The National Education Service as a Radical Vision for Free Education

This blog posts explores some of the radical potentials of demanding a National Education Service within the Labour Party and beyond. It is based on a talk given by a WFFE activist to the Non-Aligned Leftist Forum society on ‘What is the left’s vision for education?’

The National Education Service (NES) was a policy proposed by Jeremy Corbyn prior to his election as Labour Party leader. It is now, nominally, Labour’s flagship education policy. However, little has been written about it beyond a couple of articles by Corbyn. The recent National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts conference, hosted at Warwick by WFFE activists, further developed those ideas, making them both clearer and more radical.

So what is the NES all about? There is an explicit analogy to the NHS and welfare state – the NES is to be ‘cradle-to-grave’ and ‘free-at-the-point-of-use.’ It is also sold as providing skills and lifelong learning in order to allow workers to adapt to economic and technological change. This is framed as both a way to give workers ‘opportunities’ and a way of providing skilled workers to businesses in order to boost productivity. Taxation to pay for the NES is justified on this basis; according to Corbyn, companies should be willing to pay ‘slightly more in corporation tax’ because they recognise the ‘business case for investing in staff.’

gettyimages-490521634

The framing of the NES is a classically social democratic one: the state will deal with producing and reproducing human capital and social infrastructure which will benefit capital – in turn capital is expected to contribute to the costs of these policies. There is a tension here; education is described as a ‘collective good’ which provides working class people with ‘opportunities,’ yet the NES is also framed as an ‘investment’ designed to aid productivity and capital accumulation. Social democracy has been extensively criticised for its symbiotic relationship with capital; this relationship allows improvements for (some) workers to come at the expense of continued alienation and exploitation, and the exclusion of more marginalised groups from the settlement. Indeed, the NHS (which the NES is posed as analogous to), is a prime example – it has in large part relied on an imperialist ‘brain drain’ of healthcare professionals from the global south, and like all policies of the 1945 Labour government, was premised on the profits of the Empire. Thus, there is always a tension at work in radical anti-capitalists’ defences of social democratic policies and institutions. How can anti-capitalists defend policies which are explicitly designed to maintain the conditions for exploitation and accumulation?

We must always point to possibilities beyond what we are ‘defending.’

We can see this at work in the experiences of student activists. As activists, we ‘defend education,’ protect ‘public universities,’ and fight cuts to services. However, we have also found it necessary to point out major structural problems with universities as they exist now. This is why ‘free education’ has come to encompass much more than abolishing tuition fees. I would argue it has more often come to mean a set of critiques of the university; to call for ‘free, democratic, liberated, etc.’ education is to point out how the social democratic and neoliberal universities have systematically failed to meet those criteria. Campaigns like ‘Why Is My Curriculum White?’ have revealed curricula to be Eurocentric and calls for a liberated curriculum have shown how they regularly exclude the work and perspectives of people from the global south, women and non-binary people, people of colour, disabled people, and LGBT people. In practice such demands mean a very significant reorganisation of universities’ teaching, admissions criteria, hiring practices, etc. Other activists critique the university as a capitalist enterprise – one at the forefront of exploitative labour practices, landlordism, and the creation of lifelong debt. Free education activists have been at the forefront of labour struggles within universities and many are now helping organise rent strikes. I will return to these critiques of the university later and suggest how they relate to the NES.

National Education Service – some key concepts

Several important aspects of a National Education Service come out of Corbyn’s writing on the subject and subsequent discussions.

