Opinion: “Why NCAFC? Or, Where We Are & Where We Should Go”

quarmby demo smoke“Free Education Now: Tax The Rich” demo, Nov 2017 © Natasha Quarmby Photography

By Monty Shield (in a personal capacity)

Contrasting terms

Compare snapshots of this term and the first term of last year. The national political picture has changed dramatically for the better. And so has student politics and the fight for free education funded by taxing the rich.

In April 2016, NCAFC won a vote at NUS’ national conference mandating our national union to hold a free education demo in the Autumn term. The leadership of NUS took a left turn and a 2016 demo was organised in earnest. But breaking the mandate from conference, the demo was politically vague – centring around the slogan “United for Education”. A few thousand gathered, less than the year before. It was flat and, crucially, failed to attract and inspire many new activists.

This stood in contrast to NCAFC’s free education demo the previous year: politically harder, louder and unapologetically for free education against the marketisation of universities and colleges. There are several activists now on our national committee who often remind us that 2015’s November protest was there first engagement with local and national activism.

If NUS’s demo was disappointing, the national picture was dire. The election of Corbyn as Labour leader the year before had made many of us rightfully hopeful that his commitment to free education would take forward our struggle significantly. But at this point Labour were around 13 points behind in the polls, on their way to a 21 point gap, after a summer in which a third of the Labour Party had voted for Owen Smith in the leadership race – a politician who made consistent sexist gaffes, wanted to throw migrants under the bus, and who refused to oppose the Islamophobic Prevent programme. What’s more, the Corbyn leadership was capitulating on key issues: support of free movement was ditched, as was opposition to Trident. It looked like Corbyn’s chances of winning a general election were a fantasy, and that whatever the right wing backlash that followed his impending exit, they would be sure to make sure free education was side-lined for good.

Then followed NUS’s national conference and a near clean-sweep for the rightwing slate.

It is not surprising that there was not a large abundance of local activity throughout last year, or that there was a slight drop-off in direct engagement with NCAFC over the summer. NCAFC’s traditional base – local free education/’Defend Education’ activist groups had peeled off or fallen away and the conditions were not there for them to start again. The mood of many core activists in the student movement was a deflated one.

There was one exception that first term. At the start of December students in the activist group Warwick for Free Education occupied a £5.3m new university conference building. They demanded an end to an anti-occupation injunction on students at Warwick and called for the university to give better conditions to academic staff and carry out non-compliance with Teaching Excellence Framework. They transformed the construction space into a democratically run area, filled it with political discussion and won some major concessions from management, including a lifting of the injunction. This occupation was a reminder, not just of the need for direct action, but of it’s potential for successfully shaping universities to how we want them to be.

While activists were organising on their campuses locally, we would then have to wait months for the next victories, grinding our way through a depressing second term.

But after months, things did turn around. In March we got the news that the NSS Boycott had been a success in twelve institutions and majorly dented the results in dozens more. This was despite a lackluster approach from NUS and many of the places where the boycott was most successful were places where NCAFC activists had put their head down and campaigned for months, not knowing if their work would pay off.

It did, and the Government has since been forced to respond and change their plans as a result. Indeed, this time last year they had rampantly pushed through their higher education reforms and were raising fees. Yet a few weeks ago they announced a freeze on fees under pressure from students and are far less openly bold about their marketisation agenda, even if we can expect them to pursue it for as long as they are in Government.

The NSS Boycott was followed by a big win for the rent strike at UCL. And then incredible victories for heavily exploited, often migrant workers at LSE and SOAS. And while it did not get much coverage outside of activist circles, at University of the Arts London an all-women occupation halted 8 staff redundancies.

This all happened around the time of the general election. Over a couple of months, free education became hugely popular with workers and students across the country. In constituencies heavily dominated by students, seats were won for Labour because of the popularity of the boldly left wing manifesto and students who came out and campaigned day in and day out.

Much of the spirit found in those victories is there in first term now

Building on work from last year, students and workers campaigning together at Bath University have forced the resignation of their Vice-Chancellor, the highest paid in the country. VC Breakwell was a symbol for – and key actor in – the marketisation of higher education across the country. We are still to see the full effects of this nationally but it could be huge.

There are also significant local campaigns happening across the country: for the living wage such as at Nottingham, Cambridge and Abertay; for cheaper rents at places like Bristol, Surrey, Sussex, UCL and Aberdeen (the last place of which recently ran a very popular campaign for the election of a new university rector on the basis of a commitment to fighting for migrant and migrant students against xenophobia, for better mental health services, lower rents and LGBTQ+ rights); against Prevent at Queen Mary; and against staff cuts at Manchester. Yesterday there was a demo at UCL for better mental health services during an open day. This is to name but a few of the active places (and apologies to the campuses not mentioned).

