The TEF: what is it, and why should we oppose it?

The Universities minister, Jo Johnson, delivered a speech on 1st July 2015 at the Universities UK Annual Conference [1] laying out plans to introduce the Teaching Excellence Framework (or the TEF) in England. Johnson described the motivation behind the TEF as follows: to create “incentives for universities to devote as much attention to the quality of teaching as fee-paying students and prospective employers have a right to expect.” Here is the list of Jo Johnson’s aims for the TEF:

  • to ensure all students receive an excellent teaching experience that encourages original thinking, drives up engagement and prepares them for the world of work
  • to build a culture where teaching has equal status with research, with great teachers enjoying the same professional recognition and opportunities for career and pay progression as great researchers
  • to stimulate a diverse HE market and provide students with the information they need to judge teaching quality – in the same way they can already compare a faculty’s research rating
  • to recognize those institutions that do the most to welcome students from a range of backgrounds and support their retention and progression to further study or a graduate job

In short, the Tories have framed the TEF as an initiative to drive up the quality of teaching in universities, creating a better value for money consumer experience – the customers being students as they have been re-positioned in the fee regime.

What exactly is the TEF?

Some of the confusion surrounding exactly what the TEF is precisely because of the heavy handed use of value for money rhetoric every time the framework is publicly mentioned by the Tories. More details of the TEF are expected to be published in a Green Paper in mid-October (so literally any day now), but so far, this is what the TEF is understood to be:

The TEF will essentially parallel the currently in place, and heavily criticised Research Excellence Framework. The REF assesses the quality of research outputs and publications via a set of metrics and awards institutions that perform well in the rankings with funding. High performing or ‘excellent’ institutions will also be granted the privilege of raising their tuition fees even further. The criteria of the REF is to demonstrate the economic and social impact of research, which critics have suggested has lead to the further commercialisation and narrowing of research, also disproportionately disadvantaging research in the arts and humanities.

The TEF is doing something similar, but its focus is upon teaching quality, rather than research quality. In Johnson’s speech, he talks about the centrality of “employment and earnings returns to education” as a positive metric for assessing the quality of teaching. In other words, departments that churn out better paid students will be granted better funding. This disastrously overlooks the fact that graduate earnings and employability tell us more about students’ socio-economic background, not the quality of teaching at universities.


To understand some of the potential ulterior motives underpinning the TEF, it is useful to consider the wider contextual changes taking place to the education system. The trebling of tuition fees to £9K has created a situation where a huge amount of public money is being loaned out, 45% of which is not expected to be paid back.[2] Therefore, there is a huge shortfall that needs to be made up elsewhere. The Department for Business and Skills has had to make up £450 million from somewhere, and maintenance grants and the Disabled Students Allowance – lifelines for many students, have suffered as a consequence.

The TEF is being presented to university Vice Chancellors as an opportunity for their institutions to receive more funding in a climate of savage cuts. It coincides with the promise of future fee hikes and the removal of caps on student numbers. The TEF could therefore be seen as a way to incentivise changes to higher education that fit the Tories’ wider business-plan for Britain – and I mean a business-plan in the sense of public goods being given over to the interests of business. We are likely to see cuts to humanities courses and further prioritisation of corporate employability. Quality teaching will eventually look like quality careers advice.

How will this actually affect staff and students?

The TEF is expected to pile enormous pressure on an already overworked and precarious academic labour force. The academic freedom of departments will be reduced so as to comply with the criteria of quality teaching imposed by the market/competition metrics of the TEF. Tim O’Shea, principal of the University of Edinburgh has argued that departments will undergo higher levels of bureaucratisation as staff will be expected to spent their time “filling in forms and feeding tuna fish sandwiches to visiting assessors”[3] rather than devising assessments and supporting learning. Despite emphasising the principle of deregulation in his speech, the reality is that, like the REF, the TEF is likely to introduce a massive top-down regulatory mechanism. Additionally, implicit in the promise of funding and rewards for high performing courses and departments, is also the inevitability of further future redundancies and more low-paid precarious contracts, in which already overburdened hourly paid academics will be tasked with providing more “high quality” teaching, leaving them less time to pursue their own research. Moreover, in the Trade Union bill vastly limits the capacity for workers to resist such changes through industrial action.

