No room in Oxford for David Willetts

(For more details on why we picketed David Willetts, it is well worth reading the piece also on the EAN website, in conjunction).

Students from all over Oxford gathered today to send a resounding message of no confidence in universities minister David Willetts, in a picket at St Peter’s College that lasted around two and a half hours.  At the start there were around 150 to 200 students assembled, enough to fill a large part of the street outside the hall.

Today’s protest reflects a growing anger among the student body, as the first year hit by the fee rises enters Oxford. Turnout was considerable, and swelled further by students from Brookes and Ruskin. The mood was energetic and militant, and Willetts was prevented from speaking for more than ten minutes due to the protest.

From the occupation of the Radcliffe Camera to the large and lively protest against Vince Cable in Oxford in 2010, we have a strong tradition of opposing attacks on higher education. The message today was clear- stopping Willetts being welcomed to Oxford was just the beginning. The next step is to join the thousands of students that will be in London on November 21st. We need to demonstrate that when Willetts and his colleagues attack our education, we will fight back.

See you in London on the 21st.

Nathan Akehurst

Update: Defend Ian Parker

This article should be read alongside China Mills’ letter about the suspension

MMU has now decided that a disciplinary hearing will go ahead on the two charges that Ian ‘constructed and widely distributed an email, which intended to undermine the credibility of a Head of Department’ and that ‘distribution of this email constitutes a failure to comply with a reasonable management instruction’. Read more of this post

No Confidence means No Confidence

click on image for fb event

Last Year our tutors and lecturers at Oxford University sent out a resounding message of no confidencein David Willets. This Friday 9th November he is being welcomed back, on a shared platform, as part of a humanitus programme lecture series.

As  universities across the country face funding cuts; courses are being demolished and staff outsourced- St Peter’s have invited the figurehead of this overhaul to speak. Whilst ignoring the irony given the broad themes of the lecture series; the arts, social sciences and humanities (the degrees most at risk of becoming redundant due to their “unprofitability”) -the insensitivity and political ramifications of this matter.

Willetts’ presence as a speaker sends the signal of recognition and condonence for his position and policies. This will be particularly painful to first years in the audience who are part of the first cohort of an extortionately indebted generation. More widely it will be a sign of ‘back to business as usual’ as Oxford’s priviledged position enables it to abandon its defence of the values of Higher Education without significant material consequence.

The landslide vote of 283 to 5 in the Sheldonion Last June signalled a commitment to the values of a public education system. Staff from accross the academic and political spectrum joined together to express their diagreement with the government’s higher education policies of privitization and marketization.

Willetts’ higher education white paper proposed the slashing of funding to higher education institutions; the aboltion of courses that were deemed ‘not profitable’; ‘unviable’ universities being allowed to go to the wall and the outsourcing of staff. Private companies were encoraged to get involved in Education effectvely enabling public money to be turned into private profit. This marketization of universities along with budget cuts and the raising of fees to £9,000 create what Oxford history professor Robert Gildea called “a red carpet for the rich” describing the reforms as “reckless, incoherent and incompetent”.

Oxford academics in their vote, were confirming what a series of independent experts and the Public Accounts Committee had already made clear; that 80% cuts, trebling tuition fees and cuts to research facilities are unfair, unnecessary and unsustainable. Whilst success has been made insofar as the government has ‘indefinitely’ postponed the white paper; universities across the country, including some of the ‘top’ Russell group universities such as Manchester are experiencing job cuts, outsourcing and courses being slashed.

Oxford is lucky enough to be in a strong position to retain standards and independence from the government. Due to much of its revenue coming from wealthy donors and alumni as opposed to central government cuts to resources are having less of a devastating effect here than they are across other Higher Education Institutions.

However, as one of the most reputable higher education institutions in the country, Oxford must stick to the principles it so strongly committed to last year.  Tutors and Lecturers were voting not as academics or individuals but as citizens concerned for the future of the Higher Education community. When Kate Tunstall closed last year’s debate with: “This is a big thing for Oxford to do; it’s also not just the right thing to do, but the good thing to do. Let’s take a deep breath and, in unison, in concert, hold a single, stirring note: the positive sound of the tradition and values we wish to defend”, staff and students were in accord.

Inviting Willets to speak disregards the united front the Oxford Students and Academics took. Permitting him a platform as part of a series of high profile lectures, sends a contradictory message to that of no confidence.