On top of this, University of London workers are getting organised. The victories at SOAS and LSE show us what is possible, as does the legacy of the succesfull 3 Cosas campaign by migrant cleaners at Senate House in London, who went on strike successfully over sick pay, holidays and pensions in 2013-14.

And since the first term of the last academic year and now, we’ve seen the first ever strike of McDonald’s workers in the UK, and the major expansion of the Picturehouse strike for a living wage.

The point is that even before we factor in the Free Education Now – Tax the Rich demonstration on Nov 15, we can see a clear change from this term to the first term of last year. There is more happening on the ground.

Is this overly optimistic?

It would be wrong and falsely optimistic to declare flippantly: “The Government is weak”; or “everything is kicking off”; or even that we are imminently to see the abolition of fees in the UK. After all, the Conservatives will doggedly hang on to Government for as long as they can.

But winning free education was always going to be a long fight. One that would involve several generations of activists patiently pushing and building, keeping free education on the agenda even at times when it appeared lost – or where it was hampered by the right or soft left of NUS.

When I got involved in NCAFC in 2014, the line we would always repeat over and over is “free education is not a pipe dream” – and we had to say that, because of how distant it did feel. Now no one is saying that, because people don’t think it is a pipe dream any more and we have moved forward significantly.

There are three things have happened over the past year which give NCAFC a renewed purpose:

  1. The struggle for free education and to win broad support for it has been moved on hugely by the election. In terms of sheer popularity, we are a long way ahead than at any point since tuition fees were introduced in the UK almost 20 years ago. The tide has started to turn on the Government and it is up to us to make the most of it.
  2. Students may have campaigned for Labour in the election. But there are swathes of people not yet politically convinced of the need to campaign between elections. They are not yet convinced that, as the Warwick and UCL comrades showed us, the way we win is from the bottom up. Our job is to win people round to this perspective, through discussion and debate, and organising locally and through national actions like the demo and NSS Boycott.
  3. There are activists fighting on the ground across the UK, by and large not through Defend Education, Free Education or anti-cuts groups as they did following the upsurge in 2010. Instead, activists are doing incredible work on the ground across different areas as outlined above.

That’s where NCAFC comes in

Our job as NCAFC is to re-orientate towards the new situation and to what activists are really doing on the ground, and to link these existing and growing campaigns up into a national movement. We exist to be a collection of these activists – in many places we are these activists, and in many we still need to recruit people to NCAFC – and we exist to be a democratically decided national voice and coordination. This collective strength is what drives forward our national events, and the national events serve to harness this collective strength.

This was perhaps the biggest purpose of the Free Education Now – Tax the Rich demo. It may have been smaller than we would have liked, but the payoff has been very big:

  1. Activists on over 50 campuses across the UK mobilised for this demo. In all these places, we have drawn anywhere from a handful of students to larger activist groups into national political struggle. This includes in campuses and areas where NCAFC has never known activists before.
  2. The demo was loud, energetic and attended by a lot of these new activists. This is crucial. It is NCAFC’s role – and crucial for building a genuinely democratic movement – that we call actions at a national level and bring people into the movement through organising on their campus and being part of these actions, and then coming to our democratic events to decide what to do next.
  3. It gave an incisive and clear platform for our demands: free education, living grants for all, stop the campus cuts – all funded by taxing the rich – and to our politics of supporting workers’ struggles. It is because of our demo that our slogans hit the national newspapers in the Autumn term and, for example, that thousands of people stopped outside Picturehouse Central chanting that Cineworld should pay the living wage. Our demands go further than those offered by any major political party, and we need to show that there is pressure and support for these demands from below if we are to hope to shape that national picture.

It is important that we don’t try to relate to these activists and local struggles – or conceptualise NCAFC – in a top-down way. To advance the national fight for free education, we need national strategies. And it is through this that we have and will engage activists on a local level. NCAFC should be the deliberate integration of activists involved in local organic struggles into a national movement with a narrative that sees all of these struggles within the contexts of the marketisation of education. And our national strategies should be developed by these activists both through the national committee but more importantly on the ground. Where this consistent integration, national decision-making and reintegration is not happening, we should work hard to make sure it does.