There is insufficient evidence to suggest that this consumer relationship even improves the quality of teaching. If it did, then at 9K fees per year, surely teaching would already be excellent? If anything, the financial pressures upon students and continued casualization of academic work does material damage to the quality of students’ education.

There is also widespread student opposition to the TEF. The National Union of Students national executive committee has passed a motion for “principled disengagement” with the TEF, elaborating that “TEF is not just superficially flawed but wrong to the core, and we can’t just tinker with it, we have to stop it.” [4]


Frustration towards the potential for a TEF has been widespread. Students, academics and commentators have been taking to twitter to voice their opposition towards what is evidently a dangerous and harmful consolidation of the commodification of education.

t e f

t e f 2

t e f 44

t e f 33

t e f 55

The time for student-staff solidarity is now – the TEF seeks to pit the interests of staff and students against one another, creating a competitive marketplace where academics are service providers and students paying customers, rather than an atmosphere of mutual exchange and learning. The key to defeating the TEF will be widespread refusal to comply with its aims – we need to make sure Warwick is part of that.






#GrantsNotDebt: Lobbying Chris White

Last week, a national day of action was called by the NUS wherein students and sabbatical officers lobbied their local MPs with the intention of allowing discourse, applying pressure and expressing discontent surrounding the hostile, oppressive and frankly illogical scrapping of maintenance grants for HE students. Outrage is unsurprisingly rife amongst students as the realisation dawns upon us that those in the most financial need, incidentally the same demographic that is the least likely to  go on to become highly paid, will now realistically be graduating university with around £50,000 of debt. The aim of this day of action was to express our outright dismay and make sure that the government are aware that they cannot and will not get away with committing such offences to the detriment of higher education without a backlash from students.     

Locally, Chris White (Warwick and Leamington Conservative MP) was mandated to discuss with SU representatives whether the aforementioned policy should be opened for debate in parliament. Luke Pilot, Welfare officer for the SU stated that “Despite the mounting costs of Higher Education and the burden of debt being of huge concern to students nationwide, Chris White made it clear that he fundamentally disagreed with the principle of maintenance grants and Free Education. While he did offer to facilitate further correspondence on the issue, it is obviously disappointing that he chooses to act on personal or party-political grounds rather than listening to the views of his constituents – of whom students constitute a significant proportion.”  

This simultaneously frustrated but did not surprise members of Warwick for Free Education, who had assembled outside Chris’ office with banners and, much to the dissatisfaction of Leamington police who had been disconcertingly fast in directing their cameras towards protesters on the day, megaphones. After some predictably ridiculous rhetoric about ‘breaching the peace’ by disrupting the office (heaven forbid we make noise on a noise demo) the police reluctantly ventured inside and attempted to mediate for Chris, who decided that one ‘representative’ should be allowed to come in and talk to him. Needless to say, this was a unanimously unappealing concept, and we managed to persuade the MP that he should be coming outside to speak to us, as a non-hierarchical group and as members of a constituency that he is supposed to represent. Ha.

What we were greeted by was a laughably patronising individual who was thoroughly intent upon refusing to engage with any of us, claiming that he had already had a ‘legitimate’ conversation with members of the Student’s Union, and thus our complaints and comments did not need to be heard. After a frankly hilarious and ultimately completely useless conversation about literally nothing other than how prepared the MP was to engage in conversation, he retreated back to his office, seemingly offended, when fairly accused of preventing the poorest of students from accessing university education. After this delightful encounter, Chris’ office was entirely cleared for the day as its inhabitants became progressively more and more tired and frustrated by the noise and disruption we were creating outside.

