UCL students protest the Teaching Excellence Framework

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By Justine Canady, UCL

On 13 December, UCL we held a demonstration against the HE reforms at UCL. This protest was a part of a larger campaign started by our group of student activists, many of us from UCLU Labour Society, to defend higher education. Our campaign is focused on urging UCL’s Provost, Michael Arthur, to opt out of the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF). We are supported by numerous UCL Union officers and other UCLU societies.

UCLU Labour Society sent a petition in the form of an open letter (with 429 signatures) to the provost 16 December. The petition called TEF’s metrics “not relevant to actually improving teaching”, claiming that such an “arbitrary” framework would raise tuition fees, open the door for big business, create unfair requirements for staff, compromise academic freedom, and make UCL inaccessible to even more students. The letter goes on to say that Arthur called TEF “unnecessary” nearly a year ago.

There have been numerous closed-door meetings to discuss TEF, but Arthur has yet to publicly denounce the scheme. Our campaign promises to keep agitating until students’ needs are met and we hope to see other campaigns like this across the country soon. Next term, with the support of our student union, we’ll be building the drive to boycott the NSS unless and until the government drops the reforms.

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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.

Labour leaders’ refusal to set policy on education funding is cowardly dithering

Photo of Liam Byrne MP (Shadow Minister for Universities, Science and Skills) at a podium

Just weeks after releasing his feeble, reactionary essay on education policy, “Robbins Rebooted”, Labour’s shadow HE minister Liam Byrne has said it would be “tough” to make its fees policies clear before December. This is a back-track from Labour’s earlier position. The party had previously appeared likely to announce that they would cut the undergrad UK/EU fee cap from £9000 to £6000. That would have been far from enough – we would continue to fight the proposals and demand free education – but at least it would have been a clear plan. This retreat echoes Byrne’s refusal in “Robbins Rebooted” to go beyond vague noises to clear commitments on a postgraduate fee policy.

The Labour leadership says it is holding off committing to spending on this and other areas, but it is still banking on students’ votes, which it describes as “critical”. It has caved and embraced the logic of austerity, and expects us to do the same. We refuse.

There is no justification for this conservatism. The money is there: in fact, our society is awash in immense wealth. The only issue is that that wealth is squandered, locked up in the bank accounts, mansions and businesses of the rich. Labour claims to be the party of the working class. If so, it should commit to taking back the wealth that class creates, and putting it to better use. Propose serious, properly enforced taxes on the income, assets and businesses of the wealthy, and take the banks under democratic control. Use this vast wealth to provide free, accessible education at every level, to rebuild and improve the NHS and other public services, and to guarantee decent wages and benefits.

Simple.

Young LGBTQ people need the right to live independently: defend benefits from Labour leaders’ attacks

Ben Towse, NCAFC LGBTQ caucus

Content note – this article discusses homophobic and transphobic intolerance and abuse within families

Photo of Liam Byrne MP (Shadow Minister for Universities, Science and Skills) at a podium

Liam Byrne, Labour’s Shadow Minister for Universities, Science and Skills, last week reiterated his party’s intention to deny 18-21 year olds access to Jobseekers Allowance (JSA). In his essay on post-16 education and training policy, “Robbins Rebooted”, he wrote that instead, young people out of work or education should be given a “Youth Training Allowance”, which would be means-tested based on their parents’ income, and which would be taken away if they did not accept training programmes and stay in them.

Like the Tories’ previous attempts to cut housing benefit to under-25s – which Byrne and Labour themselves criticised – this is a foul assault on all young people. Such policies blame young workers for their poverty and mass unemployment: as if by bullying us into “rolling up our sleeves” and getting stuck in, decently-paid jobs will magically appear for us to fill. But even more perniciously, because these policies are founded in the assumption that young adults should remain dependent on their families, they threaten particularly acute consequences for LGBTQ youth, among others. Labour is not only abdicating, once again, its supposed role as champion of the working class, but also its claim to a positive record on LGBTQ liberation.