This year’s national demonstration was called by the national committee of NCAFC, in response to a mandate from our Summer Conference that we should call a demonstration if circumstances changed significantly in the months afterwards – with the conference having voted not to call a free education demo focussed on i) opposition the campus cuts and higher education reforms ii) for more funding for FE iii) votes at 16 iv) £10hr and a ban on zero hour contracts. It is ultimately good that this demonstration was voted down because I think this would have been too broad and lacked the political focus we needed and got.

When free education became national news week after week in July, with major public debate on the issue and the Conservative Government on the back foot, the national committee registered the change and acted on its mandate. This demo has acted as a focal point, bringing together activists from Aberdeen to Sussex and Swansea to Newcastle, and dozens of campuses in between, into one united action. We have started to turn the tide of the national demoralisation from last year and opened up the potential for ourselves to have a genuine relationship with activists across the country.

NSS Boycott 2018

The 2018 NSS Boycott will act in a similar way. It will dent the Government’s university metrics again, and serve as a unifying action that ties together activists on the ground. The NSS boycott is now a national strategy because at a NCAFC conference in the academic year 2014/15 a NCAFC member (not indeed on the NC) raised this suggestion. We took it forward as an organisation, developed it and at a later NCAFC conference committed to it. And we took it forward to NUS and won.

All the organising that happened last year and will happen this year, all the printing and distribution of what must have been hundreds and thousands of flyers, all the hours and hours spent postering, all of the contacting of different groups, all of the new people who got involved in the campaigning last year – even the NSS Dank Memes stash – happened because there existed an organisation in the student movement that created the conditions for a suggestion like that to be made and considered, for people to be convinced of that idea and for that idea to be given a national voice and turned into a strategy that actually forced the Government to backtrack and re-write the metrics for the Teaching Excellence Framework.

This weekend, we will re-debate whether or not to continue our involvement with the NSS boycott. If we want a coherent national strategy, we should absolutely vote to continue it.

The Autumn Speaker Tour

Another key thing that laid some of the groundwork for our future activism was this year’s Autumn speaker tour, organised by one of the new NC members. It turned into the most successful tour that we have seen in years. This involved NCAFC activists travelling around different parts of the country, making and reinforcing local connections.

Can NCAFC do no wrong?

Well, yes we can and we do need to change parts of our earlier analysis. Firstly, it is clear that some of the predictions we made at our Summer Conference earlier this year were wrong. At Summer Conference, we predicted that the academic staff cuts sweeping the country would lead to lots of anti-cuts campaigns and that our job would be to link up with in the first term, and link them together nationally – after all, NCAFC grew out of such a movement in 2010. Had this happened, it may well have provided the backbone for a significantly larger national demonstration.

Despite doing significant legwork of contacting lots of campuses, this upsurge did not happen and the only place a major struggle has taken place this term, at Manchester University, there was already an existing left activist base. It proved difficult to enthuse people to take up the fight on their campuses with us, without having had any previous relationship with NCAFC or our national events.

It is also clear that we need to build a more reciprocal political relationship between campus activist groups and other NCAFC activists nationally. This includes looking to Scotland, where there is a lot of potential for developing NCAFC activism and putting demands to a Government in Scotland that has for too long used the fact that is doesn’t charge fees for home students as a cover for huge attacks on further education, a failure to control extortionate rents, and the treatment of international students as cash cows. There is a strategy amendment that Scottish comrades and I have submitted to this weekend’s conference about developing NCAFC Scotland which I would encourage everyone to vote for.

Additionally, as many activists as possible from across the country should run for the NCAFC national committee, and as well as a renewed drive to widen NCAFC activity out of the NC, this should act as a springboard for unlocking the potential for national and local activism in front of us.

Where is NUS in all this?

There is huge disconnect between NUS and activists on the ground. This has not been helped by the fact that while hundreds of students were mobilising for this demo in the first weeks of Autumn term, the rightwing President Shakira Martin blocked our attempts to link NUS up with this grassroots organising by blocking a demo support motion at the NUS’s National Executive Council (the decision-making body of elected representatives that decides NUS policy between conferences).

To their credit, a much higher number than usual of the NUS full-time officers and NEC members saw the need for the demo and put in some work to build it: whether it was leafleting, transporting materials to campuses, or stewarding on the day. This marks another key function of the demo: after the left’s defeat at NUS conference in the summer it has acted as a relatively unifying force, bringing people together under the banner of free education funded by taxing the rich.

NCAFC has been the national driving force this Autumn, and has carved out a place for itself in national student politics on our terms. We need to take this forward into NUS and use the potential this year to help us take the next step in transforming it into an activist union.