Police presence was high and unpleasant, and the threat of arrest was mentioned but despite this spirits remained high and the general enthusiasm and energy outside the office was truly brilliant – an inspiring start to a year of fighting for free education within and beyond the confines of our university. The response from locals was overwhelmingly positive – from residents above Chris’s office waving in solidarity and passers-by sounding horns, to Labour councillors voicing their approval of our actions and the area’s residents stopping out of interest and support for free education, congratulating us, wishing us luck in our endeavours and engaging in debate.

A really valuable lesson we all took away from the demo was never to underestimate the enthusiasm and compassion of those in the wider community – our expectations of the day’s outcome were vastly exceeded and it should be kept in mind that our struggle extends far beyond that of students, and solidarity with people outside of formal academic institutions is invaluable and integral to the success of any movement.


Parallels at Monash University: Wages that Both Entertain and Enrage us

This article was first published as an editorial in a small leftist newspaper, Grotty Pinko, at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia. It demonstrates the parallelism between the university management structures of Monash and Warwick, two universities bound up in a corporate ‘Alliance’. WFFE supports the effort to reclaim the relationship between the two university communities in a ‘Monash-Warwick Activist Alliance’.  

 Our university is run like a corporation. We are the product.

The heart of Monash Clayton campus. The Airport Lounge. à la Upper Rootes. Photo: Nick Morleson

The heart of Monash Clayton campus. The Airport Lounge, à la Upper Rootes. Photo: Nick Morieson

How do we feel about the fact that Monash University’s Vice-Chancellor will be paid a salary of over $1m this year? That’s 75 years’ worth of that sweet top tier youth allowance honey payments. Twice as much as the Australian prime-minister gets.

What do we think when we’re informed that our University’s 63 Council members, senior managers and directors were collectively paid $18.5m in 2014, and that they will probably get a similar total amount again this year? That’s a range of salaries from $150,000 to $730,000 per year, or an average salary of $293,650 each.

What emotions well up within us when we reveal that the group responsible for deciding such salaries for our University’s Vice-Chancellor and its senior managers is comprised of … senior managers … and “business experts”?

How do we process the reality that it’s these same senior managers and “business experts” who are also involved in creating and appointing each other into the positions of… senior management?

Do we gasp, sigh, spit or gag in moral outrage?

Perhaps we nod wistfully in total resigned acceptance at the realpolitik of the corrupt autocratic university and our individual impotence?

Or rather, maybe we invoke some textbook market theory to try to rationalize this apparent excess? Or do we just chuckle at the maniacal genius of it all? Quietly smile in admiration at an administration that has the sheer gall to walk away each year with millions of dollars of public money, all the while lobbying federal governments to increase student fees, suppressing staff wages, laying off staff and overloading the remainder with pointless admin tasks and too much teaching and research work, cutting courses, wasting millions on making existing buildings “McFancier” or architecturally over-engineering new ones, taking countless overseas “business research” trips to Monash’s ever increasing number of international campuses, spending millions on fake snow machines, increasing parking fees well beyond inflation, charging expensive fees to access sporting facilities, investing in fossil fuel companies while hypocritically wasting millions on “greening” the campus in sustainability propaganda…

Students and staff of Monash, we ask you all, together, collectively, here and now: what the actual fuck is happening to our University? In order to function successfully, does our community of scholars really require a CEO-type figurehead to be paid $1m per year? What can this person be doing on a daily or hourly basis to be worth this much money? What work can they possibly be doing to add such value to the university? If we simplistically assume the Monash Vice-Chancellor works their arse off 12hrs per day for 6 days per week for 52 weeks of the year with no holiday, that results in a wage of $3,204 per day or $267 per hour. Again, if we assume these senior managers work the same hours as the VC, that’s a wage of $976 per day or $81 per hour. On the other hand, if you are a top level professor teaching and researching, you are on an annual salary of $164,104. Assuming the same work hours as the senior managers and the VC, that’s $526 per day or $43 per hour. And it takes years of unpaid labour and job insecurity to get to that point.

