Who are Warwick For Free Education?
Warwick For Free Education is a coalition of student activists committed to the fight for a free, liberated, education system. There is no formal membership system: if you agree with our values and participate in our activities you are a part of WFFE. We operate mainly at Warwick University but are very open to links and support from anyone else in the area interested in education struggles.
Why are you all so angry?
Education is under attack. Students are being used as a convenient punching bag by a government committed to austerity and marketization of society. Workers’ conditions in our universities are under attack. Our management does not care, they collaborate with the government’s destructive agenda, and they repress activism on their own campus.
On our campus in the last year we have seen a (failed) attempt to set up TeachHigher to outsource and worsen the pay and conditions of workers, the police being called in to CS spray students at a peaceful sit-in, 3 students dragged through the courts on spurious charges, and an injunction banning occupations on campus.
Nationally, we see a number of outrageous moves by the government. They are attempting to change the repayment system so that students who signed up expecting one repayment system will be met with another much harsher one. They are pushing through the so-called Teaching Excellence Framework which will open the door to fee increases and even equates teaching quality to graduate earnings. Maintenance grants are being abolished, which means that the poorest students will leave university with the most debt. Further Education is being cut almost out of existence, including vital English language (ESOL) courses losing their funding entirely. We know from past experience that if we are not angry and militant, if we do not fight, these measures and more will be passed.
What is ‘free education’?
Paying £9k a year in tuition fees is shit, saddling a generation with absurd burdens of debt is unacceptable. These fees, which are hardly even saving the government any money, need to go and we will fight until they are abolished.
However, for us demanding free education means so much more than that. Our education system should be run on the basis of need, in a context which encourages universities to be sites of self-development, critical enquiry, and political expression. Cops should not be on our campuses brutalising and arresting student activists. Free education means the liberation of universities from systems of racism, patriarchy, LGBT-phobia, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, ableism, and other forms of oppression. It means international students shouldn’t have to worry about visas and deportation. Students and workers should have the greatest role in running their universities and should not be exploited. Universities should not be marketised playgrounds for some of the most disgusting and pernicious private companies – from security firms, to outsourcing companies that undermine wages, to investment banks and arms dealers seeking to recruit graduates.
A free education movement should recognise that systems of oppression and the drive to place profit above human flourishing exist throughout our societies – the fight for a free and liberated university is only one part of a much wider struggle for a free and liberated society and world.
We’re not asking for much…
How is WFFE run?
WFFE operates broadly on the basis of consensus decision-making at regular meetings that anyone can attend (within reason). This is where the main decisions will be made, other groups will feed back, and tasks will be delegated.
There is also a ‘women and non-binary caucus’ which is made up exclusively of women and non-binary trans people to discuss how our internal organisation specifically impacts on those groups in the context of a sexist and transphobic society.
We will delegate tasks to working groups – for example our facebook, twitter, and blog accounts and co-ordinated by small informal groups – when we have big campaigns or actions to prepare for we will assign roles; this isn’t about creating formal leadership roles but simply a way that we’ve found more effective at getting things done.
There is also a ‘Safer Spaces Committee’ which will deal with instances of oppressive, abusive, or bigoted behaviour in an accountable and clear way.
What does WFFE actually do?
Many things! In the past year alone we have held meetings and events, and talked to students as often as possible about our ideas and what is happening to the education system under this government. We have carried out direct action from banner-drops, to sit-ins, to a full-on occupation. We built towards NCAFC’s 10,000-strong national demonstration for free education last November, organising coaches and knocking on doors for weeks. Warwick provided one of the largest contingents of students to that demo from any university.
We have forged strong links with the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts, sending members to conferences and trainings, and electing three members to NCAFC’s National Committee. We hope to continue this connection to the national struggle in the coming years.
How can I get involved?
We have regular meetings, which we will announce in our Facebook group. We do our best to publicise upcoming actions, events, and demonstrations so feel free to come along to any of those, introduce yourself and get involved. We hope to provide a space where everyone – whatever their ability, level of free time, or ability to take risks – can contribute.
Why do you bother? Nothing ever changes.
A surprising number of people have been convinced that nothing ever changes, that radical ideas are unrealistic pipe dreams, and that ordinary people have no power. As much as history is a record of exploitation and oppression, any true history also records that people have always organised to fight back and often they have won. Empires, ruling classes, and unjust laws which were thought to be the ‘natural order’ at the time have been brought crashing down. We forget that rights which we take for granted now – like healthcare, women’s and LGBT rights, and the welfare state – were won through struggle. We also forget that many of the things we struggle for have existed in the past and ripped away by those in power – tuition fees for example were only introduced under Blair in our lifetimes. We can look to Germany where a sustained student campaign led to the abolition of fees, or to Quebec where activists organised a strike lasting several months and toppled the government.
Where can I find out more?
Checking out the past articles on our blog is a great way to get an overview of the key policy issues, debates, struggles and victories on campus and nationally, and the history of our group.