We should encourage the activists we’ve met through this term’s actions to run for NUS delegate, and actively support them in doing this. And we should NUS conference as another opportunity to give a national voice to our politics, winning round the delegates in the room, and the students outside of it. This means taking every opportunity we can – through submitting motions and running candidates – to defeat the right wing of conference and also win round the rest of the left to our politics and the need for democratic organising and direct action.

Unlocking potential

A huge amount of energy went into our Autumn activity, and it has paid off. Collectively it has given us a good overview of the picture nationally: this is not just in terms of knowing what is happening and in many places driving forward local activity, but also knowing what isn’t going to spark and escalate, such as widespread local anti-cuts campaigns.

We have a renewed national prominence and function. And we can reassess the national picture from a position of strength and knowing there is so much potential to unlock in front of us. Let’s take this into term two, link up these local campaigns and be involved on the ground and at a national level as much as we can. Let’s go forward from this conference with a clear national strategy, including the 2018 NSS boycott, so that we can generate and be part of on-the-ground activity across the country.

This is what will help us change the face of student politics and bring us another step closer to winning free education. And knowing what we have to change, and doing it, is what will drive forward NCAFC and invigorate an active membership.

As I said at the start, there are lots of NCAFC activists who first got involved around the demo in Autumn 2015. If this was your first free education demo, consider running for the national committee, and also help us develop the link between the activism you’re doing on your campus and NCAFC’s national work and decision-making.

See you at the conference.

Why Disabled Students Should Support the Free Education Demo!

4 people with a banner reading "Disabled students' campaign" "NUS disabled students"By Rachel O’Brien, NUS Disabled Students’ Officer

On Wednesday 15th November, I will be supporting the demonstration for Free Education, running Demo HQ and encouraging disabled students around the country to attend, as well as making sure that Student Unions and the organisers make sure the demo is accessible as it can be.

Why should disabled students support free education? For me, this is an easy question to answer. All students should support free education and fight for it to be realised. Free education is not just about university tuition fees (although this is a part of it!), it is about everything from making adult education accessible and available for people wanting to return to education or start at a later age, to making sure that Disabled Students’ Allowance and Education Health and Care Plans are fully funded and fit for purpose. Our education system should be a social good and liberatory force, and right now it is neither of those things. In fact, it can often be the opposite – a place where working class students and those from oppressed groups (these are not mutually exclusive categories!) experience violence of different types. Disabled students are more likely to come from working class and lower socio-economic backgrounds, as well as having more costs than non-disabled students, so debt hits us especially hard.

It affects our mental and physical health. Debt is shown to be a major factor in student mental distress, and as a group, we will have more of it. The lack of living grants and access to disability benefits means that we are often forced to live in houses that are not accessible to us and I have yet to meet a disabled student who does not worry about being able to afford their prescription fees. Simply put, our education system and the disproportionate financial cost it has on disabled students is bad for our health. Access to education and retention rates are distressingly low amongst disabled students. We get into debt to go into education and then have to drop out due to the effect that debt and disableism has.

On the 15th, join us in marching for free education! I have been working with the organisers to make sure that the route and march itself is accessible as possible. And in the case that #wecantmarch, I will be running Demo HQ – a place where people who cannot march for whatever reason can do invaluable demo tasks. Be that because you have a mobility impairment, precarious visa status or issues around sensory overload, or any other reason – this is the space for you. We’ll be doing social media and co-ordinating arrestee support for the demo!

Labour’s manifesto: free education and a National Education Service

In this article a NCAFC activist explains why the Labour Party’s Manifesto commitment to free education and a National Education Service is important and badly needed. But a free, democratic and emancipatory education is something we’ll need to fight for to win whatever the outcome of the general election.

Got an opinion and want to share it? Get in touch and write for anticuts.com!

o-CORBYN-STUDENTS-facebookCurrently, England is the most expensive country to study in the world. Since the 2010 Tory-LibDem higher education (HE) reforms there have been cuts to government funding, an expansion of the student loan system and of course the famous trebling of tuition fees to £9,000. These sets of changes have been come together with an overall neoliberalisation of universities: more casualised labour and decreased pay  and pensions for workers in HE, higher salaries for university managers, and more private institutions getting their foot in the door in the HE market. In turn there is now a lower proportion of working class students going to university and those leaving HE leave with massive amounts of debt. The current Conservative government is pushing the neoliberalisation of universities further by implementing a set of Higher Education Reforms which will result in universities being ranked according to a Teaching Excellence Framework, and these rankings allowing some universities to raise their fees and those who are seen to “fail” be closed down or taken over by private businesses. As it stands many universities across the UK from Aberystwyth, to Manchester, to Durham are announcing a wave a job cuts citing the pressures of marketising reforms as their reason. The current system desperately needs to be overhauled.

