“We should not get distracted by the empty rhetoric of ‘student power’ from university managers”

The debate on student power was initiated by Harriet Swain  and Liam Burns’ in the pages of the Guardian. We continued the debate on the pages of the EAN blog which in turn led to Michael Chessum’s contribution in the Guardian. 

The contributions below don’t necessarily reflect all opinions represented in the Education Activist Network but seek to make a contribution to the work of EAN and the wider student movement. If you would like to submit a contribution please email educationactivist@gmail.com and we will publish them.

Other contibrutions by Ross Speer, Alan Sears and Mark Bergfeld. Click on ‘Read more’ for the fourth contribution in the series.

As our HE institutions found out they could manipulate the rhetoric of the surge in the student movement in 2010 – we are now being asked to side with management in order to scrutinize our lecturers, and affect their pay, working conditions and ultimately, their jobs. But why have the government and our universities spent so much time and resources restructuring assessment, taking on the language of ‘student power’ and why do they want to come to the table with us?

These changes come because students and workers have built links during the student movement – we have organised together, protested together, and occupied together. It seems strange that Liam Burns is welcoming this new ‘student power’ – however as a rank and file student activist, it is easy to see how the leadership of the NUS spend more time in the boardroom than organising from the grassroots as we have done on each of our campuses.

If it weren’t for the student grassroots pressuring the NUS conference, and the staff at our universities pressuring UCU conference, we would not have had the huge demonstration against cuts and fees in November 2010, where students and lecturers stormed Millbank. The rank and file of this movement will remember joining their lecturers on the picket lines as their pensions were under fire, occupying with them to stop the privatisation of education, and organising meetings to rally students on our campuses.

The solidarity we have with staff is what is stopping management from marching ahead with more cuts and privatisation, our solidarity with lecturers threatens their ideology of a neo-liberal, free market education for the rich. If we break from our lecturers, we not only betray a section of the resistance to the governments attack on education, but we sow the seeds for the failure of the movement.

We must make our message clear, we will not side with management and betray the hard work of education activists. We should not get distracted by the empty rhetoric of ‘student power’ from university managers. Now we will take our message onto our campuses and onto the streets like the students of Quebec – we are not lackeys for the highly paid managers and Vice Chancellors.

If we are faced with student committees on our campuses that have a say in attacking lecturers working conditions, pay or jobs – we need to organise to stop them. If the government is going to take up the rhetoric of democracy we must let them hear what we have to say. Whether it be protesting, rallying, occupying or packing out these student-management meetings with activists – we need to remember that our numbers and solidarity with staff is what will stop these attacks on education.

Max Brophy, Sheffield University

About educationactivistnetwork
The education activist network provides national coordination for trade unionists, academics, university workers and student campaigners fighting to defend jobs and education in the UK.

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