The assumption that parents will step in to support young adults is all very well for those fortunate enough to come from families that are financially secure and accepting of their childrens’ identities and lives. But many families, for all sorts of reasons, either refuse to support their children, or make their support conditional upon their own views of who their children should be or how they should live their lives. This is not to mention those simply unable to supply the necessary level of support; some always fall through the gaps in means-testing systems. For LGBTQ young people hiding their sexuality or gender identity from intolerant families, some in fear for their safety, these policies mean prolonging the pain of being trapped in the family home. And many young people who are out of the closet are subject to intolerance and abuse, or are simply prevented from living as who they are. Financial dependence is frequently used as a tool by abusers to control their victims and prevent them taking action or leaving. Easy availability of financial independence from the family is a key class struggle demand for LGBTQ liberation.

Labour’s policy is based on proposals from the “progressive” IPPR think-tank, which says the system should mirror means-tested access to undergraduate maintenance. That system supposedly allows students who cannot rely on support from their parents to be recognised as estranged and funded as independent. However, to do this you have to convince Student Finance – and presumably in future your Jobcentre – that you are completely estranged from your parents and have been for some time. The burden of proof is, of course, entirely on the applicant (proving such claims can be difficult to do and a distressing process in itself), and if recent history is any indicator, harsh targets for cuts will be set that push assessors to reject the claimant. Moreover, none of this is any help to those who are in the closet, still living with intolerant families or even just keeping in touch: even unsuccessful attempts at reconciliation have been held against applicants. In this way, the system demands that young LGBTQ people struggling with their families, or even just individual family members, completely give up on their entire families and cut them out. A bitter irony, given the conservative moralising of the major political parties about the importance of the family unit.

And if young people don’t comply with the training “offered” to them, they will be cut off entirely. There is no guarantee that what’s provided will be remotely useful or relevant to each individual forced into it, and as with other benefits sanctions this is yet another example in which something painted as an opportunity becomes a moralistic stick with which to beat disadvantaged people, or cut them off to save money. Moreover, the IPPR proposals would fund this involuntary training by “redirecting” up to £1.5 billion from skills and apprenticeships for older adults: voluntary opportunities are to be raided to fund involuntary programmes! Parents’ access to Child Benefit and Child Tax Credit will also be cut back from age 20 to school-leaving age, so they will be expected to support their adult children while having the means to do so removed.

Byrne only mentions JSA and doesn’t say whether Labour plans also to cut almost all young peoples’ access to Employment & Support Allowance, which the IPPR does advocate as part of the same reform. ESA supports those unable to work due to illness or disability*. Replacing it with a system that demands they “take responsibility” for training their way into work or lose the support they need to survive is dangerous and cruel, and in many cases nonsensically so.

The ruling class’ media and politicians rail against a “culture of entitlement” as they launch these attacks. The members of that same ruling class live lives of incredibly disproportionate privilege and luxury. The exploited working class of our world produces more than enough wealth for every human being on the planet to exist very comfortably. So it is not too demanding, but extremely modest to feel entitled, at minimum, to whatever share of that wealth is needed for us to live decently, and with the liberty to be who we want and live as we wish.

That means, from at least age 16, living stipends for every student, living wages for every worker, and full living benefits for those not in work or education.

Student and trade unions, left activist organisations, and advocacy groups like Stonewall – have a responsibility to take up this struggle. We should fight tooth and nail everyone pushing them, but Labour leaders who claim to stand for us, and who are theoretically accountable to the labour movement, must in particular be made to feel the weight of our anger and whatever pressure we can bring to bear.

 

*[CORRECTION: ESA is not only for those unable to work, but also those with a limited ability to work]

New Labour tries to block teachers’ test boycott

A story from the school sector that will interest many FE and HE activists, taken from Solidarity. Support the NUT!

Primary school head teachers, members of the National Union of Teachers (NUT) and National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) will boycott the SATs tests due on 10-13 May.
[Read more…]