On an average (youth allowance/casual work) income of $18,634, it would take a full-time student 53 years to accumulate Monash VC’s 2014 salary of $1m, in which time the same student will simultaneously incur a $1m dollar debt – which could be $5m, in the event of fee deregulation.

All these figures beg many questions. For instance: how are people on wages of an average $300,000 – skyrocketing to over $1m – meant to be relating to other people earning less than half that average (top level professors) or 1/20 of this amount (students on youth allowance)? How can the VC and the senior managers make qualitative decisions in the best interest of our community when, relative to the ordinary members of this community, their financial and material circumstances place them on the solar systemic equivalent of mars?


The charming Rotunda at Monash. Photo: Nick Morieson

A quote from Alan Finkel – space enthusiast, Monash Chancellor and the reputed mastermind behind the University’s great transformation into a ruthless private corporation – sheds some light on the perspective of the rich and powerful who occupy the commanding heights of Monash management.

This little gem comes from an interview where the Finkster is being asked about his recent purchase of a $267,000 ticket for himself for a 7 minute joy ride to outer-space: “a private person can go into space today for US$25m. That’s too much to pay. US$200,000, while not an insignificant amount, is an accessible amount. People spend more than that on cars. You see someone in a Porsche and you might envy them but you don’t ask them ‘why they have spent so much money on it?’”

By “people” who “spend more than” US$200,000 on cars, the Finkmeister presumably means his mates on the University Council and other members of the global elite, not “the people” in the popular sense of the term. In a world where you can say things like this while being a leader of a scholarly community paid hundreds of thousands of dollars each year from the public purse, satire becomes an inoperable art form. The lunatics have taken over the asylum of Monash University, and the more power concentrated in their hands, the richer they get.

We would suggest an alternative salary determination process. Every enrolled student and staff member of our university community (all 70,000 of us) are given the opportunity to submit our preferred salary suggestion for the VC and senior administrators. Then a bean counter plugs the data into a spread sheet and voila! We simply accept the average and hand that amount over. As my primary school teacher used to say: you get what you get, and you don’t get upset.

To conclude, we can try and give an explanation of how it got to this. Although Australian Vice-Chancellor salaries are on average by far the highest in the world, and although these salaries represent a significant divergence from the average earnings, it is also important to acknowledge that executive salaries across all sectors of society have risen somewhat exponentially over the past few decades. Research by Professor David Peetz from Griffith University interrogates the various theories for the recent divergence between the growth rates in CEO pay and average earnings. Peetz findings are worth summarizing in full:

“Executive pay is characterized by ‘dual asymmetric pattern bargaining’, whereby firms seek to benchmark their CEO pay to higher paying firms, and grant CEOs, with whom corporate decision makers share a social milieu, increasing benefits which also confer status benefits on the firm – in sharp contrast to the distributional pay negotiations which occur with workers. Executive remuneration rises disproportionately during boom periods, but fails to symmetrically fall during poor times. Thus ‘everybody knows’ that CEOs are overpaid, but firms are unwilling to do anything about it because to do so would damage internal class relations and firm status. The different methods of pay setting for workers and CEOs reflect core differences in class power and changes in that balance of power during a period of neoliberalism.”

“The inflation of executive remuneration is fundamentally a phenomenon of class,” concludes Peetz. Even Paul Anderson, former CEO of BHP Billiton, remarked: “CEO compensation is out of control, totally out of control. It’s reached a point now that there’s no way to justify the incredible compensation … there is just no value that can be created by a CEO that you can say that makes a lot of sense” (Correy, 2003).

And there you have it. Let us politely suggest that something of a revolution might be in order. We can start with Monash VC Maggie G.

You can find a selection of old and current Grotty Pinko issues online at, including the ‘Monash Warwick Activist Alliance’ column. 

