Report from the EAN Conference

by Nick Evans, Oxford EAN

Our Universities are Not Supermarkets: Education Activist Network Conference: 28 October

When Jacqui Mitchell, of University of East London UCU, complained to management about their contempt for public education, she was told: “You’ve just got it completely wrong. It’s a product.”

The education workers and students who gathered at SOAS this Sunday for the Education Activist Network conference were determined to fight for a different vision.  From the opening plenary session, at which Jacqui spoke, both the scale of the coordinated attacks on our education system and the will to resist were clear.  Although Willetts’ White Paper was officially shelved, speakers revealed the extent to which stratification and marketisation are being pushed through the back door. The attempt to close courses such as Manchester’s Applied Youth and Community Studies is yet another example of the way the public worth of education is being undermined for the sake of private interests.

Meanwhile, the brutality of the government’s divide and rule tactics was seen this autumn with Theresa May’s announcement that 2,500 international students at London Met were to be deported within sixty days. Mark Campbell, of London Met UCU, pointed to the perverted logic of recent developments there: the crisis that Theresa May had created had now driven the university to the point of bankruptcy, leading the government to say that private providers would have to come in. In the face of such attacks, Mark argued, we have no option but to go on the offensive. Alberto Toscano echoed this call in the final session.

The conference then moved into a series of workshops. In a session entitled ‘Our Education, Not Your Business’, the current crisis was put in the context of the changes to higher education over the past few decades. Nina Power pointed to the way post-1992 institutions were put under pressure to compete in an artificial and destructive market, while Alex Callinicos pointed to the ways in which the logic of competition is driven through universities by the Research Excellence Framework. A meeting on FE colleges called for HE and FE students to build links to put pressure on the NUS bureaucracy to take the interests of FE students seriously, and discussed how to build for the November 21st student demonstration by winning the support of NUT and UCU members in the colleges.

A meeting on the student demo on November 21st emphasised the importance of coordinating efforts with UCU and support workers, and called on EAN to produce pamphlets for the purpose. The 14th November is the date set for a European General Strike, so it was decided to call for lunch-time demonstrations and walk-outs on that day. Beyond Nov21, Osborne will be announcing the Budget on 5 December, so plans were initiated for a demonstration at parliament. A session on rent campaigns emphasised the increasing pressures students are now under. A toolkit for SUs to expose dodgy landlords was exposed, and the importance of building campaigns from the grass-roots was stressed.

Local struggles were put into international perspective with a session led by speakers from Greece, Quebec, Chile and Italy. Elisavet Mantzari of ANTARSYA pointed to the historical context of current Greek struggles, from the time of the dictatorship to the student protests that preceded the demonstrations on the memorandum. The organisational lessons that can be drawn from the victories of the Quebec students were discussed. Hope can also be drawn from the example of Chile, where many school students (known as ‘los penguinos’) involved in the 2006 revolt have now ignited the rebellion on university campuses. The same may now play out here as many FE students of 2010 enter universities.

A session on the Post-Graduate Workers Association (PGWA) looked at the conditions of post-grad teaching assistants, and the potential they have to organise within both NUS and the UCU. The use of existing graduate representation on SUs to raise work issues was discussed, as were surveys to gather more information about work conditions. It was agreed that EAN and PGWA should work to turn an anti-casualisation day called by UCU for March into an entire week of events to bring the campaign alive.

A meeting on sexism on campus discussed the increasing prominence of pro-life groups on campus, and campaigns to respond to them when they appear. It also discussed childcare issues for students and workers. Issues of sexual violence and the misogynistic culture associated with club promotion were also addressed. Meanwhile, a session organised by Defend the Right to Protest emphasised the importance of defence campaigns and linked the victimisation of students with that of trade unionists. It called on people to publicise and attend Alfie Meadows’s re-trial, which begins in Woolwich crown court on Monday 29 November, and lasts for 12 days.

Alfie spoke himself at the final session, alongside a student from London Met, Alberto Toscano, John Holmwood and Jim Wolfreys. John Holmwood emphasised the levels of public support for public education and pointed to the twisted logic by which the government identified ‘public interest’ with the market standing of individual institutions, rather than with the provision of quality education to the public as a whole.  Jim Wolfreys closed the day by elaborating further on the bullying neo-managerialism in the higher education system, where 950 managers now earn more than the Prime Minister and by calling on students and education workers to unite for a different type of education.


Report from the struggle for education in the Spanish state

by Albert Garcia, student activist in the Spanish state

As in Greece education is one of the main targets of the Spanish state’s austerity politics. The public education system has been attacked ruthlessly and with increasing intensity throughout last year and the beginning of this one. The budget cuts affect the entire educational community, whether nurseries, primary, secondary or higher education, whether workers or students: layoffs, increased working hours, salary reductions, fewer teachers, overcrowded classrooms, worse study conditions  — and the ‘gentrification’ of education, embodied in the brutal 66% hike in higher education tuition fees.

The education reform bill approved by the Conservative government a few weeks ago is a classist and sexist attack on the fundamental right to universal public education, allowing public funding of sex-segregated schools and erecting new obstacles to limit the number of students able to access higher education. It is clear that the words of the Education Minister, José Ignacio Wert, that “not everyone should be able to study”, are not just rhetoric. The probable bail-out of the Spanish state will only worsen the situation.

But austerity in education and especially in higher education has encountered growing resistance. Last year saw big demonstrations of tens of thousands of students, teachers and university workers, and several college strikes. The climax was on May 22, with the first general strike in education for several decades. And the summer break has not broken resistance.

On October 11, the first college strike of the present academic course took place. Last week the unions called three days of struggle in education. Especially in secondary schools in almost every city of the Spanish state this call was welcomed. On October 18, we experienced a historic breakthrough when parents’ associations joined school students on strike, showing the rage against austerity and against Minister Wert, who sought to criminalise the protests by saying that these were instigated by far-left students.

The academic year has begun early with protests, but if we want to stop cuts and privatization we must forge a massive student movement in every college, on every campus and in every secondary school. We must also link the struggles, connecting students with teachers and other public sector workers.  This is a fight of the entire working class against austerity and debt re-payments. The November 14 General Strike in Southern Europe will be a day to show and forge that unity.

Students, mostly young unemployed or semi-employed workers in precarious workplaces with no trade union tradition, have to be active in the general strike. We need to close schools, colleges and workplaces and march alongside the rest of the working class to show that we want public, accessible education for all. We will defend the social rights of the working class and smash austerity like in Quebec.


At the Education Activist Network Conference we will hold a session on international student struggles. The conference will bon Sunday October 28 @SOAS, 11-5am.

Support our teachers – UEL academic staff to strike

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Support our teachers – UEL staff to strike

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Dear EAN

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Save Applied Community and Youth Work Studies at Manchester University

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The Applied Community and Youth Work Studies (ACYWS) has provided opportunities for students to participate in higher education at the University of Manchester for nearly 25 years, growing in stature, and achieving a reputation as one of the best courses of its kind in the country. Previously at the forefront of the widening participation agenda, the University can rightly claim that this programme has ensured that many students with credible experience have been able to secure good quality degrees that would have been denied them had the emerging concentration on ‘A’ level attainment been enforced. Read more of this post