The call by the Labour Party in their manifesto to abolish fees and implement a National Education Service is a welcome event. This is a massive change from New Labour which implemented tuition fees back in the 1990s, as well as from a Labour Party a couple of years ago which only promised a cut in tuition fees to £6,000.  An NES would mean a cradle-to-grave system that guarantees access to learning for everyone: free childcare, comprehensive schooling, abolition of fees and valuing properly those who do the work. Furthermore, establishing an NES and deprivatisation of education creates the potential for a more democratic education where those who are doing the work and study call the shots and make the decisions, rather than managers.

Education at all levels is necessary for a democratic society. It allows people to discuss and think creatively and critically about the world they live in, and is important to allow society to flourish by giving people the means to learn, discuss and teach whatever it is they might want to do. Because education benefits all of us it the costs should be borne by those who have the means to pay for it. Despite the backlash Labour will get from the press and right wing parties, the abolition of fees and a NES is necessary and totally possible. HE funding is currently not sustainable and is coming of the back of student loans, much of which cannot be paid back and which the government continuously tries to sell-off. If we restructure how education is currently funded and tax the rich in our society who hold the wealth that is created by working people – bear in mind that the richest 10% in our society hold half of the £8.8 trillion pound wealth in the UK – then we will have enough money to fund not only the NES, free childcare and Labour’s other pledges, but much more. We need to argue beyond what Labour is currently guaranteeing. Maintenance grants must not only be reinstated, but increased to a decently liveable level and extended to all students, and living costs eased by not just restricting rent rises, but reversing them in halls and beyond. Labour should clarify that its pledge to abolish fees will be applied to international as well as British students.  And graduates should receive an amnesty on the student loan debt that should never have been imposed in the first place.

However, it will not be enough to vote Labour in and hope for them to make good on their promises. This is not how positive social change happens: a left-wing Labour-led government would face obstructions and immense pressure to retreat on its policies. We will need to continue building a strong student and workers movement in education and beyond which will provide the political pressure for these promises to be made a reality. One of the many reasons why it has been possible for the leading opposition party to take on these proposals is the pressure that has come from the grassroots movements. The seven years of protests, occupations, actions, boycotts, solidarity with striking workers, and convincing people of the necessity of free education has put these issues on the table – it is worth recalling that up until a few years ago the NUS was one of the only student unions in the world not to have any policy on free education.

Going forward it will mean continuing and increasing the pressure – whatever the results of this election. Quebec, Chile, South Africa, Germany and many other countries have managed to resist and reverse attacks on education by having organised and militant struggles through direct action and student strikes. NCAFC and education activists have been pushing student struggles in higher education, making the argument for free education, coordinating national demonstrations and pushing nationwide actions like the boycott of the National Student Survey. Join us to keep it up.

Higher education reform bill passes: we’ll fight to repeal it

Hard-won concessions have blunted and delayed some parts of the ruinous reforms, but they’re not enough. Now we fight to reverse it and win a democratic National Education Service.

Graffiti reading "What Parliament does the streets can undo"Parliament has rushed through the Conservatives’ Higher Education and Research Bill – the legislative vehicle for their ruinous agenda of fee-raising, university-privatising reforms – in advance of the snap General Election. But that doesn’t mean the issue is closed – we will keep campaigning until they’re reversed!

The battle so far

Over the past eighteen months, we’ve fought a major battle against the reforms. We have argued the case against the misleadingly named Teaching “Excellence” Framework (TEF), presented our alternative vision of a free education system governed by democracy not the chaos of the market, and through protest and direct action – most notably the boycott of the National Student Survey, which closed for 2017 last weekend – we’ve generated pressure that has extracted concrete concessions from the government. Despite attempts by some student union bureaucrats to wreck the union’s democratically-agreed strategy, the NSS boycott was taken up in large numbers on many campuses, and despite substantial spending by many universities to cajole and bribe(!) students into giving them good marks, participation at a number of institutions is expected to come out below the crucial 50% threshold that makes the data unusable.

The goal of the NSS boycott is leverage. By disrupting a mechanism that is crucial to both the future implementation of the TEF, and the current management of the HE market through league tables and disciplining workers, departments and institutions, we gain power. Instead of coming to the negotiating table empty-handed, hoping (as some student union bureaucrats naively seem to do) to convince an implacably opposed and powerful enemy with a few nice words, we say this to the government and university managers: until our demands are heard and satisfied, you will not be permitted to continue with business as usual.