  • The Comprehensive University – this would mean ending the division between higher and further education institutions and the selective and exclusive nature of universities. This is similar to the principle of comprehensive schooling – the same education, for everyone, with no entry requirements. In practice this means abolishing universities as they currently exist. For example, Oxford University would merge with Oxford Brookes as well as local further education colleges; in their place would be a single institution open to, and democratically accountable to, the local community and students. It is clear how this would start to break down the elitist concentration of capital and resources in institutions like Russell Group universities.
  • Modular learning – based on the idea that you don’t have to be a student and study a particular degree course in order to learn about something. This becomes possible with the breakdown of HE/FE divisions to form the comprehensive university; anyone can study a module offered by any local teaching institution. In my opinion the implications of this for mass, working class education are massive, much more so than the entry of – some – working class people into universities. If, for example, you’re doing a course in plumbing or carpentry at an FE college in Coventry, why shouldn’t you be able to take a module in history, English literature, or sociology at the University of Warwick? Is there any good reason for this absolute division of mental and manual labour which says that a carpenter or plumber can’t also take an interest in history, poetry, or feminist theory?
  • Lifelong learning – strongly related to modular learning. A move away from the ‘student’ as something you are full-time for a few years – people should be able to access education as a significant part of their life, alongside other things, at any stage in their life. Importantly this should not just be framed as a way to ‘retrain’ workers in the face of ‘economic change’ but as a right to education as a transformative, creative, political, or even ‘just’ an enjoyable activity.
  • Ending ‘elite’ education – alongside the comprehensive university there would be a parallel process at the school level to provide a truly comprehensive education. This means no more grammar, free, academy, or private schools. Further, schools should not try to model themselves on the cultural and academic norms of (former) private and grammar schools.
  • Universal access and childcare – arguably one of the most laudable parts of Corbyn’s proposals for the NES is his focus on providing childcare as well as financial support for those wishing to study. As with many other activities, many women’s ability to access education is limited by childcare responsibilities. Patriarchal society imposes the burden of social reproductive labour mainly on women. Social reproduction is the labour of maintaining the household, raising children, supporting (male) workers – it is vital to the continuation of capitalism but generally not recognised or paid for as such, forcing women to take a ‘double shift’ of waged ‘productive’ labour alongside unwaged ‘reproductive’ labour. Free childcare is thus a vital feminist demand and the NES is an important framework in which to raise it.

Critiques of the university and of students as a ‘privileged’ group

It is important to begin this section with the caveat that students are by no means a universally privileged group and that universities can be sites of impoverishment and oppression for many of us. However, at an institutional level there are ways in which students are privileged over non-students. I was struck by this when I recently visited one of the main public libraries in Sheffield. The sociology section was one small shelving unit which was pretty small and contained mostly entry level or popular works (including Russell Brand’s ‘Revolution’!). We can compare this to our university library at Warwick which has more on any given aspect of sociology than the Sheffield library had on the subject as a whole; and that library is only serving around 25,000 people.

library-barriers

Security barriers in the library – the installation of similar barriers in Bologna was cause for a student occupation and clashes with the police

Universities must be understood as fulfilling a particular function in class society. They exist to produce knowledge necessary to the functioning of the state, capitalist corporations, cultural institutions, the military, etc. They also reproduce class divisions by producing the next generation of managers, administrators, and technicians of capitalism. Older elite universities like Oxford, Cambridge, and Durham have always been ruling class institutions and have accumulated huge pools of capital on that basis. For example embodied in their endowments or in grand old buildings. Newer elite universities like Warwick have forged their identities as ‘business universities;’ here the link to capitalist industry is explicit and, in many departments, includes direct corporate input into curriculums.

The University of Warwick has a long history of collaboration with local business elites, including historically monitoring of students’ and academics’ links with local worker struggle.

When coming across large accumulated pools of capital we should always ask where it came from and what social relations – indeed, violences – allowed it to be accumulated. Marx wrote in Volume 1 of Capital that ‘capital comes [into the world] dripping from head to foot, from every pore, with blood and dirt.’

Rhodes Must Fall In Oxford, for instance, highlights that libraries and even whole colleges at Oxford are literally built on the proceeds of slavery and colonialism. More broadly this is true of many ruling class institutions and of social democratic institutions which are largely funded by the accumulated profits of imperialism.

Universities largely began as elite institutions for the children of the ruling class. The picture has been complicated now by mass entry of working class young people into Higher Education – in many ways a genuine and important victory for the class. However, access to university is still stratified by race and class. More fundamentally the rollout of universities is based on an expansion of elite institutions to be more ‘inclusive’ – they are still selective and the ‘best’ universities are only looking for the most ‘bright’ and ‘talented’ working class youth to bring into a middle and upper class institutions. Working class experience of entry into university often reflects this, and graduate earnings map more closely to social class prior to university than to the fact of being a graduate. One study found that:

Graduates from richer family backgrounds earn significantly more after graduation than their poorer counterparts, even after completing the same degrees from the same universities.

This is where the idea of a comprehensive university comes in. It would be non-selective and not oriented purely to producing ‘employable’ graduates but to lifelong, flexible learning for all. It would effectively mean the abolition of the university as a distinct institution. Thus universities’ often state-of-the-art facilities and extensive academic libraries would be open to the community at large and control of universities’ capital would be democratised and shared with chronically underfunded FE courses.

No more highly securitised libraries and study spaces, no more key-card access! Access to academic libraries and online journals for everyone!

