NUS NEC report – Ana Oppenheim

Ana OppenheimOn May 30th was the last NUS NEC meeting of the academic year. I haven’t been great at writing NEC reports so far, primarily because NEC meetings are rarely interesting. The majority of time is spent on reports and presentations. Accountability is mostly performative, with questions pre-written by officers and sent to friendly council members, many questions not being read out at all, and FTOs having as little as 20 seconds to respond. There’s no more than an hour, sometimes less, for motions at the very end of a meeting. Sometimes there’s a bit of outrage, genuine or manufactured, and the occasional passionate speech written for a 90-second Twitter video (useful during election season). But ultimately, the result of motions debate often depends on which faction can mobilise more of its members to turn up.

A lot of the real drama happens outside of meetings, during factional pre-meets and in WhatsApp groups. Nothing has made me more critical of some of the left in NUS than having experienced NEC. We’ve seen NCAFC reps being pressured to withdraw a motion on the basis that it would look bad in the media, a liberation rep being attacked for submitting a question on behalf of a member without consulting the “whip,” and many other incidents emerging from a culture where following an arbitrarily set “line” takes priority over healthy internal debate.

Having said that, I have no doubt that the right/moderate faction organises in a similarly undemocratic way but it’s not unreasonable to hold the left to higher standards. We need an NUS where diversity of opinion is seen as a good thing, where representatives elected on their own individual platforms are not expected to just pick one of two sides and blindly follow, where an accountability question is not interpreted as a personal attack. A major culture shift is necessary to build a strong movement that can discuss ideas and challenge itself to effectively fight the government. During my second year, I’m hoping to make more of a conscious effort to challenge informal hierarchies and dodgy behaviour, alongside fellow NCAFCer Hansika Jethnani who was elected on an excellent platform of democratising NUS, and other sympathetic NEC members.

Moving on to the last meeting. Firstly, the meeting was moved from March 31st to 30th just a couple of weeks before the date to avoid clashing with the holidays of Pentecost/Shavuot. This meant a number of members were unable to attend. Then it was announced that staff would withdraw their labour from the meeting, due to breaches of staff protocol. There was a long email thread about whether the meeting should be cancelled or not, which only finished on the morning of the 30th. The meeting went ahead, having just about reached the quorum of 15 members – majority of whom were representatives of Labour Students and Organised Independents.

More time than usual was dedicated to motions – partly because many officers weren’t there to present their reports. First we debated motions remitted from National Conference UD and Welfare zones, most of which passed. I was pleased that a motion about trans and intersex inclusion finally got heard – at Conference it was prioritised worryingly low, after #LoveSUs and discount cards. We also passed good motions on students’ rights at work, promoting evidence-based drug policies instead of a “zero tolerance” approach and resisting the far right, among other more or less useful ones.

A motion to fight landlord cartels fell on the basis that it didn’t specifically mention FE and apprentices. There is an unfortunate tendency in NUS for motions to be voted down not because of what they propose, but because someone isn’t entirely satisfied with the way they are written (let’s recall the infamous amendment about free childcare which fell at LGBT+ Conference this year because it didn’t mention carers of adults.) As if a nice motions document which ticks all the boxes was more important than real work that NUS should be doing in the real world, in this case on the burning issue of student housing.

A decent motion on student hardship passed, however a line about supporting living grants got removed after VP SocCit gave a speech saying that the government should not be giving money to the rich. I got up to make the argument that no adult should have to rely on their parents for financial support, especially since not everyone has a good relationship with their family and not everyone’s parents choose to support them during their studies (“we should be helping not only those whose parents are poor, but also those whose parents are dickheads.”) I also pointed out that NUS already has policy from conference in favour of living grants, so removing it from this specific motion would be meaningless. The parts then passed, changing absolutely nothing about NUS’ position on living grants.