And our political strategy, including the boycott and many other activities, has indeed begun to win concessions. Many amendments were passed in the House of Lords, and though the Commons reversed many of them, we retained a number, including a tightening of regulations on new private universities, and a delay in the link between the TEF and tuition fees until 2020.

What Parliament does, the streets can undo

But these compromises are not enough. Fees are still set to rise (if only with inflation), the TEF is still coming, and measures to ease and accelerate privatisation will be put into place.

However, the story is not over. Everything the government does, we have the power to resist and reverse. History is littered with failed right-wing initiatives, passed but then withdrawn in the face of protest, direct action and industrial action. Famously, Thatcher’s poll tax was scrapped after enormous numbers refused to pay it and marched in militant demonstrations across the country, making it impossible to implement.

We can and will reverse the higher education reforms by continuing and stepping up our campaign. The NSS boycott begun this year must – as the vote at NUS conference last year mandated – continue until the reforms are dead. To make the 2018 boycott bigger, we should be preparing now, in particular assessing our local campaigns to learn from what worked well, and convincing and signing-up next year’s boycotters as far in advance as possible.

We also need protest and direct action, locally and nationally. Actions should be part of a coherent drive to add to the pressure, win hearts and minds to join the campaign, mobilise and organise activists, put the issue on the public agenda, and issue a show of force to our institutions and the government. We need discussions with education workers, whose trade unions supported our boycott enthusiastically, to see how we can cooperate and how their industrial muscle might be brought to bear on the issue.

And our movement and NUS need to organise all this under the banner of an unequivocal political demand. No fudging and no tinkering round the edges – let’s be crystal clear that we won’t settle for less than the complete reversal of the reforms.

Vision

The campaign also needs to offer a convincing, concrete alternative that can inspire and win people to the cause. We’re not simply asking for the old status quo back and we shouldn’t pretend it was good enough. Instead we want to revolutionise education and build a democratically-run, free-to-access, cradle-to-grave National Education Service, open to everyone and serving people not profit. And we will fund this and other social measures by taxing the rich and taking over the banks. So please keep contributing to NCAFC’s big debate to build our vision of what that would look like.

The General Election

Finally, the results of the upcoming General Election will have a massive impact. As well as the smaller parties on the left, now the Labour leadership supports free education too. We want opposition parties to pledge that they will reverse the reforms and build the free and democratic education system we are demanding. If Labour or a Labour-led coalition forms the next government on such pledges, that will be excellent but even then we can’t sit back and rely on leaders to solve our problems for us. They’ll face resistance and pressure to compromise, and we’ll need to stay active to demonstrate support and generate pressure in the opposite direction for the Left to follow through on its promises. And if the election results in a Tory government or a Tory-led coalition, we won’t give up. So either way, protest and direct action will be needed.

Educate, agitate, organise!

We have a big battle ahead of us, but it’s one we can win. So let’s get out there and educate, agitate, organise – keep spreading the word about what is happening, raising our demands and arguing to convince people of our cause, and getting democratically organised for discussion and action. That means both in local groups from campus Free Education campaigns to Labour Clubs, and on the national level – come to NCAFC’s Summer Conference to discuss and decide our next steps.

See you on the streets to reverse the reforms!

Callout: #BursaryOrBust – Join the Walkout and Die In!

bursary or bust profileAs part of their ongoing fight against the scrapping of NHS bursaries, NHS funded students all over the UK will walk out of their placements for two hours on Wednesday 6th April at 10am. This follows a successful walkout in February as part of a nationwide week of action and will be done in coordination with the latest action called by the Junior Doctors, a 48 hour strike which begins that day. Nurses are calling for non-NHS students to meet them in the lobby of two London hospitals, St. Thomas’ and Whitechapel at 10am, and walk out with them in solidarity. At 12pm, they will then head to the Department of Health for a die in.

The die in will highlight the number of NHS students that will be lost due to the cuts to NHS bursaries, as well as the way the government’s programme of cuts, marketisation and privatisation is killing the NHS. Most NHS funded students are from non-traditional backgrounds: a large proportion are mature students or students who have already completed a first degree, and they are disproportionately women, working class, BME or students with caring responsibilities. We know that these are the groups that are hardest hit by debt, and many could not have even contemplated the course without the bursary: following the 2011 hike in tuition fees, there was a massive drop in applications to higher education from mature students. The NHS bursary is vital for a fully funded and well-staffed NHS, and scrapping it will mean that NHS funded students will be forced into debt in order to work for the NHS. According to the Royal College of Midwives, midwifery students will graduate with a debt of £65,000 after a three year course, despite the fact that NHS students work alongside their degrees, often doing unsociable hours which make part-time work impossible. In effect, the removal of the bursary would force prospective nurses and allied health professionals to pay to work.