Working class education, the NES, and grassroots struggle

The NES, as I have conceptualised it here, is more than a policy proposal – it is a potential theoretical approach analogous to ‘free education’ which relates to many struggles, demands, and principles. As such I think it is important to think beyond the Labour Party and policy-makers so I’m going to highlight a few struggles which I think point towards the principles of the NES.

Students in Bologna have sought to put into practice the demands suggested above about free access to libraries and study spaces. When management sought to set up barriers to further enclose their library they physically removed them and reclaimed the space through occupying it. As our statement of solidarity with the students states:

The occupation was an absolute success: the space was crowded and busy, and people were even seen studying in the corridors. Without notice, the Chancellor called the police a few hours after the occupation started, who immediately charged the people inside, destroying tables, chairs and other studying material. To resist, the students started a demonstration around the University which was also violently dispersed by the police forces. Nevertheless, assemblies continue to take place, and the fight will continue.

In addition to expressing our solidarity with the fight against enclosure of study spaces and police presence on campuses the statement noted that:

Warwick’s own first occupation was in the library in 1969 in solidarity with students at the LSE who were fighting against the installation of metal gates around their campus. These gates were designed to increase management control over the LSE and create a more exclusive gate-kept community. Warwick stood against such moves then, and we stand against them today.

The borders between ‘university’ and ‘community’ are not fixed, and how porous they are is a matter of struggle as the examples of the Bologna and LSE occupations demonstrates.

As was already highlighted above, Rhodes Must Fall in Oxford can be seen as advancing a critique of the university. The campaign is seeking to get the statue of British colonialist and racist Cecil Rhodes removed from Oriel College. They have also points out other parts of Oxford built on the proceeds of colonialism – e.g. the Codrington Library, built using funds left in the will of a notorious slave trader. This campaign is important in advancing a critique of elite universities as they relate to capitalism, the ruling class, and colonialism; it is also telling that Oriel made the decision not to remove the statue after an incredibly wealthy individual threatened to cancel a £100m donation.

Such institutions really ought to be abolished and their control by wealthy individuals broken. Let’s expropriate racist multimillionaires and tear down their beloved statues.

In this context, I would argue, dissolving Oxford University into a city-wide comprehensive would be a profoundly radical expression of class and racial justice which no amount of greater ‘inclusion’ of working class students and students of colour into the uni could match. The occupation of an empty Wadham College building by student activists and its conversion into a homeless shelter is a good start!

8-hours

Finally, if we see the NES as promising a right to free, universal, lifelong education then the labour movement has a vital part to play in realising this. The length of the working day has always been a central part of class struggle – our labour-power is a commodity which capitalists purchase and then use to produce value. What this means is that they want to get as much out of us as possible for as low wages as possible. If it was possible they would like to pay us barely enough to live on and to work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Of course, there are physical limits that prevent this, but the question of how much a worker needs to work in order to earn enough to live is also a question of the relative power of workers and bosses.

Bearing this in mind the labour movement can assert a right to lifelong intellectual development and education in a concrete rather than abstract sense – the right to sufficient free time to take courses alongside work, and of work that does not take so much out of us that we have no capacity to think, reflect, or read outside of work hours. Struggles over the working day, wages, and perhaps even a basic income can provide the material basis of this right.

Conclusion

In communist society, where nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity but each can become accomplished in any branch he [sic] wishes, society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticise after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, herdsman or critic.

Karl Marx, The German Ideology

I want to end by highlighting the radical implications of a system based on lifelong modular learning rather than universities as 3-year degree factories.

In my mind it points to a post-capitalist society, one in which divisions of mental and manual labour are broken down, as are the class divisions which enforce this divide. A society which truly enables people to be well-rounded, free human beings. A National Education Service, in social democratic or radical form, will not give us that society – but it does point in the right direction. As student activists in California wrote in their Communique From An Absent Future:

We demand not a free university but a free society.  A free university in the midst of a capitalist society is like a reading room in a prison.

I would argue that a creative rethinking of the institutions we take for granted in capitalist society, even superficially progressive ones, can help us fight for that free society.