Then we got to new motions. First I spoke on a motion to make the NSS boycott next year more effective by starting early and facilitating SUs to share best practice. The motion was then amended to say it shouldn’t be heard on NEC given that it was deprioritised by Conference, and subsequently fell. It was then misreported by VPUD that NEC voted to end the boycott. This is incorrect – NUS has a mandate from 2016 to boycott the NSS, and the right simply voted down a motion proposing to learn from this year’s experiences and run it more competently. Existing policy was not reversed. We will be holding VPHE to account to make sure the boycott is maintained.

A motion on commemorating the Slave Trade passed, with NCAFC’s amendment to celebrate grassroots resistance. A number of other motions, including Solidarity with the Palestinian People, were withdrawn to allow for a fuller debate at a bigger meeting.

I’ll be writing more reports from the strange world of NUS bureaucracy throughout the next academic year. In the meantime, NCAFC members and all students are welcome to contact me regarding any NEC matters at ana.oppenheim@nus.org.uk.

Sheffield’s fee rise shows why we need disruptive action

sheff tefJosh Berlyne, University of Sheffield

On Monday Sheffield University announced it will be raising tuition fees. As part of opting in to the Teaching Excellence Framework, fees will rise to £9,250 for undergraduates next year, and may rise to £10,000 by 2020.

This has happened despite over 3,000 students, staff and alumni signing an open letter calling on the university to opt out of the TEF.  It has happened despite Sheffield having a Vice-Chancellor who has consistently opposed tuition fees, and who has been vocal in his opposition to the TEF. This highlights a number of important points.

First, opposition to the marketisation and privatisation of universities—which fee rises, the TEF, and the higher education reforms more generally embody—will not be successful if it is localised. Universities are subject to the imperatives of a financial system which is out of their control. Any semblance of democratic control over the financing of higher education (if it could ever have been said to exist) has been blasted away; with central governmental funding slashed, universities must rely on tuition fees to sustain their budgets. As inflation rises, costs rise. This means tuition fees must also rise.

This leads to the second point. Since universities are subject to these financial imperatives, completely out of democratic control, winning the moral argument is not sufficient. No matter how convinced a Vice-Chancellor is that education should be free, they will always give in to the short-term financial pressures imposed on them. Students need to make it in the financial interests of the university and the state to act in the interests of students and workers. That means disruptive action.

The present state of affairs in universities means that the interests of students and workers are placed secondary to the financial interests of universities.  This is the wrong way around. The interests of universities should be put in line with the interests of students and workers.  The only way to do this is through democratic control.

The process of marketisation, which hands control over to the imperatives of the market, is being driven forwards by the present round of higher education reforms.  Thus resisting these reforms is a crucial part of the battle for democratic control.  The NSS boycott, which is being organized on 21 campuses across the country, is one way to generalize this battle.  In disrupting the ways in which universities are internally managed, and disrupting the management of the UK higher education sector as a whole, the boycott gives students the power to force concessions from the government.  On those campuses where a boycott is happening, students should get involved; on those where a boycott is not yet being organized, students should make organizing one their priority.

Union officers: 11 ways you can promote the NSS boycott now!

boycott-the-nssThe NSS boycott is a national campaign – to be successful, we need as many students as possible to know about it and participate, and Students’ Unions have a crucial role to play in that. Here are some ideas of how you can spread the message – use as many of them as you can, and more!

Set up an SU webpage dedicated to the campaign

You need an online space where any students can find out more information about the campaign and, crucially, what they can do to take part. Where possible this should include a mechanism by which students can pledge to boycott and request to opt out of communications from Ipsos Mori. This process is *normally* done via the University and so you may need to have conversations with the relevant university staff member(s) about how to facilitate this. Some institutions might be more awkward about it than others – make sure you stand your ground and insist that this process is a key part of the SU campaign. You want to be able to keep track of how many students have pledged, and from which departments/faculties, so that you can focus your campaign in specific areas if necessary.

