As Warwick for Free Education (WFFE) enters its third year of existence, the country faces further drastic measures imposed by the May government that threaten our universities. A post-Brexit environment has allowed the government to legitimize hostility, racism and xenophobia towards migrants, and endanger the rights of international students. At our own University of Warwick, student rights continue to be limited by management’s High Court injunction against occupations and sit-ins across the campus.
WFFE continues, as it has from its inception, to stand alongside students and staff for a free, democratic and liberated education accessible to all. The three main priorities we will tackle this year are: the Higher Education reforms (including campaigning for a boycott of the National Student Survey [NSS]); strengthening solidarity with all migrants (including international students); and defending the right to protest in the University and beyond.
Higher Education Reforms
The government is planning to implement some of the most drastic and far reaching changes to Higher Education in the last few decades, transforming education from a public good, enriching society and creating a critical space for engagement with the wider society, into a privatised, individual debt-ridden token to a high-paying job.
The Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF), a key part of the reforms, ostensibly measures teaching quality according to a set of metrics that evaluates universities’ ability to produce high earning graduates. These metrics are unrelated to actual teaching quality and poorly quantified through measures like the NSS and graduate earnings, to the detriment of students’ education and already overworked, strained and casualized staff and academics. We stood with staff to pressure the university Senate to not comply with Council’s deplorable decision to opt in to the TEF just the other week.
The reforms will also vastly increase the number of private providers of higher education. These providers have a proven record of fraud, finagling and failure where they have been operating in the US and in further education in the UK. They will drive down standards and put pressure on existing institutions, which will be allowed to collapse under these reforms. A two-tier, marketised, privatised, American-style system awaits if these reforms pass.
The National Students Survey (NSS) is the questionnaire taken by final year undergraduates in an attempt to measure students’ satisfaction with their course. The data collected by the NSS will be used to force universities and courses to compete against each other to achieve a higher ranking. Fortunately, WFFE has successfully campaigned to pass a motion in the Student Union’s autumn policy referendum, mandating the SU to join the nationwide boycott of the NSS.
Ultimately, the government’s HE reforms will allow universities to raise their tuition fees above inflation according to their results in the TEF and NSS. This is one reason why WFFE marched on November 19th alongside staff and students from across the country to protest against the government’s reforms that will only serve to contribute to the marketisation of higher education.
This year, WFFE will do more to increase its solidarity with migrants. Understanding how the education system reproduces racism and discrimination by its treatment of international students is fundamental when fighting for a liberated education. International students are treated as cash cows through the exorbitant amount of fees they are required to pay; but they are not even eligible for the Disability Students’ Allowance, face deportation threats and are forced to register with the police. Nonetheless, migrant solidarity goes beyond the university realm, which is why WFFE last week organised, alongside liberation societies such as Warwick Anti-Sexism Society, Warwick Anti-Racism Society and Warwick Pride, an event which featured the excellent activist organisation Movement for Justice, to inform students on how to take action against draconian and racist immigration controls. As a group we will be joining a demonstration outside Yarl’s Wood detention center on December 3rd, where many migrants are detained indefinitely and are victims of sexual harassment and racist abuse by guards. We will also continue to work alongside staff in our battle against the Prevent agenda, which encourages islamophobia and state surveillance in universities.
Defend the Right to Protest
December 3rd will also mark the two year anniversary of the police brutality that followed a sit-in on campus in support of free education. Despite countless requests for an apology, the University has still failed to acknowledge its complicity in the violence, and students are still suffering from the effects of this unwarranted assault. As a consequence of these events, the University administration spent thousands on a High Court Injunction banning occupation-style protests across campus. This is a blatant infringement on students’ right to protest; occupation have been integral to past victories the world over, including at Warwick – we probably wouldn’t have the Students’ Union building and have achieved divestment from apartheid-linked shares without them. We continue to stand behind direct action as a vital tool of political engagement and dissent.