From Warwick to Sussex: Six Lessons Learnt about Organising on Campus

Callum Cant

Professor Thomas Docherty addressing a student occupation at Warwick

Professor Thomas Docherty addressing a student occupation at Warwick

Build a Broad Front

The first step is to generate broad, coalition organisations that unite the most students possible behind a unifying idea – Free Education.  By opening up organisations to the maximum possible base you tie them to the student body as closely as possible. People need to recognise that our organisations are not just for a special lefty elite – they are genuinely broad, and genuinely built on the back of organising as many students as possible.

Focus on Education and Connection

Within this broad front, the task is then to convince people of your ideas. People won’t come to their first meeting as your particular favourite brand of Socialist/Communist/Autonomist/Anarchist. A broad front has to engage in political discussion and education that is accessible to first timers and builds a collective perspective on social change.

Simultaneously a broad front also needs to communicate with new people, and continue to integrate new activists. A relentless campaign of information spreading and conversation has to be the top priority.

This means not treating your average student with contempt. If they don’t agree with us, it’s likely because they have never had a discussion on the issues – not that they are evil. Talking to thousands of new people, explaining the issues, and presenting our arguments is the absolute fundamental and basic work of organising on campus. Once you do enough of this groundwork, you start to change the prevailing conditions on campus, and then everything gets much easier.

Engage with the SU

This grass roots organisation then needs to be embedded within your union structures, so that you have activists working through the internal democracy of the union to make it more effective. The larger the external movement, the more effective this pressure will be. The goal has got to be converting unions into mass participation political structures – even if we retain a perspective that is distinct from them.

In concrete terms this means standing people for election for every position and level, passing motions, and debating issues in referenda. Yes, there are a certain set of skills to be learnt in order to do this well, but they are skills that pay back a thousand fold.

Aspire to Mass Democracy

Small activist groups can be more or less democratic, but they will never be able to function as a democratic measure of the whole student population. If we want to avoid acting like a direct action vanguard, we need to eventually always be attempting to convince the student population of our position. An on going goal, then, has to be to create the democratic structure for thousands of students to get involved in the direct democratic processes that shape the movement.

Escalate… slowly

This goal of convincing the student population means, unfortunately, that some forms of action have to wait. We can’t just lead a mass insurrection against management and expect to win long-term gains – although there is a certain short-term pressure to be derived from disruptive direct action.

What is needed is a balance between a movement that uses its collective strength to enter into a power struggle with university management and the state, and a movement that has substantial support within the student population.

This balance is tricky to find, but at its most basic we should always be working towards an increase in the ability to connect with students at the same time as we work towards increasing pressure on our opponents.

Build Infrastructure

The student movement has a fast turn over. Most of its members are in and out in under three years – meaning that at the start of every term there is always a need to start anew. In one way this is a great thing – it means we rarely get bogged down in the repetition that the old left enjoys so much. But it also means that we are always starting from near zero.

For students and the left more generally the last thirty years have seen the destruction of a lot of the stuff we relied upon to keep us from having to start all over again. Unions have stopped striking, organisations have lost their offices, and communities have been ripped apart. Part of our job now is to rebuild those structures within our particular arena of struggle: the student movement.

This means getting together things like banners, megaphones, a blog, a social media presence, a table, a printer, a big bag of red squares, and so on. On a broader level it also means developing habits and orientations like regular meetings, socialising together, connections to national organisations, and a militant student union. We need to have the basic material stuff that will help the movement tick on year after year after year.

WFFE participates in NCAFC Student Convoy to Calais

Later this month several activists from Warwick for Free Education will be helping to organise a trip to take vital supplies to the camps housing migrants and refugees in Calais. We have already raised £950 and have several cars available to be filled with supplies. If you want to be involved contact WFFE on our Facebook page or twitter, you can also donate money here.

We believe in solidarity not charity. Migrants are not a charity case. We do not believe in depoliticised humanitarian aid that seeks to mitigate the plight of those thought to be inherently less fortunate. There is rarely such a thing as being a victim of circumstances, usually the people in most dire need are victims of clearly identifiable systems of oppression. This is the case in Calais.

