Occupations Summit: Activists from 13 Campuses Come Together

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National Committee member Monty Shield reports

Around 40 activists from 13 campuses who had been in occupation have come together to share our experiences, learn from each other and plan how we can unite in support of UCU for the struggle ahead.

Taking stock
After a hugely inspiring four weeks we had a collective discussion of the national situation. Leading off, Swansea UCU activist Cath Fletcher gave an overview of the recent history of the UCU and the context of the strike, and Cambridge postgraduate teaching assistant and UCU member Dan Davison spoke of the effect of the 2010 student movement on his current involvement in the occupation at Cambridge University.

National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts (NCAFC) activist and NUS Presidential candidate Sahaya James, who played a key role in the occupation at UCL, called for the National Union of Students to orientate itself towards the emerging leadership of the student movement: the grassroots activists who have made these last four weeks as significant as they have been.

Activists from as far away as Scotland and other campuses a long way outside of London contributed to the discussion. And it is clear that there is a deep resolve from all activists present and across the country to build on the great upsurge of student-worker solidarity action until we win this dispute. Detailed notes of this discussion were taken and will be released soon.

Learning from the past four weeks
The second part of the day entailed skill-sharing workshops. Activists split into groups, first listing the successes of their occupations and other campus actions, then listing obstacles they had faced and mistakes made. Groups fed back to the whole room, and invaluable lessons were learnt that activists can take back to their local groups for future direct action. Notes were taken and a best practice guide to occupations will be produced and circulated soon.

Going forward
In the next few months we want to organise together to take this wave of student solidarity to the next level of effectiveness and national coordination.

We voted to release a joint statement of demands immediately following the meeting and want to work together to develop this further together over the coming months. And already local occupation summits are being planned for London and Scottish campuses.

NUS

The meeting also voted to endorse two candidates for NUS full time office positions: Sahaya James for President and Ana Oppenheim for VP Higher Education. Both these activists are running on a platform for transforming NUS into a bottom up grassroots organisation that fights with lecturers and campus workers for a free, democratic, accessible and liberated education system. The were also endorsed to a large extent because of their key involved in recent occupations they have been a part of.

Sunday’s summit has laid the groundwork for linking up even more occupations.

To get involved contact the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts on facebook or email us at [email protected] You can also reach us by tweeting or messaging @occupation_hub.

If you want help with setting up an occupation on your campus, you can read this short guide to occupations here and look out for the best practice document that will be coming soon.

PRESS RELEASE: NCAFC Launches Major Campaign Against The Debt Selloff

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For press inquiries call 07964791663, 07703114546 or 07540248868

The National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts has launched a major new campaign against moves to make every student since 1998 pay more for their student loans. In June, the government announced plans to sell off student debt to private companies. Because there is so much student debt, it is unprofitable to own, so to sweeten the deal, the government is considering upping the repayment rates. This would be the equivalent of a huge and retroactive stealth hike in tuition fees, all in the name of an exclusive, market model of education.

In an open letter to the Liberal Democrats published on the Guardian website on the eve of their Party conference, NCAFC is demanding that the party rule out the sale of the loan book and withdraw its support for the controversial ‘gagging bill’. We have set a deadline of October 1st to receive assurances, and if we do not hear back, we will support a campaign of embarrassment and disruption aimed at any company or political party complicit in the privatisation of student debt.

On top of direct action, NCAFC will seek to create a new coalition of social movements and trade unions to fight the sale of the student loan book by mobilising students, workers and graduates.

Dear Nick,

In 2010, you were the darling of the student vote: you seemed to many to represent a new politics. What a difference three years make. Tomorrow, the Liberal Democrats will begin their annual conference in Glasgow – and, having ignored and trampled on it for years, you will be asking your members to ditch their support for free higher education. If the Liberal Democrats do not now rule out attempts to raise the rate of repayment on student loans, we will mobilise against them.

The damage that the coalition has done to education since it came to power in 2010 is unparalleled. With an electoral mandate to do precisely the opposite, and in just three years, you have tripled home undergraduate fees, and made Britain’s worst-ever cut to public university funding. We are witnessing the transformation of a public service into a luxury: fees for postgraduate and international students are hitting £30,000 for some courses; and student accommodation regularly costs more than many students get in loans. And when protest threatened your position, you stood back while police beat students off the streets and threatened us with rubber bullets.

In spring 2012, and under pressure from student mobilisations, your government withdrew the higher education bill and then, with no parliamentary mandate or scrutiny, proceeded to implement the higher education white paper anyway. Across the country, your policies have resulted in cuts to bursaries, sweeping course cuts – especially in universities with a higher proportion of working class students – and relentless attacks on staff through privatisation and outsourcing. Last week, the University and Colleges Union (UCU) reported that half of universities are now using zero-hours contracts for lecturers.

 

Because of your actions, university education in Britain is becoming an even more volatile, multi-tiered sector. Being a student is a precarious, money-driven, and often simply inaccessible experience. In your relentless quest for power, you have pushed an ideologically driven agenda of marketisation at the expense not only of the ideal of accessible universal education, but at the practical expense of institutional stability, academic integrity and human dignity.

Just as it seemed that it couldn’t get any worse, Danny Alexander announced that the government will sell off the student loan book in 2015. Student debt is a very unattractive prospect for investors, as there is so much of it that it will never be repaid – so in order to make it profitable, the government may end up changing the conditions on already existing student loans. Not content with attacking current and future generations, you have decided to pursue a policy that would attack every student since 1998.

The Liberal Democrats have now backed the transparency of lobbying, non-Party campaigning, and trade union administration bill, which is being roundly denounced by almost every third sector body and trade union as a sinister attempt to gag independent organisations in campaigning around political parties in election periods. Disgracefully, you are hiding behind restrictive and authoritarian legislation in order to avoid being held accountable for your years of betrayal.

We have no interest in stroking your ego, playing party politics, or getting you votes. Every major political party is now complicit in fees and privatisation in universities, and if there was only one impact of the growth of the student movement in the past few years, it has been that your betrayal of education and your fire sale of public services will be written on your political gravestone in 2015. The Lib Dems have lost 35% of their membership since 2010, and are running at an annual deficit of £411,000.

We demand a written guarantee that you will block the sale of student debt and rule out any detrimental changes to loan repayments; and we demand that you withdraw your support for the lobbying bill. If we do not receive assurances to this effect by 1 October , we will support direct action in the autumn term targeted against any company or political party complicit in the privatisation of the loan book.

The National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts will now build a broad coalition of activist groups, trade unions and social movements to mobilise students, workers and graduates against the sale of the student loan book, with the aim of building action nationally in early 2014.