Remembering December 3rd

*A piece by a Warwick for Free Education activist reflecting on their experience of repression one year on from the events of December 3rd *

It’s difficult to know where to start.  A lot has changed since that fateful day last year – the political climate on campus, our relationship to our University, the entire course of my life.  In that jarring period of less than 10 minutes, our worlds and futures were quaked utterly and completely.  More than anything, all the antagonisms that we felt structured the functioning of the University were exposed and crystallised, made stark in pain, clarified in suffering, demystified somewhere beyond the smog of CS gas, kindled in the crackling of tasers, reverberated in the screeching of screams, and echoed in glacial cells and court rooms.  We recognised this violence not as an anomaly, but the subduing of resistance to the seizure of our education by market forces.  Throughout history this market expansion has occurred through force, deployed by the state in the interests of private property – from the vagabondage laws and threat of execution, torture, imprisonment or deportation instituted with the Enclosures Act centuries ago, to the extreme repression of rebellion in the Global South to the International Monetary Fund’s ruthless privatisation schemes.  Injunctions, police repression, court trials, and other disciplinary measures, we knew, were commonplace consequences of dissent against the neo-liberal University – the #CopsOffCampus campaign did not begin with us, and it will not end with us.  But, the contours are rendered with all the more lucidity contained in a police cell, lips stinging from the after effects of the CS gas, the raw marks of handcuffs searing your wrists.  


There is, of course, something enraging about pain.  But, drawn out, elongated, dispersed for long enough, it begins to numb, and debilitate, and eclipse.  The sensory tumult of friends weeping, screaming, crying out, struck, wrenched to the floor, punched, still provokes tears, but not quite of the same texture: of indignation, still, yes, but not of rage – simply of despair, of desolation, of powerlessness.  The effects of state repression are never just bound in one moment, but in their continued conquest over your being, in their deterioration of your will to fight back.  It is their intimidation and incarceration of your spirit every day, even when you have exited the cell, overcast in months of anxiety-ridden police bail, in arduous court trials, in the self-policing we enact upon ourselves, our joys and actions, in the cops that claim quarter in our nightmares and in our thoughts, in your campus security plaguing you like spectres on a battlefield you were supposed to call home, in scarcely being able to hear the voices of lecturers rise above the din of the screams in youtube videos you’re forced to watch and re-watch, and powerpoints that fade and blend into slideshows of anguish, into fragmented and blurred pixels, electrified and scattered in crescendos of sparks and cries, punctuated by sirens and piercing blue lights.  

You can’t help feeling like you’ve lost something: innocence, maybe, faith in the goodness of the world and in your capability to change it.  One year on, I feel like I still haven’t really processed what happened.  I feel like those pieces are still scattered.  I feel like I’ve still not quite recovered.  I still feel fractured, though the cracks have shifted, assumed new forms and dimensions.  I guess this is how the state wants me to feel – fearful, anxious – and it is that fear which scares me most of all: that they didn’t just repress us physically that day, but that they continue to win, shielded from culpability by a vastly biased judicial and independent complaints apparatus, bearing an institutional power that is so routinely exercised with impunity, and is deployed systematically to repress black and marginalized communities.  In their acerbic tones asking you to be an informant, in their documenting and profiling of personal details to harass you on other local protests, in an injunction which is, unprecedentedly, indefinite and campus-wide: your life, being and capacity to protest is beset and confined by their monolithic apparatus of surveillance and repressive force.  A kind of psychology is produced wherein you are never innocent, just not yet guilty, particularly if you speak out: where your privacy, freedoms and safety are invasively encroached upon for your own safety.  They manipulate you to internalize that suffering, to claim guilt and culpability over it, to besiege your resolve with doubt, to reflect on yourself as an enemy, and finally to reintegrate you as a productive and compliant citizen, a disciplined subject of a social order arranged around dispossession and violence.  Their force is psychic as much as it is physical.  

And it wasn’t just the state that enacted this through bail and court trials, but our own University administration.  They forced through the injunction rather than negotiating with the occupiers; rejected any misconduct on the part of a violent police and security response; refused to apologise even after a summit on peaceful protest organized by the Centre for Human Rights in Practice overwhelmingly affirmed the inability of police and management to defend their flagrant actions; the ludicrous witness statements of Warwick security about Warwick For Free Education being a ‘violent mob intent on fighting the police’ as the University fought to prosecute one of its own students; the manipulative statements from Nigel Threat appealing to nebulous notions of ‘community’ and a ‘spirit of cooperation’ with regard to the management of protest on campus, obscuring its injustices, and vilifying us as ‘yobs’ and a violent unrepresentative minority; security, to this day, accosting, harassing and intimidating us when we engage in something as moderate as chalking.  

