Only student-worker solidarity and free education can save FE

Students, education workers and supporters march from London School of Economics to the London College of Communication on March 25, 2015 In London UK. The demonstration is aimed primarily at protesting a series of devastating cuts to Foundation courses at University Of Arts London, but is also themed around a broader fight for free and democratic education. Photo by Paul Mendoza/Pacific Press/ABACAPRESS.COM

By Monty Shield

The Government is leaving FE a dying sector. Repeated cuts to the Department of Education are responsible for thousands and thousands of courses being scrapped, an even higher number of staff redundancies, and predominantly working class people denied the educational opportunities they want and need. On top of this, private companies and big business have an increasingly large influence.

Whichever way you look, there is no good news in FE. Websites like FE Week, designed to present regular updates on what’s happening in the sector, essentially read like a long list of increasingly terrifying symptoms. The chronic illness behind all this: marketisation and underfunding.

We need a movement that fights back. But we also need a movement with a positive vision to fight for. Further education has seen the brunt of a brutal marketisation agenda for so long that we can’t just try to make small changes here and there.

We need to overhaul and transform FE. We should remove the artificial divisions between FE courses and HE course and instead have one post-16 National Education Service, free and accessible to anyone at any stage of life.

And we need a democratic education system, run by students and staff, for students and staff, so that the devastating situation in FE never happens again.

Go down to your local FE college, leaflet about the demo and talk to students. Let’s build the movement for the education system we desperately need.

University marketisation sparks brutal cuts

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By Ben Towse

Across the country, university bosses are announcing brutal cuts to jobs, courses and departments. Teesside has forced all of its professors to reapply for their own jobs and banned their trade union from a meeting to discuss it. Durham wants to recruit 4000 more students while cutting staff. The Open University plans to slash a quarter of its budget, meaning swathes of jobs, to pay for a “digital transformation” plan. Similar stories are coming from around the UK.

Why are these cuts happening? Many of these universities are in good financial shape, and the government has not recently cut overall funding. There are three common themes in their announced reasons.

First, gaming the new Teaching Excellence Framework, and its research counterpart: government-imposed hoop-jumping exercises, supposedly assessing “quality” in universities. Manchester’s bosses reckon they can raise their scores, and so their fees, by becoming a smaller but more “elite” university – by slashing workers’ livelihoods and students’ opportunities.

Second, 2011’s introduction of a deregulated student numbers market. Previously, universities had quotas of students they could take, creating stability. Now the Tory-Liberal drive to marketise education has meant student numbers fluctuate, and with them, income. Universities are scrambling for savings because recruitment has dropped, or cutting socially valuable courses that are less profitable, or cramming in students to take our fees without properly funding staff to support us.

Third, universities are facing financial instability as their investments, costs and so on are hit by wider economic turmoil.

We can fight these cuts locally. Even within these constraints, we can demand that universities prioritise students and staff, education and research, over managers’ six-figure salaries and marketing gimmicks. Already, University of the Arts London bosses were forced to back off job cuts by a campaign including a student occupation. More local campaigns are organising, and NCAFC is here to help – get in touch.

But we also need to join up, through NCAFC, for a national fight against the marketised system driving the cuts. Yes, we need to reverse the reforms that introduced the TEF and the student numbers market, and scrap fees. But we must go further. Education can never fulfil the needs of the many as long as it is provided through a patchwork of atomised selective institutions, each straining to stay afloat amid the buffeting forces of the market, many sharing the same turf, and all competing for students, funding, and scores in government assessments,.

Market chaos breeds inequality, restricts intellectual breadth, and is a fundamentally irrational way to organise education. We need a coherently joined-up, comprehensive, public education system, based on cooperation not competition. Provision should be planned democratically by students, staff and communities to fulfil social need, not determined by big business interests and market forces. Jeremy Corbyn’s proposal of a National Education Service offers a space to articulate and win that vision, but it’s up to us to flesh out the idea and fight for it.

Winning the argument for Free Education

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In many countries, education is free as a right. And now, thanks to the huge popularity behind Labour’s pledge to abolish fees and bring back grants in the general election, we might be on the verge of seeing free education in the UK too.

So what is the case for taxing the rich to provide free education? Not only is it a question of students’ rights, it’s key to creating a more democratic, enriched and empowered society. Imagine a society in which nobody is taught to build bridges, create films, analyse history, provide medical care, investigate the universe, or programme computers.

The idea that education is a commodity, that students should pay for their own because it’s their own business and nobody else’s, is absurd. Education benefits the whole of society, so just like any other social good it should be shared and funded by society – first of all, funded by the richest. Education helps individuals to develop to our fullest potential and engage with the world around us creatively and consciously.