Though the situation is an ongoing humanitarian disaster it is also a deeply political disaster. It must be viewed in the context of a ‘Fortress Europe’ border regime responsible for tens of thousands of deaths in the Mediterranean in the recent decades, mass incarceration of immigrants and asylum seekers in detention centres from Greece to Italy to Yarl’s Wood in Bedfordshire, and refugee camps like Calais. A sustained campaign of demonstrations and direct actions by the Movement For Justice By Any Means Necessary has highlighted the abuse, sexual violence, and prison-like conditions women at Yarl’s Wood suffer; this is typical of detention centres across Europe.

The camp in Calais has been there for over 10 years, and many migrants have died there or from attempting to cross over to Britain. This is a long-term, avoidable, tragedy; and yet only now European tourists and truck drivers are inconvenienced do people seem to notice or care. Even then, for the most part what we have seen is disgusting and dehumanising language from the political establishment of all parties and the Tory government in particular and calls in mainstream print media for troops to be deployed. The schedules of delayed British holidaymakers matter, migrants’ lives certainly do not – that is the message.

We must name the immigration system as a racist system, a constant travesty and structural violence against people who are mostly here because of stuff Europe has done and benefited from – climate refugees fleeing the result of industrial capitalism, people who can’t make a life for themselves in countries rendered unliveable for many people by centuries of colonial and neo-colonial plunder, enslavement, and divide-and-rule, and refugees of Europe’s wars.

When anti-immigrant demagogues want to seem more humane they will talk about how traffickers are the problem and they only want to save migrants from traffickers and from the dangers of trying to hitch a ride into Britain. Their faux-empathy slips when presented with the compelling truth – disgusting poverty profiteers though traffickers may be*, and perilous though it may be to run across road and rail lines, – the traffickers and the road accidents only exist because of the border regime. Britain could choose to offer safe passage to the few thousand refugees. The traffickers would be out of business and there need not be one more death.

Providing supplies is an act of political solidarity. It registers in a concrete way our opposition to police harassment and destruction of people’s property in the Calais camp. It facilitates the ability of the camp’s population to continue living and resisting the racist immigration system. It is, as the Black Panther Party theorised, a form of survival-pending-revolution – material support to allow people to live while they also resist the systems that try to crush them.

However, providing supplies will not be the end of our activism. We will continue, individually as activists and collectively as NCAFC or WFFE members, to fight the causes of tragedies like Calais. We will campaign against right wing reactionaries (from ‘‘Controls on Immigration’ mug’-style Labourism rightwards) who mobilise immigration as a political tool; we will fight for alternative solutions to crises in unemployment, housing, and living standards that attack the real enemies rather than scapegoating immigrants. We will support resistance to the system of immigration detention centres by detainees, and to the UK Border Agency by working class communities. NCAFC will hold a demo in Dover on 17th October under the slogan ‘Open Dover, Open Europe’, and we urge people to go and press for a solution to the oppression of migrants beyond tents and tinned food donations.

No Borders! Close all detention centres! Migrant lives matter.

**You can donate to the NCAFC Student Convoy to Calais here and find information about the upcoming demo in Dover here**

From A-Z to Counter-Power

banner making 2

This article by Callum Cant is a response to Shelly Asquith’s article on A-B marches, and was originally published by Plan C. The National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts (NCAFC) is a democratic student organisation, established in 2010, that seeks to co-ordinate a militant Free Education movement based on the activity of grass roots organisations. They called the 10,000 strong demo on November 19th in 2014, have called another demo for Nov 4th 2015. They have also voted to organise a ‘student strike’ in the coming years.

If we want to deal with the questions of strategy facing the student left then we have to begin from a position of failure. Almost everyone on the left accepts that we are facing a collective failure of dramatic proportions. Regardless of what students have done, in an isolated sense, since 2010, we can’t escape the general fate of the anticapitalist movement. But failure also affords opportunity: it gives us a chance to go back and examine the underlying assumptions that we’ve relied on in the past – and in particular to address the way in which these assumptions are detached from our current material conditions. From a position of what could justifiably be called mass depression, there is an opportunity to think our way through our conditions in a way that opens up the possibility of redemption.