The campaign to save NHS bursaries is the fight to save the NHS from further cuts, marketisation and privatisation, but also for free, liberated and accessible education and universal living grants, funded by taxing the rich and big business. Fighting alongside NHS students should also be a priority for feminists in the student movement – cuts to NHS bursaries are a feminist issue which must be placed in the context of the imposition of the junior doctors’ contract. If imposed, the new contract is likely to widen the gender pay gap in medicine, and is essentially a penalty for care work, as women tend to spend more years in training than men in order to balance caring responsibilities and their job.

Non NHS students need to fight alongside prospective nurses, midwives and other health professionals – here are some things you can do:

  • Join NHS students in the lobbies of St. Thomas’ or Whitechapel hospital in London at 10am on Wednesday as they walk out of their placements.
  • Join them at the Die In outside the Department of Health at 12pm.
  • Join junior doctors and NHS students on your nearest picket line on Wednesday.
  • Link your free education group with NHS students on your campus and walk out with them!
  • If you’re a delegate at NUS Women’s Conference, vote for motion 307 #BursaryOrBust and Amendments 1 and 2.

NCAFC Northern Ireland Holds Regional Conference

North of Ireland Regional Conference

This is a callout for NCAFC NI’s regional conference on 23rd April. Join the facebook event here

Come along to our NCAFC Northern Ireland Student Conference on Saturday 23rd April. We will also be having our regional meet-up and hope to elect our new NI rep.
The event is aimed to get young people involved with NI Politics and NCAFC

The day will be packed with debates, discussions, games, and guest speakers (politicians) to put your questions too. There will be free pizza for lunch

The event is open to all however the Election/Democratic sesson is only open to NCAFC NI members. Voting Cards will be provided and membership checked

Join today for £1: http://anticuts.com/membership/

The event is free, however if you need help with travel costs please contact us and we will do our best to help!

AGENDA:
9.30am: Breakfast & Registration

10am: Welcome & introduction to NCAFC

10.30am: Debate – ‘Is Free Education Possible?’ with Elliott Lyness Ulster University VP Campaigns

11.15am: Engaging Young People in Left Wing Politics & Socialism

12pm: Lunch

12.45pm: EU Referendum discussion (with special speaker Monty Shield, NCAFC London Rep)

1.30pm: What can NUS-USI do for us (We hope to have someone from NUS-USI Speaking)

2.00pm: Student Hustings Session

2.15pm: What can NUS-USI do for us (We hope to have someone from NUS-USI Speaking)

3pm: Northern Ireland Regional Meeting- Election of NI rep, Organising the Region etc; don’t forget to register to vote on the day if you haven’t already (forms will be available)

*If you wish to stand for the NI Rep on the NCAFC NC Please email [email protected]om with the subject title ‘Northern Ireland Rep’ no later than Saturday 20th April

Liberation Caucus will also be held. These include LGBT+, Women & Non Binary, Black, Disabled, Schools/FE & Universities

NCAFC endorses Jeremy Corbyn for Labour leader

Corbyn picket lineNCAFC is a cross-party (and no party) political alliance. We have members in many different electoral organisations, including Labour, the Greens, Left Unity and others, and members in no electoral organisation – united by shared goals and principles and a willingness to debate and discuss our differences, including our attitudes to electoral politics.

Nevertheless, we cannot and should not say that it is irrelevant to us, as an anti-austerity campaign, that a socialist who stands for many of our principles and has long been a prominent ally to left-wing struggles in education and beyond – Jeremy Corbyn – is credibly contesting the leadership of the main parliamentary opposition party.

Corbyn’s platform is not merely the “least bad” of the contenders – it represents a significant break with the right-wing factions that have controlled the leadership for a long time and that are represented by his rivals.

Most importantly for NCAFC, in education Corbyn proposes to restore maintenance grants and scrap tuition fees, at least for UK students – this was his campaign’s first formal policy announcement. That will help us to shift political debate about education funding onto our terrain both within Labour and more widely, especially if Corbyn does well in the vote.

More broadly, Corbyn’s platform stands for ending austerity, and taxing the wealthiest in our society to shift the burden onto big business and the rich. He led the rebellion of 48 Labour MPs to oppose the government’s brutal attacks on welfare claimants.

