Statement on the cancelation of a WBS event in the Slate

Today a student Christmas event scheduled by WBS in the Slate for lunchtime was cancelled by the University. We realise that this is an inconvenience for the students involved.

We had a meeting with University management yesterday, in which we were asked to vacate the space without any concessions on our demands. The University deliberately decided not to engage with multiple alternatives offered by the SU for the event, instead choosing to use the cancellation to try to discredit the occupation. Alternative venues included the Copper Rooms and the Panorama rooms in the Rootes building, all of which could have been used to host the 300 students for the mere two hours.

We think that the cancellation is a deliberate attempt by management to pit one group of students against another and divide the student body over the occupation. Peter Dunn, the University’s propagandist, wasted no time in going on BBC Coventry & Warwickshire to lament the cancellation yesterday (we responded live at 4:05PM yesterday). The University are using the Christmas party as a political football, and don’t have the best interests of the WBS students at heart.

In all of this Warwick is focusing more on the cancellation of this event than the fact that HE reform is destroying public higher education and that hourly paid teachers are struggling to make ends meet. This shows where their priorities lie – the disruption of a party is not comparable to the disruptions HE reforms will cause to thousands of students’ and staff’s lives; this is why we have taken action.

Occupations are meant to be disruptive and we chose the Slate because it is a conference space which is not designed to serve students but companies. The disruption of such spaces directly targets the University and its financial channels, not its students.

While the University works to turn this around for their benefit, in all discussions we have had with management so far, our demands have not been meaningfully engaged with.

This occupation would not have been necessary if Warwick had listened to the demands that have long been voiced by students, the SU, UCU, the Assembly, Warwick Anti-Casualisation, Warwick for Free Education and others. It is time for the University to engage with its students and their demands. If they demonstrate that they are willing to grant our just, democratic demands, then the action can come to a close. Without such steps, we will not end our occupation.

Police Violence Two Years on: Remembering Dec. 3, 2014

Today marks the two-year anniversary of the police attack on a Warwick For Free Education sit-in in Senate House. On Dec. 3, 2014, police stormed a crowd of protesters, spraying several with cs gas, threatening the crowd with Tasers, and arresting three people. A 1,000-strong demonstration against the violence – and Warwick’s utter complicity in the police’s action – took place the day after, followed by an eight-day occupation of the Rootes Social Building. It is fitting that we publish this commemoration from our first occupation since those events.

Many who were present on that day still suffer the consequences. The ‘Independent Police Complaints Commission’ report is yet to surface, the initial draft having been rejected in a High Court Appeal for coming to “irrational” conclusions.

Rather than release original content on the events, we thought we would point people to all the great work that has already been done:

  • The original Guardian report on the violence, complete with one of the videos.
  • Our skewering of then-VC Nigel Thrift’s original statement on the police violence.
  • The Warwick Globalist‘s investigation into the events, written one year on and still the most comprehensive report into battle between WFFE and management.
  • A personal reflection by a comrade who was brutalised and arrested on Dec. 3, written one year on.
  • A half-an-hour documentary made about the occupation of Rootes Social Building, Our University. A great introduction to the philosophy of direct action, free education and more.
  • An interview on the Warwick Globalist‘s radio show with a WFFE participant in Dec. 3, which covers the chronology of the event, neo-liberalisation of universities, and Warwick’s activist history.

Please share these resources far and wide. It’s crucial that people don’t forget the way the University and police acted that December.

PRESS RELEASE: Warwick students go into occupation against Government’s Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF)

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact: 07954402113, 07901844980

  • Education activists occupy brand new multi-million conference building
  • Occupation started 2nd December 2016, 7:30am
  • Students are protesting against Warwick’s participation in the government’s Teaching Excellence Framework, casualisation of academic staff, and repression of protest

At around 7:30am this morning (2nd December 2016), the brand new Slate building at the University of Warwick was occupied by student activists from Warwick For Free Education. The occupied conference facility cost £5.3 million to build, and is used for external corporate events, not student activities. It was intended to open for conference bookings next week.

The occupiers are taking direct action to protest three key demands.

Education activists have previously tried to stop the University participating in the government’s optional Teaching Excellence Framework, which will see increased tuition fees and staff being judged by a set of metrics including the National Student Survey (NSS), which Warwick students have recently voted to boycott. Students have passed democratic policy through the Students’ Union (SU) against the TEF, academic staff passed a motion opposing these reforms at an historic meeting of the Assembly, and the SU forced an extraordinary meeting of the Senate at which a formal vote on submission to the TEF was denied. Occupiers claim there is now no choice but to deploy tactics of direct action to force the University to change its position.

Students are also demanding that the University agrees to the 6 demands for fair teaching conditions set out by the group Warwick Anti-Casualisation, citing that these demands are crucial not only for the right of workers but also for quality of education.