With this in mind, I want to challenge our collective understanding of what escalation is, and to treat Shelly’s recent article on A-B marches as representative of a more general attitude. Within the student movement more broadly, there seems to be a general confusion about what it means for a struggle to escalate. Given the political horizon facing the democratic organisations of the student left, like the NCAFC, consists primarily of cuts to living grants, the privatisation of student debt and tuition fee rises, it is of paramount important that we understand how we will escalate and win.

“Few people see ‘A to B’ as our be all and end all; I am in favour of A to B to C to D (or even Z if you have the energy!). A march with an occupation here, a roadblock there; a series of strikes and social media blockades. None of these are mutually exclusive – let’s do it all!”

The idea of escalation Shelly proposes here – of an A-Z linear process – is not unique. In fact, I think its is something like the basic assumption of much of the student movement. The idea is that escalation means a linear increase of action ‘intensity’ towards something like a revolutionary crisis. In comparison to the ‘social peace’ logic of hegemonic politics, counter-hegemonic escalation is envisioned as an ever increasing degree of agitation and conflict. A diversity of tactics then comes to mean operating at multiple points along this line at the same time, and the whole of political action in rendered relative to one A-Z dimension. From this position, the purpose of strategy is to facilitate movement through this dimension. Our long term vision – on the few occasions when it escapes reactive short-termism – is just planning how to move down the line.

This idea of escalation fails on a number of grounds, but the most important of these is, I think, its failure to propose any concrete idea of collective agency beyond direct action. If escalation is simply an escalation in the intensity of direct action then our entire politics becomes orientated around making the next action bigger, louder and more confrontational than the one before it. We become committed to agitation, rather than a broader project.

We need a theory of escalation that operates in more than one dimension. I want to suggest something like the reframing of escalation as the development of a counter-power that can enact a future beyond state and capital.

What would differentiate this theory from the A-Z linear idea?

For a start, it avoids accepting the spectacle at face value. Counter-power does not fetishise a nice photo of 100,000 people on the streets (on the A end of the spectrum) or video footage of demonstrators breaking windows and throwing things at the police (on the Z end). It moves away from thinking about spectacular conflict as the primary expression of collective struggle.

Instead, it places the idea that struggle takes place beyond what has conventionally been understood as revolutionary, and is actually embedded in much more mundane processes. When we are at a period of ‘low struggle’, the left is in fact failing to reach outside it’s more narrow confines and relate to these different and less visible forms of antagonism. The antagonisms of capitalism do not only exist on the barricades, and we need a theory of escalation that understands that. As we well know, students are not apathetic, we have just not got the means to express their antagonism within our political framework.

Counter-power is, therefore, something like the collective capacity to define our form of life against a hegemonic system. This agency does not need to be built or created – because workers and the multitude always already have an agential role – but it does need to be developed. We need to express that agency along specific, collective lines if we want it to have a specific, collective political force.

Escalation then becomes, in this theorisation, the successful process of engaging with the latent antagonisms produced by capitalism and moving these in the direction of overt struggle. This will only be possible when we recognise and connect developing antagonisms with a means of collective struggle.

For the student movement, a different kind of escalation necessitates a different organisational practice. The connection between the two can’t just be dictated, and will involve the democratic procedures of our movement as well as the autonomous development of politics on campuses across the country. What is clear, however, is that we need to change how we imagine our movement progressing.

This is not to say that we should abandon mass demonstrations all together. But the November 4th national demo cannot just be a rearticulation of the same old politics and the same old tactics. If it is to play into the development of a counter-power, it has to contribute to a new culture of street politics that opens up our movement to those who have never before understood their antagonisms to be political. It has to break the insular left out of its bubble, and constitute the creation of a mass infrastructure and the capacity to broaden and sustain struggle.