The response to this left-wing platform has been huge, and Corbyn’s candidacy has become the focal point of a substantial campaign of supporters. He now leads the polls on first preferences, and some polls predict a win. We are under no illusions that installing a new leader could, on its own, transform the Labour Party, but this is nevertheless a very significant development. (As part of working beyond the leadership contest, we encourage Labour members who agree with our stance on fees and grants to join the Labour Campaign for Free Education, which is affiliated to NCAFC.)

Corbyn should not be uncritically supported. NCAFC encourages him to go further than he has, and commit to both introducing grants and abolishing fees for international as well as UK students, at all levels of further and higher education. And many of our members, including firm Corbyn supporters, have various other political disagreements with him. These should be discussed, not shied away from. Nonetheless, NCAFC believes that fully supporting Corbyn in this election is the only reasonable choice for Labour members and supporters who share NCAFC’s goals and principles.

NCAFC includes both many Labour Party members, and many others who don’t agree that joining Labour is the best course for left-wing activists, regardless of current events in the leadership contest. After discussion among our members and a vote of our National Committee, NCAFC has decided to endorse Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign, although we take no position on whether activists should become Labour members or supporters to vote for Corbyn. We invite NCAFC members to keep debating this question, including by writing opinion articles for anticuts.com.

If you do want to vote for Corbyn, you can do so by joining Labour as a full member or becoming Labour supporter, or if you are in a Labour-affiliated trade union you can sign up to vote for free. The deadline to sign up is 12 noon on 12 August. More details can be found on Corbyn’s campaign website.

Emergency motion proposed to 3 Dec NUS National Exec after free education demo

NCAFCNCAFC members and supporters have submitted the following emergency motion to the 3 December NUS National Executive Council meeting in Liverpool, follwing the success of our free education demo.

In the aftermath of the appalling move by the NUS leadership to withdraw support in the run-up to the demonstration (despite a democratic mandate from the NEC), we demand that our national union reinstates its support for a meaningful campaign for free education. A meaningful campaign – a campaign that can win – must embrace protest and direct action, such as the days of action that NCAFC has called on 3 and 6 December. It must respond firmly against violence and repression inflicted on student protesters by police. And it must hold to account both the Coalition government and Labour for their failures on the question of education funding.

We are calling on the NUS National Executive to pass this motion and commit to the fight.

EMERGENCY MOTION: RESPONSE TO 19 NOVEMBER DEMONSTRATION

NUS NEC notes

1. The big turn out, positive vibe and impact of the 19 November free education demonstration.
2. The violence and repression police once again handed out to student protesters, including arrests, assaults by the cops and one student from Goldsmiths who was badly beaten and had to go to hospital immediately after his release.
3. That the government has responded to the demo by saying that it has no intention of abolishing fees, and that free education is incompatible with well-funded universities; while the Labour Party has not responded at all.
4. That the racists of UKIP demagogically “expressed support” for the demo, while also condemning alleged student violence.

NUS NEC believes

1. That the thousands of students who worked to make the demonstration a success should be congratulated.
2. That it is vital that NUS speaks out, firstly, to condemn the police response and secondly to challenge the government and Labour on the question of education funding.

NUS NEC resolves

1. To reaffirm our support for free education.
2. To issue a statement condemning the police violence on the demo, and replying to the government’s claims (we want a free, well-resourced education system, in both FE and HE, and other services funded by taking wealth from the rich).
3. To include a call on Labour to adopt free education as its policy.
4. To support and promote the upcoming 3 and 6 December days of action.

Free Education and PhD students

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

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

Access

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

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

Stipend cuts

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

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

Academic freedom

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

Unfunded PhDs

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

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

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

Fair Play for TAs

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

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

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

Free education

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

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

 


* Calculated using these figures and this RPI calculator

NCAFC National Conference will be on 13-14 December – save the date!

ncafcdemo

This autumn we may well see a major wave of action from students for free education, against fees cuts and debt. We need action now to save education – demos, walkouts, occupations and more.

But action can’t happen in isolation. It needs to be co-ordinated nationally and it needs to be democratically agreed. That is why NCAFC exists.

NCAFC’s National Conference is where we students from all over the country come together to discuss the progress of the struggles for free, just and democratic education, and to democratically plan action in the months to come. We also elect a National Committee to coordinate things for the coming year. There will be workshops, discussions, debates and votes as well as caucus meetings of our liberation campaigns.

The date has been set for the weekend of 13-14 December, so put it in your diaries! Attendance, as ever, will be free of charge. More details will be released as the venue is confirmed and other arrangements are made.

In order to attend NCAFC conference, you will need to be a member. Joining costs just £1, and can be done online or by post.