Regardless of whether it gets you a job, this is liberating: granting understanding, confidence, and breadth of vision. This true not just of individuals, but classes of society collectively. Education helps equip marginalised and exploited groups to analyse and describe their own situation, and fight back – in the struggle for the working class’s emancipation and against sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia and disablism.

Naturally, those in power want to control both who can access what education and what they’re taught. This is part of how they maintain their position. Cuts and tuition fees are a project to create a market, forcing universities and colleges to compete rather than cooperating as parts of a democratic public service.

Universities spend on flashy marketing at the expense of welfare services for students and wages for teachers. Departments teaching less profitable subjects are downsized, while money from businesses becomes more important, giving them the power to bias what we are taught and what gets research.

The government wants to reduce education to an industrial pipeline, supplying trained employees ready to be exploited for profit. We believe that every single person in society should have to right to access education. Abolishing fees is a crucial step to achieving that. If you agree, join us and join the fight!

 

Victories for workers at SOAS and LSE

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Last year saw two major victories for workers’ struggles at London universities. First, outsourced LSE cleaners and their union, United Voices of the World, won a ten month campaign for equal rights with other staff at the university. Their victory means they will be brought in-house in the Spring of next year.

Soon after, SOAS’s 10-year-long Justice for Workers campaign was also successful. Outsourcing of all core staff at SOAS will end by September 2018. The victories at LSE and SOAS seemed impossible just 12 months ago, but now they could and should pave the way for an end to outsourcing across the higher education sector and beyond. At the centre of both struggles were inspirational migrant workers who were willing to put their own jobs on the line to fight for equality.

LSE saw 7 days of strike action with picket lines from 5am until 6pm. It is vital to remember these victorious workplace struggles, led by the workers and their unions, were given a massive boost by acts of student solidarity. At LSE and SOAS they joined pickets, organized protests, disrupted and occupied campus spaces. This all garnered press attention and added to the pressure on management to negotiate with the workers and meet their demands. Furthermore, at LSE a key issue for many cleaners was the feeling that the rest of the university did not value them. In response, students organized regular breakfasts to tackle this and built a genuine sense of community.

This sense of community and solidarity in struggle should be extended to our lecturers and teaching staff as well. Just like the cleaners and other campus workers, it is university management that is to blame for the exploitative conditions many staff find themselves in: if faced with insecure contracts and casualisation, limits on academic freedom, and low pay.

And of course, it is university management that charge us extortionate rents, refuse to provide us with inadequate mental health services, and so much more. Management is our common enemy and as students we should stand in solidarity with all workers fighting for their rights on our campus. What happened at LSE and SOAS shows us what we can achieve when we stand together.

Grants Not Debt

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By Shula Kombe

In 2016 the government has now replaced maintenance grants with additional loans. This has saddled the poorest students with more debt than their rich counterparts because, without parental support, they now have to take out a much larger loan at the start of their courses.

All the evidence suggests that maintenance grants improved access for working class students. Yet the Government scrap them because the Conservatives are a party that represent the interests of the ruling class and big business, including in education, as opposed to the interests of workers and working class students.

The Government was successful in 2016, but we are fighting back. Maintenance grants have been scrapped (1998) and won back (2004) in the past – and we can do it again.  To win, we need a range of tactics, from lobbying to direct action, such as the #GrantsNotDebt Westminster Bridge blockade we organised in January 2016.

We must push for more than a return to an inadequate system of maintenance grants, though. What we need is not a scaled rate, but instead one level of grant that is enough to live on for all students. This means that no matter whether a student is shut out of their family, for whatever reason, and no matter how poor or rich a student’s’ family, they will be able to access university. Like the abolition of tuition fees, we can fund this by taxing the rich – those in society who can actually afford it.

To move forward we need to redouble our efforts – building the movement by convincing more and more people of our positive alternative to the Tories’ attacks on our education system, and harnessing our collective power. Join us on the national demonstration for free education on November 15th, where we’ll be demanding living grants for all students.

 

Why is my rent so f***ing high?

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By Flavius McFlavourdale

A consistent trend across universities is the skyrocketing of rent in university halls. Universities stay quiet about rent hikes and we assume they’re a weird force of nature. However, there is no reason why rent should be so high and increasing at the rate it is. So why is my rent so high? There are basically two reasons for this.

Firstly, since 2010 direct funding to universities has been been completely cut and now universities are entirely reliant on your £9,000+ fees for funding. Whereas before university funding was always guaranteed, now it is insecure – unis now need to spend copious amounts of money on PR, visit days and brochures, to attract your loans. However, it also means that unis look for other ways to make funding more stable – one way to do this is to increase rent and channel this money back into management and expansion.