Send an all-student email

The easiest and most obvious way of reaching out to students. Make sure they hear about the NSS from you before they do from the university! Include a link to your campaign webpage as well as a clear and concise explanation of why the campaign is so important.

Do lecture shout-outs

It’s easy to ignore emails but most people will remember things they heard in person – especially when they’re in a lecture and (in theory) ready to pay attention! You need to figure out where the key lectures are for you to hit – remember that only a certain demographic of students are eligible to fill out the NSS and so you need to target the right people. Draw up a timetable of relevant lectures, chat to lecturers in advance to ask if you can have 5 minutes at the start to talk about the campaign and leave flyers/stickers for students to pick up at the end. Get to as many of these as you can!

Put up posters

Design your own posters or run a competition for students to make their own – think as creatively as possible! You can also encourage students to take down or deface university posters promoting the survey and share a photo!

Run stalls

You need to make sure the campaign is as visible as possible, and that there are people out there on the ground who can chat to students, answer any questions and, of course, win the key arguments! If possible, have a laptop/tablet at the stall so that students can pledge to boycott right there and then.

Work with your UCU branch

Remember that UCU National Congress passed a motion supporting the NSS boycott! If you haven’t done so already, get in touch with your campus branch to talk to them about how you can work together to promote the campaign. See if staff members would be willing to put up a slide about the NSS boycott at the beginning of their lectures to spread awareness – students generally really respect what academics have to say, and so as much visible support from staff as possible would make a huge difference to the campaign.

Make a video

Simple really – a brief video breaking down what the NSS boycott is and why it’s necessary that can be shared around social media would be really useful!

Do creative actions

Alongside all the regular comms and publicity strategies, you need stunts/actions which will create a proper buzz on campus about the NSS boycott. This could be a banner drop, a sit-in, a rally, a march and more! Collaborate with grassroots activists to ensure maximum impact.

Reach out to societies

If you have any activist groups on campus, political societies (Labour? People & Planet? A strong Fem Soc?) or even less obvious communities (like sports teams?!), speak to them and try to get key people on board e.g society execs – they could send out member emails/general communications about the NSS boycott which will really help with engagement.

Contact course reps

Following on from the previous point, you don’t just want students to hear about the campaign from the SU, but from their flatmates, their fellow society/club members and their coursemates. Hence course representatives are a key group to try and get on board; they will generally be used to chatting to fellow students and spreading awareness/information and so if you can work with them to do this with the NSS boycott it would make a huge difference. You should encourage them to bring the issue up in departmental meetings and ensure you’re supporting them in terms of winning the arguments.

Run workshops

Most importantly, don’t assume that students aren’t interested. The Higher Education reforms – from fee increases, enforced competition, universities shutting down and being replaced with private companies – will affect everyone. It’s your job to break down these issues and make the campaign as accessible as possible, so ensure you’re facilitating spaces where students can access necessary knowledge and information!

Fighting the commodification and casualisation of higher education

Mark Campbell, London Met UCU (Vice-chair), London Region UCU (Higher Education Chair)

Re-posted with permission from London Met UCU’s blog

londonmetmay2016

This Monday, London Met UCU published the damning conclusions of a workload survey we recently conducted. It’s main findings were the shocking, health damaging, increase in workload – following continuing mass redundancies, now affecting London Met’s permanent substantive staff. Essentially, contractual workload protections have been subverted through the convenient mechanism of line-managers not recognising ANY work other than face-to-face lecturer-student teaching as needing to be measured (but still expected under threat of discipline to be conducted). The documented survey comments highlighting those appalling lived-experiences are shocking.

However, what our survey also highlighted was the other, even more discriminating, and health-risking, side of the modern commodified dystopian university: a permanently exploited, zero-houred, reserve army of labour. These staff have zero job-security, zero-reward for years of service, zero-protection from redundancy (their zero-hour contract is constructed to allow them to be permanently-redundant between crumbs of work). The appalling conditions of casualised lecturing staff are not unique to London Met, and are shockingly highlighted in today’s Guardian front-page and accompanying articles.

