Report from Newcastle meeting
November 11, 2011 Leave a comment
Newcastle University UCU held a very successful meeting last Friday on the Higher Education White Paper and the marketisation of academia supported by the other campus unions. There was over 50 people present and students made up about half of the audience.
The meeting was built by leafleting sessions and other activities run in parallel with publicising the USS pensions dispute. For example in one School UCU members got together and composed a message that was circulated around all of the students both explaining the action on the pensions dispute and advertising the meeting on the HE White Paper.
The UCU national officials are promoting a campaign against the White paper. This was illustrated in an excellent talk by Michael MacNeil the leading official for UCU Higher Education who described the likely impact of the White paper. He suggested it would lead to the undermining of pay and conditions including the destruction of staff pensions if left unchallenged.
Then Professor John Holmwood the main speaker from The Campaign for The Public University gave an erudite explanation of the context of the White Paper especially the central role of neoliberalism in subverting educational, cultural and scientific values. He noted that at a recent meeting the Head of Universities UK (UUK) had said that Institutions at all levels, including Russell Group universities, were potentially at risk of closure. The Head of UUK had predicted that there could be universities in serious financial trouble as early as 2012. John proposed a “plan B” which centred on increasing investment in post-16 education.
Mark Bergfeld from the NUS then spoke about how the campaign against the cuts had been inspired by the huge joint NUS\UCU demonstration on 15 November last year detonating a nationwide series of occupations. He also described the international situation including the 6 month struggle by the Chilean students against their government cut backs and the Occupy movement.
The debate was lively and one theme that came out was the centrality of student and staff unity in campaigning against the White paper – the key dates being the November 9 student demonstration and the 30 November strike date.
A “Reclaim your lunch hour” was also announced as a local UCU action as part of the work to contract dispute on defending USS pensions. Everyone was invited to a collective lunch break in the following week. The meeting helped to explain carefully the detail behind the White Paper and on the back of this about a dozen Education Activist Network pamphlets on the Higher Education White Paper were sold.
It also united all levels of the UCU union and helped cast a basis for a campaign against the White Paper to which the students were also central.