Secondly, universities are acting ever more like businesses (a direct result of policy changes in higher education) – universities now aim ever more for profit and expansion. As such they want to gather enough money to make this possible. They do this by amongst other things: cutting paying, putting staff on worse contracts – and of course making the rent very damn high!

But it needn’t be this way. There is enough wealth in our society to make education and housing and accessible for all and get rid of financial barriers to education. We can only do this through collective and disruptive action. One way in particular has been to organise rent strikes whereby students withhold rent en masse and gain collective leverage over university management. Students from London, to Brighton to Bristol have been involved in this and in some cases have made massive wins as big as £1 million in rent cuts and freezes and bursary increases.

Let’s make housing accessible for all! Let’s cut the rent!

Free Education is within our reach – if we fight for it now, we can win!

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The snap General Election earlier this year has transformed the fight for free education. Labour’s pledge to tax the rich and fund free education was so popular that the Government are now on the back foot and feeling the pressure.

As students and workers united together, now is the time to go on the offensive. If we do, we can keep up this pressure on the Conservative Government and make sure that if a Labour Government gets into power it follows through on its promises. That’s why we’re marching on November 15th.

Right now our education is being attacked from every angle. The marketisation of Further and Higher Education is driving enormous cuts in courses and staff across the country. This lets big business and private companies in to make money, and shuts out those who want and need accessible education the most.

Tuition fees are at the heart of this marketization. They lead to inequality between institutions and eroded job security and working conditions of staff and campus workers. The Teaching Excellence Framework meant to ‘drive up standards in teaching’ is directly linked to the intensifying exploitation and casualisation of university staff.

Scrapping all fees cuts the legs out from underneath this marketization agenda. We must demand that no student, home or international, should pay a penny in tuition fees. We want an end to the cash cow treatment of international students. And we want an end to the regressive maintenance loan system which sees poorest students graduating with the highest amount of debt. This is a debt which is causing a widespread mental health crisis amongst students.

But this system could be about to change. In its place we demand living grants for all: every student across further and higher education should get enough money to study and live on. No more working part time jobs, no more having to depend on family for money, and finally an end to dealing with the bureaucratic mess that is Student Finance and SAAS.

You may have heard people argue that we don’t have the money to pay for free education. That is a myth. We know there is no shortage of wealth in our society: enormous riches lie hoarded in the pockets of a few. We should tax the extortionate wealth of big business and corporations and put it to better use by investing in an education run by and for students, workers and communities, just as we should for other public services like the NHS.

Join us in organising action to win: on our campuses, in our communities, and on the streets.

Free education accessible to everyone is within our reach. By taking action in our thousands, we can seize it now. March with the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts on 15th November: for an end to tuition fees and for living grants for all students, funded by taxing the rich.

NSS Boycott: Open letter to NUS Leadership

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The statement below is an open letter signed by a range of student activists and officers from across the country in relation to the NSS Boycott campaign and the role of NUS within that. If you wish to add your name to the letter then please send your name and position/affiliation to [email protected], or message our Facebook page.

We, the undersigned students’ union officers and student activists, are pledging to continue to promote the boycott of the National Student Survey (NSS) until the latest round of the Higher Education reforms is withdrawn. We are also calling on the NUS leadership, in particular Vice-President Higher Education Amatey Doku, to follow its democratic mandate from NUS National Conference 2016 to lead a national boycott of the survey.

The threat posed by recent government reforms should not be underestimated. The HE Reforms will not only raise the cost of tuition, but also include the introduction of the Teaching Excellence Framework and making it easier for more private providers to award degrees. While the campaign against the HE Bill last year won some important concessions, such as delaying the link between TEF and fees and stricter regulations of private companies entering the market, our demands have not been met. The results of these reforms, combined with previous waves of marketisation, can already be seen with dozens of campuses announcing job cuts (some, including University of Manchester, explicitly citing government reforms as the reason). Unless radical action is taken, we will see more course closures and job losses, an even more unequal education system and staff working conditions further deteriorating.

The NSS is a key metric in the TEF, which means student feedback is directly used to raise fees, close courses and damage education. It is also the one metric students have control over. Boycotting the survey is more than a symbolic act of protest – withdrawing data gives us leverage by affecting the framework the government needs to implement its reforms. This ensures that we don’t come to the negotiating table empty-handed. Without any collective action by students, our position in fighting the TEF and marketisation will be significantly weakened. We know that the 2017 NSS boycott invalidated survey results at 12 institutions, further throwing into doubt the legitimacy of TEF metrics and putting pressure on the government.

As the largest democratic body representing students across the UK, NUS is best placed to to co-ordinate the campaign and negotiate with the government on our behalf. And while the HE BIll has passed, the fight to stop fee rises and marketization is not over. We are calling on NUS to start building now for NSS boycott 2018 and to learn from last year’s experiences to make it bigger and more effective. We are also calling on other students’ unions to join our campaign – the larger it grows, the stronger we are.

