor, they had a name. I wasn’t just imagining them, and I certainly wasn’t imagining the impact they were having on me. For the first time, I could name and begin to unpack my trauma, instead of berating myself even more for having it.

This was my first experience of left-wing politics, and it is certainly not a unique one – many have entered activism via this route. I had always had some vague ideas about wanting to create a world where everyone could genuinely thrive, but had never been able to relate these to any political wing or movement. The rhetoric of the left – equality, community, justice – is increasingly co-opted by the right, and before I discovered identity politics it was hard to distinguish between the two. By first defining my experiences in terms of identity, I began to see how they were politicised. I began to see that I identified more closely with left-wing values.

Remembering the racialised bullying I had endured throughout school, I considered the ways I had been silenced in a new, political light. Memories of being told by teachers that I was ‘making it about race’ had clear parallels with the disingenuous right-wing narrative that any protest against racism is creating problems, rather than highlighting the fact that they exist. I am certainly not the only person for whom consciousness of identity has led to consciousness of the need for serious change to our society – not only for me, but for others too.

It follows, then, that I was highly invested in the politics of representation. I studied popular feminist websites, spoke in favour of quotas and looked out for tv shows with queer characters. I achieved a level of personal fulfilment I had never enjoyed before.

But an effective movement must move beyond questions of ‘I’ – we must work together in collective, grassroots struggle, with the ultimate goal of rendering identity categories irrelevant.

This will not take place overnight, so there is still significant value in identity politics. We live under the conditions of capitalism – we cannot expect our views of and interactions with others to somehow take place outside this context of power, and so sometimes we need to actively intervene. Choosing to ignore the fact that categories of identity are used to oppress will not make this oppression disappear. We need quotas, we need to acknowledge and discuss why the left has a sexism problem, and we need to practice identity politics.

The issue at stake here, then, is not whether identity politics have merit, but how.

There is immense value in the lived experience. Rather than emulating the very capitalist conditions we are trying to resist, in our spaces we must give people who are otherwise silenced the opportunity to express the nuances of their oppression, and we must listen, resisting the instinctive urge to invalidate what is being said simply because it threatens some particular benefit we enjoy from upholding the status quo.

However, identity should never be honoured to the point that any individual becomes unassailable. Here, the impossibility of building a strong, collective movement based solely on a politics of identity becomes visible, for no one person could never hope to effectively represent the views of everyone they share a given identity trait with. We should never switch off our ability to critically analyse, and we should recognise the genuinely incredible contributions made by oppressed people instead of adopting a condescending, dishonest, uncritical stance.

Frequently, I have been called upon to weigh in on disputes simply because I am deemed to fit into a relevant box. Aside from not always wanting to give my emotional labour, I have often found that I am not actually as knowledgeable as my identity apparently suggests I am, which can be awkward to admit – it makes me feel as though I am letting people down. At times, my identity speaks louder than I could ever hope to, and I have to question whether people are actually interested in engaging with what I have to say or if I am merely there as a token to give them social capital in leftist spaces.

The phenomenon of ‘mansplaining’ (and its variants, such as whitesplaining) definitely exists – but I do not believe that it is best counteracted by us constantly and disingenuously deferring to the person with the most (and most visible) axes of oppression, no matter the situation. This is not only exhausting to those it ostensibly benefits, but also limits political growth. It would be better for so-called ‘allies’ to a cause – those who do not experience a particular form of oppression but are committed to fighting it – to feel confident in exercising their own judgement. We can (and should) unite across lines of identity, but we can also, productively, unite on the basis that we share common goals. The former should not have to preclude the latter.

The binary between oppressed identity and privileged identity is also rather simplistic. Although it would not be desirable to do away with any analysis of power dynamics completely, we should certainly reconsider the binary terms we tend to frame it in. Non-binary people frequently find that they are totally absent from discourse about ‘men oppressing women’; often, when they are acknowledged, it is through awkward attempts to fit them into this binary, which tend to involve misgendering them as ‘more man’ or ‘more woman.’

This suggests that we need to take a more nuanced approach. We need to critically examine how our static view of identity is limiting our activism – we often discuss how we will not assume gender from someone’s clothes or mannerisms, then do it anyway, treating everyone as cis until we are corrected. The way in which we so hastily assign everyone a place in the privilege/oppression binary also fixes people in these boxes permanently, making it difficult for people to explore their gender once they have been initially assigned their role as oppressor or oppressed.

The limits of identity politics are perhaps best illustrated with reference to purportedly ‘feminist’ advertising. When representation is the only goal, it is easy to fall into the neoliberal marketing strategies which use our own language of liberation against us to profit. Many are quick to praise the supposedly progressive brand and rush to buy the featured product, for an analysis which views class as merely another category of identity is inadequate to help us understand what is really going on.

Racism upholds capitalism – casting people of colour as lazy (and therefore responsible for their own poverty) deflects blame away from the vast inequalities created by the system. The fundamental role of police is to act as the state apparatus; to defend capital. This, amongst other reasons, is why the police are fundamentally racist. Therefore, merely increasing the number of people of colour in the police force will not solve the problem.

Grounding the politics of identity, then, there must always be an anti-capitalist critique. We cannot identify the true material impact of changes to representation – that is, we cannot work out if reform is viable – if we do not first analyse the function of what we are trying to reform. At a time when our language of resistance is increasingly being appropriated, bled dry and sold back to us, we urgently need this framework to help us to make sense of what we are facing and to tackle it head-on.

There is still an undeniable need for identity politics in our movement – I do not seek to diminish this in any way. However, we must ensure that we make it work productively in our favour. In order to attain the liberation we desire, we must ensure that our analysis of identity is always underpinned by a critique of capitalism.