Warwick For Free Education’s (WFFE) response to the University Council and Senate’s statements on the higher education reforms and Prevent.
News has come through regarding progress on two of our key campaigns: the higher education reforms and the University’s compliance with the government’s racist ‘counter-terrorism’ Prevent programme. These announcements are welcome, and almost entirely the product of the hard work of WFFE, the SU and staff members throughout the year.
The proposed higher education reforms are a neo-liberal project of forced marketisation: further tuition fee rises, entrance into the market of private for-profit providers, dodgy quality-survey metrics and the possibility of entire universities going bust. Prevent is widely condemned as a racist, ineffective part of the state’s security apparatus, creating “one of the most elaborate systems of surveillance ever seen in Britain,” according to the Institute of Race Relations.
WFFE helped spearhead a campaign in the 2015/16 year with Warwick UCU and sympathetic staff members against Prevent and the HE reforms. These links between students and University staff have undoubtedly made us stronger: we called a meeting of the Assembly – a democratic body of academics – during which staff overwhelming condemned the proposed reforms to Higher Education and the Prevent strategy.
Recently, it was announced that University Council, the University’s supreme governing body, has expressed “similar views” to the Assembly motions. Vice Chancellor Stuart Croft has already met with universities minister Jo Johnson to raise concerns over the HE Paper. Both Council and Senate (the highest academic body at Warwick) lamented how little the views of universities have been taken into account during the progression of the HE Green Paper to a White Paper (something that, unfortunately, doesn’t come as much of a surprise).
Council discussed some of the problems with the HE reforms including visa issues for international students and the fact that the Teaching Excellence Framework does not measure teaching quality but merely “a set of metrics including historic rankings (e.g. of graduate earnings) and the National Student Survey (NSS)” – something we and the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts (NCAFC) have been arguing for years. Luckily for Council, NCAFC and the NUS are calling for a sabotage or boycott of the NSS, something WFFE will be driving forward on campus this year.
The Assembly also demanded minimum compliance with the government’s Prevent agenda. Disappointingly, Council has resolved that the University will continue its approach of “appropriate compliance”. It claims that it will ensure that academic freedom is protected and that implementation is “non-discriminatory”. Given how outrageously counter-productive, authoritarian and racist the policy is, it’s disgraceful that the University continues to do more than it is legally mandated to do to comply. This includes giving extensive trainings to University staff members – which were condemned in a letter from Warwick’s Residential Life Team as racist – and monitoring the Islamic prayer hall. A silver lining and avenue for continuing to pressure the administration, however, is that a working group – including SU president Luke Pilot, Warwick UCU president Justine Mercer and Charlotte Heath-Kelly from the politics department – has been set up to scrutinise how the University is interacting with Prevent. It seems that the entire SU sabb team are against Prevent, and the national environment is increasingly hostile to it. There is a real opportunity in the coming year to negotiate and push the University to adopt an approach of minimum compliance or even set a precedent by refusing to comply with Prevent. In our opinion it is high time that Warwick acknowledge its strategic power and influence and explore the possibility of refusing to cooperate with racist laws.
It’s no doubt that our efforts – raising awareness, occupying the finance office, holding a road blockade and march, lobbying the University – have been instrumental in holding the University to account on these issues. We will be continuing this work, in solidarity with staff and the SU, in the 2016/17 year.