Signed by:

Beth Douglas NUS LGBT+ Officer (Women’s Place)
Ana Oppenheim NUS NEC
Amelia Horgan NUS NEC
Aliya Yule NUS NEC
Sarah Gillborn NUS NEC
Sarah Lasoye NUS NEC
Hansika Jethnani NUS NEC, Arts SU Education Officer
Deej Malik-Johnson NUS NEC, Manchester SU Campaigns Officer
Nicoline Kure Aberdeen Uni Student Association Women’s Convener
Lewis Macleod Aberdeen Uni Students’ Association Communities Officer
Tam Wilson Abertay Students Association
Leah Kahn Arts SU Activities Officer
Sahaya James Arts SU Campaigns Officer
Rebecca Harrington Brookes Union Women’s Officer
Claudia Cannon Carmarthen East & Dinefwr Labour Youth Officer HE
Taylor McGraa Education Officer Goldsmiths Students Union
Josh Chown Guildford Labour Youth Officer
Georgie Spearing KCLSU Disabled Students’ Officer
Rahma Hussein KCLSU VP Activities & Development
Douglas Carr Kent Union Ethics Officer
Rory Hughes Liverpool Guild Vice President
Sara Khan Manchester SU BME Officer
Rob Noon Manchester SU Trans Officer
Tyrone Falls NCAFC National Committee
Charlie Porter NCAFC National Committee, Free Uni of Sheffield Activist
Maisie Sanders NCAFC National Committee
Andy Warren NCAFC National Committee
Shula Kombe NCAFC National Committee
Ben Towse NCAFC National Committee
Nathan Rogers NCAFC National Committee
Monty Shield NCAFC National Committee
Zoe Salanitro NCAFC National Committee
Clementine Boucher NCAFC National Committee, Rent Strike Activist
Zac Muddle NCAFC National Committee, Bristol Labour LGBT+ Officer
Anabel Bennett NCAFC National Committee, Rent Strike Activist
Alex Booth NCAFC National Committee
Alex Stuart NCAFC National Committee, Surrey Labour Students Chair
Finn Northrop Non Portfolio Officer UEA SU
Tanju Cakar NUS Disabled Studnets Committee (Open Place)
Vijay Jackson Ordinary Members’ Representative, Scottish Labour Young Socialists
Tom Zagoria Oxford Uni SU St Anne’s College Officer
Krum Tashev President Canterbury Christchurch Students Union
Natasha Barrett Royal Holloway SU President
Chris Townsend Sheffield SU Education Committee
Charlotte O’Neil Sheffield SU Education Committee Chair
Josh Berlyne Sheffield SU Education Committee Vice-Chair
Stuart McMillan Sheffield SU Education Officer
Sarah Mcintosh Sussex SU Postgraduate Education Officer
Aisling Murray Sussex SU Society & Citizenship Officer
Lulah Brady Sussex SU Undergraduate Education Officer
Grainne Gahan Sussex SU Welfare Officer
Ayo Olatunji UCL SU BME Officer
Mark Crawford UCL SU Postgrad Officer
Justine Canady UCL SU Women’s Officer
Dan Davidson UCU Surrey Branch Secretary 2016-2017
Gary Spedding Ulster University Students Union Student Activist
Laura Tidd Undergraduate Academic Officer Durham Students Union
Mason Ammar Undergraduate Education Officer Bristol Students Union
Belle Linford University of Birmingham Guild of Students Disabled Student’s Officer
Jamie Jordon UWE SU Education Officer
Connor Woodman Warwick For Free Education Student Activist
Emily Dunford Warwick SU Postgrad Officer
Hope Worsdale Warwick SU President
Rida Vaquas
Young Labour West Mids Rep of Momentum NCG, NCAFC National Committee
Danny Filer Labour Students London Regional Coordinator, UCL SU Labour President
Dimitri Cautain SOAS SU Co-President Welfare & Campaigns
Nisha Phillipps SOAS SU Co-President Democracy & Education
Halimo Hussien SOAS SU Co-President Equality & Liberation
Mehdi Baraka SOAS SU Co-President Activties & Events
Flo Brookes Sheffield SU Sports Officer
Santhana Gopalakrishnan Sheffield SU International Students’ Officer
Celeste Jones Sheffield SU Women’s Officer
Megan McGrath Sheffield SU Development Officer
Tom Brindley Sheffield SU Activities Officer

Free Education. Now is the time

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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.

** https://www.loomio.org/d/42VLOK1i/now-is-the-time-free-education-go-go-go **

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 – http://anticuts.com/membership/

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.