In addition, the occupiers are demanding an apology from the University for their handling of the events of December 3rd 2014, when police violently broke up a sit-in for free education with CS gas and tasers; an incident which was condemned by Amnesty International and led to a thousand-strong protest the following day as well as an occupation of a University building by hundreds of students. After refusing to engage with the demand of occupiers at the time, the University took out an unprecedented injunction banning all occupational-style protest on campus, which activists demand is overturned.

Kat Hall, Warwick For Free Education activist, said, “We have campaigned through every possible method, and the university has left us with no other options. With their reforms, this government wants universities to be run like businesses and students to be treated as nothing more than consumers. We cannot allow that to happen.”

Christian König, first year PAIS & Global Sustainable Development student said, “The injunction is a violation of all students’ basic right to protest, and is an immoral move by the university to block students from expressing their legitimate concerns about what’s happening here at Warwick and beyond. It needs to go.”

Marie Dams, member of the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts, said, “Casualisation of staff is an ongoing issue at Warwick and the University needs to change its ways. The demands staff are making are about basic fundamental rights and students should stand fully behind their campaign.”

Warwick For Free Education’s full statement can be read here: https://warwick4freeducation.wordpress.com/2016/12/02/statement-of-occupation/

OCCUPATION UPDATE

The occupation is now fully secured and the activists are in control of the space. The workers have finished and left The Slate, and their exit was handled in a comradely and jovial manner. We can officially confirm the space now belongs to the occupying activists and looks to become increasingly active, so do make sure you watch this space (pun intended)!

Warwick SU has issued a statement on the occupation, and statements of support and solidarity have been flooding in from across the country, including from our very own Warwick Anti-Casualisation.

Representatives from the occupation and Warwick SU also met with Stuart Croft, the Vice Chancellor, to discuss access arrangements and our demands. So far no progress has been made on our key demands, which are as follows:

1) The University must opt out of the Teaching Excellence Framework
2) The University must agree to Warwick Anti-Casualisation’s six demands for fair teaching conditions
3) The University must scrap the protest injunction and apologise for their handling of the events of 3 December, 2014 (for a detailed explanation, see: https://warwick4freeducation.wordpress.com/2016/12/02/statement-of-occupation/).

On a much lighter note, the activists have found a way to access The Slate’s audio and projector systems. Entertainment and bangers will commence…

**STATEMENT OF OCCUPATION**

Today, a group of student activists have occupied ‘The Slate’ – Warwick’s brand new £5.3 million conference facility – in protest against the disastrous direction in which higher education is being pushed, and our own institution’s complicity in that agenda.

We are at a truly pivotal moment for higher education. This government is set to usher in the full marketisation of the sector, with devastating consequences for both students and staff. Student debt is set to rise, academics will be pushed to breaking point, and private companies will be given a free pass to take over and profit from public universities driven to collapse.

This is the product of years of students being treated as consumers and universities being run as businesses, the impact of which is felt very strongly here at Warwick. As we sit in this cutting edge facility purpose-built for external companies and businesses, students and staff are experiencing a drastic deterioration of learning, working and living conditions.

As tuition fees go up, students don’t even have enough space to study or to sit in lectures. As management salaries continue to surge, hourly-paid teachers are struggling to survive. As international students face ever-increasing financial exploitation, they are subject to tighter monitoring and further marginalisation. As Warwick prioritises corporate conference space, they fail to provide enough housing for students year upon year. In addition to this, the University actively represses protest and activism which seeks to challenge these issues.

The University of Warwick is knowingly making unnecessary and harmful choices. By occupying this space we are taking direct action to hold the University to account for these decisions, and to force them to instead make ones which are in the genuine collective interest of students, staff and the future of public higher education.

Our demands are as follows:

1) The University must opt out of the Teaching Excellence Framework 

The Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) is a core aspect of the government’s disastrous higher education reforms. This is a system which will rate universities based on meaningless metrics and use that information to allow certain institutions to raise tuition fees even further, thus establishing a marketplace in the higher education sector. However, the TEF is an entirely voluntary programme which universities must actively choose to take part in. Both students and staff at Warwick have made their opposition to the TEF very clear. The student body has passed democratic policy to campaign against the TEF, and staff voted overwhelmingly to oppose the reforms at the historic meeting of the Assembly. Further to this, the Students’ Union called an extraordinary meeting of the Senate to urge members to take a stand against the TEF, at which many members simply stayed silent and a formal vote was denied. The official “democratic channels” of the University have failed, and those with the power to make decisions are still not listening to the voices of students and staff. We are left with no other option but to pursue direct economic disruption to force the University to opt out of TEF.