In part, we should also be looking at the November 4th demonstration as an announcement that we have gone beyond #FucktheTories and inarticulate anger, and that we have a vision of a future that we are ready to enact. It should point towards a tactical horizon – the student strike – and a willingness to do go beyond strategic repetition. This will also mean a change from small activist-consensus cliques towards broader bases of support. Fundamentally, this whole adjustment of theoretical perspective points towards the necessity of a political recomposition of the class.

I have every confidence that we can work through this recomposition, if we decide that we want to. And so, when it comes to November, I hope that we will not be march from A to B – and instead, we will march from A to Counter-Power.

How did we Defeat TeachHigher?

Matthew Jackson


The University of Warwick has declared their decision to disband TeachHigher. Primarily, it seems, because the TeachHigher project can no longer stand for a ‘practical way of implementing and administering greater consistency of pay and support’ for postgradautes that teach in the face of so much negative press and organised resistance from staff and students across the University; or as Gillian McGratten (director of HR) has succinctly coined it, ‘distraction’.

The public meeting called by the SU was an opportunity for senior management to counter the ‘myth’ of TeachHigher which had been making its rounds on Twitter and in statements from UCU and the Hourly-Paid Tutor Group with the ‘reality’ of what TeachHigher really was from their perspective. Iroinically, this meeting actually served to compound the mysteriousness, pointlessness and inappropriateness of TeachHigher. In particular, the students and staff in attendance did a very good job of emphasising the lack of genuine consultation between hourly-paid teaching staff and the University about the project. Indeed, the Hourly-Paid Tutor Group only discovered plans for TeachHigher by sifting through the minutes of the Board of Graduate Studies. What became clear in this meeting was that senior management had never properly consulted departments, their teaching staff, or collected enough information or spoken to enough hourly-paid staff to really understand the problems that the casualised workforce at Warwick actually face. Indeed, the University’s statement acknowledged that in the discussions and feedback on the project – assumedly referring to the public SU meeting as well as written communication from UCU and the Hourly-Paid Tutor Group opposing TeachHigher – that TeachHigher was increasingly becoming viewed as a ‘vehicle for administering’ the problems rather than actually ‘achieving the outcome of fair pay for our hourly-paid teaching staff’.

I think the opposition to TeachHigher has been successful for many reasons. Firstly, the anti-TeachHigher campaign was building off an already highly politicised campus environment. The recent clashes that protesters experienced on campus with the police, as well as the public demonstrations and Warwick Summit on Protest subsequent to them, have surely heightened suspicion of the University’s position on students’ democratic rights and freedoms. TeachHigher appeared to be another step in this direction. Yet, this favourable political climate stood for nothing without the incredible number of supporters – both staff and students – who were willing to dedicate their time and energy to oppose TeachHigher. We were organised, we had done our homework, we knew our rights, we had a clear message, we shared resources, we conducted opinion polls, and collected data. We compiled all of this research and hard work into letters that were sent to the University asking them to stop TeachHigher and to enter into proper consultation and meaningful negotiations with departments, hourly-paid staff and UCU. Even though the majority of these letters were ignored – further demonstrating the lack of genuine democratic avenues of consultation at this University – this meant that university management could not hijack the public SU meeting by using market jargon to intellectually repackage what was basically a hiring franchise akin to UniTemps. We already knew it was, and had been criticising the fact for a long time.

Despite this substantial success in opposing TeachHigher, we must not lose sight of the larger issue of casualisation still at stake here. The pilot is still happening even though it will be up to departments to develop their ‘own approach based on the principles of transparency and fairness around nationally-agreed rates of pay’. The results of the scheme will be used to introduce a roll out scheme to all departments. What’s most bizarre about the most recent developments here is that the University’s new strategy is to return to an hourly-paid hiring system that was already in place prior to the proposed TeachHigher pilot, except with a renewed encouragement for departments to properly seek ways of improving the working conditions of hourly-paid staff.

Our responsibility now is to make sure that our departments and human resources honour this agreement, and we do this by adopting the same strategy with which we have defeated TeachHigher.