When we voted no confidence we showed a commitment to the values of a public higher education system and support with Higher Education Institutions across the county. A protest has been called with the support of EAN and St Anthony’s GCR. We must signal to prospective students, the higher education community and the government that we still have no confidence in David Willetts.

Emily Cousens, Oxford University student & Education Activist Network

Reflections of a SU President on #demo2012

by Nathan Bolton, President at Essex SU & Education Activist Network

Click on image for resources for #demo2012

After attending the NUS Higher Education Zone Conference in Manchester this week, I thought I’d blog my thoughts on the event, as well as addressing some wider political questions around the demonstration and the movement.

For those who aren’t aware, the NUS Zone conferences are billed as events to steer policy of the Union in the run up to the annual conference and shape the political dialogue within its democratic structures. In fact, the conversations are one way, from the leadership to those assembled in front of them, and the ability of individuals to seriously influence policy are negated by the undemocratic nature of the event. Whilst this is not unexpected – it is important to set this premise to put into context the rest of the post.

The event therefore for the Left is little more than an opportunity to sound out the leadership on the activities of the Union and speak with Sabbatical officers around the country – particularly now about the 21.11.12 national demonstration.

It is clear that there is a feeling of disorientation within the student movement since the defeat of 2010. This is clear in campuses across the UK where students are pressurized by the prospect of student debt, the necessity of a ‘good’ degree (2:1 or 1st) and Universities stressing graduate ‘employability’. The effect of this is to accentuate competition between students and weaken the bonds of solidarity between them.

This disorientation stretches even to the Left – students who became activists in 2010 notice most keenly that the level of struggle is much lower and without a vote to use as a signpost their responses range  from demoralisation to ultra-leftism.  So what does that mean for the movement?

The NUS leadership and the demonstration

From the experience of Manchester last week, it is clear that NUS has spent the summer and first weeks of term attempting in vain to quieten dissent – both from the Unions on the right, who are as against the national demonstration as they were in annual conference, and those on the left who feel that the demonstration, and particularly its slogan fail to fulfill the mandate passed at conference.

NUS is not in a position to either provide political leadership for the demonstration, nor put its organisational weight behind the further action post-demo which is so important. The perspective of the leadership at the Manchester conference can be summed up in short: ‘Students are angry, education is under attack but NUS has neither the political ability or will to defend education. We need a demonstration of 10,000 who will glibly shuffle through London, go home and lead soft campaigns “in the community” and become the  door knockers for Labour in 2015′.

NUS wants a small demonstration as a stick with which to beat the left. It would for the leadership prove to the student movement that the tactics of the street and the strike, as shown most brilliantly in Quebec, are not applicable to the UK. This bankruptcy of the NUS, especially with the ‘Quebec model’ looming large will reignite the arguments for a new campaigning national students union, like that of CLASSE. So what are our tasks and do we have the capability to live up to them?

Tasks of the left 

The NUS at the Zone Conference was fixated on the idea of ‘public value’ – how does our movement and our Union theorise the idea of Universities as a public good? This is clearly a step forward. The language used by both NUS and other Sabbatical officers shows a shift toward the rejection of marketisation of education and uses many of the rhetorical flourishes of the left.

Despite this shift, it is clear that what NUS lacks is the political capability and will to lead a defence of education on the basis of these values. It cannot again be in the situation of 2010 where the movement nearly moved outside of its control. Sabbatical officers and activists are invited to discuss the ideological avenues of what education would look like as a public good, but not crucially how to fight for it and win.

We are in a position in which free education, student grants and the reversal of cuts to arts and humanities are as “utopian” as the proposal of £6,000 fees of the Labour Party. In this climate, we need to re-orientate the movement around these simple principles and demands.

  • Education is not under attack in isolation. Austerity due to the financial crisis has pushed governments to cut state expenditure to increase profitability and prove themselves as defenders of ruling class interests. We need unity with all those who are losing out as a result of austerity measures.
  • The single biggest blow to marketisation in education would be if we no longer had to pay for it – we must demand immediately free education, funded by taxing the rich.
  • Fees are not the only barriers to education – many students are priced out of halls, equipment and the other essentials that a student requires. We must demand the installation of a system of living grants.
  • Investment in education, both HE and FE to relieve under-staffed and under equipped institutions funded by taxation of the rich.