 

2) The University must agree to Warwick Anti-Casualisation’s 6 demands for fair teaching conditions

Over the past few years, Warwick University has become notorious for poor treatment of academic staff. Hourly paid teachers at the University of Warwick are underpaid, undervalued and work in unacceptable insecure conditions. We fully support the demands of Warwick Anti-Casualisation for stable contracts, equal employment rights and fair remuneration for all the work staff do. We recognise that fair teaching conditions are essential not only for the rights and wellbeing of workers, but also for the quality of education they are able to provide to students. These demands are crucial for the whole community, and we stand in solidarity with Warwick Anti-Casualisation in pushing for the University to engage with them.


3) The University must scrap the protest injunction and apologise for their handling of the events of 3 December, 2014

Tomorrow marks exactly two years since police were called to a sit-in for free education at Warwick, which resulted in the mass assault of student protesters at the hands of West Midlands Police and private security guards. We have not forgotten the violence, the CS gas, the threat of tasers. We have not and will not forget the disgraceful way in which the Vice-Chancellor responded to this attack, as condemnation and outrage poured in from across the country. We demand that the University apologises for this enormous failing of students and properly recognises the damage that has been caused.

The day after these events, Warwick saw a thousand-strong #CopsOffCampus demo which ended with hundreds of students initiating an occupation of the Rootes building. This occupation was brought to an end when, after refusing to even engage with the occupiers’ demands, the University chose to take students to court and spend thousands of pounds on a draconian injunction which bans all “occupational-style” protest across the whole of campus. These injunctions have been condemned by various human rights and legal organisations as a clear violation of the right to protest, rendering this a glaring tarnish on Warwick’s reputation. Today, not only do we directly challenge this injunction with our actions, but we demand that the University commits to scrapping the injunction altogether.

 

We cannot overstate the urgency of the political moment we find ourselves in. When so much is at stake, and when institutions fail to take necessary meaningful action, we are left with no choice but to deploy methods of direct action which have historically been so crucial in forcing progressive political change.

No to the TEF!
No to casualisation of staff!
No to repression of protest!

Support the occupation!

[At the time of writing there are still two workers in the space with the occupiers. We have agreed with them that they will finish the rest of their shift before they leave the space to minimise the inconvenience to them. There has been a constant and amicable dialogue and they have assured us that they feel completely safe, happy and free to leave at any time.

EDIT: the workers have finished their construction work and left the space; the occupation is now fully secure]

WFFE’S THREE PRIORITIES FOR THE YEAR: HE reforms, Migrant Solidarity, Defend Right to Protest

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.

Migrant Solidarity

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.

Campaign to Boycott the NSS Announced

boycott-the-nss

The National Union of Students, after an extensive consultation with activist groups and students’ unions across the country, has announced a campaign to boycott the National Student Survey (NSS) this academic year. One of the primary groups leading the charge for a boycott is the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts, to which we recently voted to formally affiliate with.

The National Student Survey is a questionnaire that students in the final year of their undergraduate degrees are encouraged to fill out. The call to boycott the survey is based on two calculations:

  1. The NSS forms a key part of the government’s higher education reforms (particularly the hated TEF; those universities which score highly will be allowed to raise tuition fees even higher), which are being fought by groups all across the country.  If we can sabotage this key mechanism, it will give us leverage in our struggle to smash the reforms.
  2. The NSS is a seriously flawed metric in itself. It is supposed to measure teaching quality, but in reality the data is garbage. As Joanna Williams puts it in the Guardian, “Just as high IQ scores tell us more about a person’s ability to pass IQ tests than they do about their intelligence, so the high NSS results tell us more about the sector’s ability to perform well in satisfaction surveys than the quality of what happens within universities.” A series of crude questions cannot measure the qualitative, liberating and intangible benefits of education. The survey encourages lecturers not to challenge their students preconceptions, to ‘play it safe’ in the name of ‘student satisfaction’; it reflects implicit biases and prejudices of students, who tend to mark lectures of colour lower than their white colleagues; and, most fundamentally, it represents a fragmented notion of collectivity. Instead of democratically discussing the quality of our education, with extensive information and reflection, it encourages a knee-jerk 2-minute series of answers, performed in consumerist solitude with no collective discussion.

We will be pushing hard to get students to boycott the NSS this year. The university will be pushing students not to; students will be bribed with money on their Eating at Warwick cards, pizza parties and the chance of winning iPads. Such short term rewards will pale in comparison to the savage impacts these higher education reforms will have on our society have if they go through.

This fight will be a long one. Nationally, right-wing sabbs are trying a bureaucratic manoeuvre to sabotage the campaign before it begins, pushing for a ballot on a lengthy and pointless ‘risk assessment’ of the boycott. Overcoming such obstacles will take effort, organisation, and unity: as does any significant and worthwhile campaign. The struggle continues!

Join WFFE! See our Facebook group and page, and get in touch over FB message if you want to meet any of us.