London Met management may be ahead of the pack in their future-imperfect full on rush to a privatised market dystopia, but the rest of the university sector are now snapping at its heals and about to be let off the leash by the Higher Education Bill 2016.

All university staff, permanent substantive or casualised, have a vested interest in fighting to end the commodification of education, and its equally evil twin, the casualisation of university labour. We need permanent secure contracts for all staff, that truly reflect and reward ALL the work that we do, and we need enough staff that allow us to deliver the sort of quality service that our students deserve. The neo-liberal model has failed. Time to remove it from education.

In these circumstances, and particularly at this critical time, its an absolute disgrace that the current UCU leadership have acted to disarm our members in that fight by dropping our national industrial action and pay campaign that was explicitly aimed at taking on all our employers over their collective guilt and complicity over both increasing casualisation and the equally shocking increasing gender pay-gap.

FInally, with regards to the Higher Education Bill 2016, we don’t need fatally flawed measures of ‘teaching excellence’ or ‘student satisfaction surveys’ – indeed, we should be supporting the NUS decision to boycott the NSS. Instead, what we really need is proper investment in the essential public good that a university education is. That starts with recognising the critical role that university staff play in forming and delivering that public good. It means recognising, as the NUS does, that ‘staff working conditions are students learning conditions’. It means recognising that society as a whole inextricably benefits from an educated workforce and critically engaged citizenry, therefore society should pay for it through student grants and direct university block grants via increased business taxation. We need to break the rod of mass student indebtedness and free from their shackles our indentured university employees.

This is why I, and thousands of others, will be marching this Saturday in London, United for Education.

 

NCAFC responds to the attempt to undermine the NSS boycott

PRESS RELEASE: NUS TO BALLOT MEMBERS ON RISK ASSESSING BOYCOTT

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact: 07895405312, 07584092431, 07901844980

EDUCATION NOT MARKETISATIONThe National Union of Students (NUS) announced on Friday that it will ballot all members on whether to publish a risk assessment and an equality impact assessment of the proposed boycott of the National Student Survey (NSS).

All members will be asked, “Should NUS conduct and publish a risk assessment and equality impact assessment before finalising the NSS boycott / sabotage action?” The ballot was demanded by officers at 35 students’ unions.

In April, student delegates to NUS National Conference voted to boycott the National Student Survey until government scrap the proposed higher education (HE) reforms. By refusing to fill in the survey, students will disrupt government’s flagship proposal, the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF), along with other key market mechanisms. The motion passed at NUS National Conference stated that, “The HE reforms currently being considered by the government represent a fundamental attack on the idea of education as a public service. It is a blueprint for the marketisation of the sector, introducing private providers and variable fees, and orientating the whole sector towards the needs of employers.”

The HE reforms include plans to raise tuition fees and encourage private companies to set up universities. The White Paper on Higher Education also claimed that government has no duty to prevent the closure of public universities. Josh Berlyne, a Sheffield University student, said, “Calling a national ballot to risk assess a boycott? It’s ludicrous. Public education is in crisis right now, and these people are worried about students not filling in a survey. Students and academics are crying out to stop the HE reforms—2,300 at Sheffield University signed an open letter saying so. And while all this is going on, there are students’ union officers who want to slow down the only serious proposal to stop these reforms.”

Sahaya James, student at University of the Arts and NUS National Executive Council member, said, “On one level, calling for a risk assessment of the boycott is laughable. But it’s also insulting. Risk assessments exist to prevent deaths and serious injuries at work. They’re not meant to be used as an underhand tactic to prevent unions from taking effective action. It’s a joke and a disgrace.”

More information on the ballot can be found here: http://www.nusconnect.org.uk/groups/shape-our-work/articles/chief-returning-officer-opens-national-ballot