On such a programme, we need to work toward the maximum possible unity between the existing national and local education campaigns such as the Education Activist Network, Campaign for the Public University, Free Education Network, National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts, the local anti-cuts groups and assemblies. Our focus must be on forming a coherent strategy for both making the demonstration highly political  and carry these demands, but crucially be able to initiate activities after the demonstration to take the anger that will be on display on the 21st back to our campuses into something unified and effective.

It is without doubt that this academic year will be difficult -but we must throw ourselves into making the demonstration on the 21st big, but crucially promote our local networks to build organisations outside of the NUS which can lead the movement to such victories was were seen in Quebec.

This article does not necessarily reflect all those active in the Education Activist Network. Have your say – email educationactivist@gmail.com

The Education Activist Network is organising an open organising meeting at SOAS at 7pm on November 7. Click here

For a full report from EAN Conference (click here) and Action points (click here)

November 14 – Day of action

On November 14, more than ten million workers will be striking across 6 European countries. The Education Activist Network has decided to call a day of action to coincide with the general strike. Please send us your actions, demos etc to educationactivist@gmail.com

Demonstration at the Home Office (London)

On going campaign to reverse the UKBA decision

- Lobby Home Secretary Teressa May for an immediate amnesty to all of London Met’s current international students so they can fully complete their courses and programmes of study;

- Reverse the decision to revoke London Met’s Tier-4 license; protect the long term financial viability of London Met as a community-based public university by requiring the Higher Education Funding Council of England (HEFCE) to appropriately reschedule the university’s £15M+ repayments due to it

DEFEND EDUCATION! NO TO AUSTERITY! (Leeds)

On the 14th November millions of workers and students across Europe will be striking and protesting against austerity. In Greece, Spain, Portugal, Cyprus and Malta general strikes are being organised. Italian and Belgian trades unions have decided to join the action and there will also be solidarity action in France and Germany.

In Leeds students and staff will demonstrate to show our opposition to cuts in education and in solidarity with those fighting austerity!

Demonstration: Defend Education & Solidarity with the European Strikes (Manchester)

From Athens and Madrid to Manchester, ordinary people continue to fight back against a deepening economic crisis. On 20 October, 200,000 workers, students, pensioners, disabled people and unemployed marched together in London against Austerity.
The struggle continues: on 14 November, the European TUC has called for a day of action and millions of workers will strike in Portugal, Spain, Greece and Italy.

We need to show solidarity with them!Defend education!Since in office, the coalition government has launched serious attacks on our education: tripling tuition fees, scrapping EMA, closing down courses resulting in numerous job losses while university services are being outsourced and lecturers such as Ian Parker and Chrsitine Vié (MMU) who stand up against these attacks are being victimized and suspended.

British universities are being driven by priorities shaped by the needs of big business and this restructuring of higher education is part of a much broader economic and political process which reaches universities all over the world known as neoliberalism.

The government is determined to turn education into something to be bought and sold while trying to turn students into passive consumers and staff into service providers. They value marketing and branding more than critical thought and academic independence.

At Manchester University, Professor Brown from the School of Education has announced the closure of the Applied Youth and Community Work course claiming ‘there is no point to the course’.

Students & staff will demonstrate on that day to show our opposition to cuts in education and in solidarity with those fighting austerity!

Action points from the EAN Conference

  1. To build the broadest and biggest possible demonstration on November 21
  2. To strengthen the links between FE activists and university students in the run-up to November 21 demonstration
  3. To call lunchtime demonstrations in support of the European General strike on November 14
  4. To call on NUS to call walkouts when George Osborne announces his autumn budget on December 5.
  5. To continue publicising global student struggles on the website and in pamphlet form.
  6. To continue building links with global education struggles such as Quebec, Chile, Italy and Greece through organising speaking tours, video link-ups etc
  7. To publish briefings on the continued neoliberal transformation of our universities
  8. To publish agitational materials i.e. stickers/posters and slogans about how neoliberalism is transforming the university
  9. To continue to work with the Postgraduate Worker Association and develop tools for postgraduate workers in the UCU
  10. To continue to work closely with the Defend the Right to Protest Campaign and be part of setting up defence campaigns
  11. To work towward the broadest possible unity between the existing national and local education campaigns such as the Campaign for the Public University, Free Education Network, National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts, local anti-cuts groups and assemblies. 

The Education Activist Network will be organising an open organising meeting at SOAS on Wednesday, November 7 at 7pm.

Resources for #demo2012

#demo2012 BW poster

EAN Nov 2012 demo BW a5 leaflet

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