We should not dissociate the University from the act of state violence perpetrated upon the protestors within Senate House on December the 3rd: it is actively complicit in that violence and has been throughout the totality of its processes, waging a propaganda war and employing every measure and tool of repression imaginable.  It was evident that, in the aftermath and following months after December the 3rd, the University was much more concerned with mitigating damage to its reputation than it was addressing damage to the wellbeing of its students.  In a climate of marketization, the prestige and image of the University is everything, it is indispensable; and the welfare of students is relegated to a statistical variable in satisfaction surveys: in other words, it is disposable, attended to superficially, performed rather than acting as a guiding principle.  We are disposable, and – when we dissent – enemies, villains, to whom the nebulous ‘duty of care’ of the University no longer extends.  This ‘duty of care’ is simply the securing and legitimization of our compliance.  

And, so, a year on, there is no closure, no apology, and – perhaps above all – no genuine convalescence.  This violence is so embedded in all the operations and relations that constitute the University and society at large that it is hardly escapable: crystallised in injunctions and state-enforced hostility to a free education campaigning group, even less so.  Yet, despite vilification, intimidation, brutality, we persist in our fight, stronger and more resolute than ever before.  December the 3rd will not be the day in which we simply lament the violence of the University and the state, nor capitulate to the narratives they have woven to delegitimize and contain us.  This is an anniversary of pain, yes – but it is also the anniversary of the story we have composed.  It is a story of one of the largest protests in decades on Warwick campus on December the 4th, a story of a militant resurgence of activism on Warwick campus, a story of Fossil Fuel Divestment and the defeat of Teach Higher, a story of the Warwick contingent leading the National Demonstration for Free Education and Living Grants for All just weeks ago.  It is a story of friendship and connection and community tempered through tears and bruises and hardship.  We have found clarity, and resilience, and bravery, and compassion in one another, when the University and state afforded us none.  This is a story not merely of pain, but a memory too, of hope, a marking of our strength and our collective will to struggle and overcome adversity.  This is a story of loss, of despair, of violence – but it is also one of care, and resistance, and loyalty, prevailing to this moment, and in every moment preceding it.  This is our day – not theirs.  It is for the storming of the Rootes building, it is for every tear cried in court and in police stations, it is for every message and action of solidarity, it is for our reclaiming of Senate House after the peaceful protest summit, it is for the affection and comradeship that sustained me through everything, it is for that ferocious impulse to abandon no friend to the grasp of police, and it is for our flare of rebellion within an ever-burning legacy at Warwick and beyond.

One year on, we’re still fighting.  Maybe that’s our closure, and maybe that’s enough.

 

Reflections on November 4th

*A piece by a new Warwick For Free Education activist reflecting on their experience of the National Demo*

It’s been 16 days since over 100 Warwick students travelled down to London to join the National Demo for Free Education & Living Grants for All. To many of us the day represented just another demonstration to add to their personal stories of direct action. Yet for some of us the day represented a realisation of the struggle towards the political objective that WFFE espouses, and an uncomfortable proximity to the stance that the state maintains towards student activism, and the tactics the police deploy in the face of our democratic right to assemble.

With an early start of 8.30am, we assembled on the piazza. The mood was amicable, friends greeted friends in the backdrop of pickets, banners and coats with red felt squares pinned on to them. Pictures were taken, and then we swiftly boarded our pre-booked coaches.

wffe

On our way, one of the SU representatives stands and gives a short speech about the position the SU has towards our participation. It was encouraging and helpful, but lined with care. They went on to say that the SU does not condone illegal action on behalf of students. If you witness illegal action please move quickly away. If you are part of any illegal action the SU then your actions do not represent the SU.

Many students on the bus brush this off; there is no cause for concern because our causes are legitimate. However some of the newer activists become quickly concerned, ingrained was an assumption that we had already committed wrongdoing, and in entering the realm of the ‘’pre-criminal’’, legal advice cards were handed out to be used upon our ‘‘arrest’’. None of us had any intention of being arrested, the mere existence of these cards, which could ultimately prove to be a helpful lifeline, is in some ways a cause for concern.

Upon arrival any concerns faded away as we were joined by other blocs; Free Education movements from Brighton to Glasgow, Anti-austerity, anti-borders, anti-fascist, anti-prevent, the LGBTQ community, those in support of refugees, socialists and communists and all our other allies rallied behind us. The mood was electric. Colourful pickets, clever placards with catchy platitudes. Out of the masses, John McDonnell rose to a stand and presented us with an inspiring reminder that:

‘’Your generation has been betrayed by this government in increases to tuition fees, in scrapping the education maintenance allowance and cuts in education. Education is a gift from one generation to another, it is not a commodity to be bought and sold.’’

Our students marched on the front lines, to a swarm of press earning their wages acting like flies bumping into one another to take the perfect shot. Natalie Bennett, Owen Jones and Aaron Bastani were all glimpsed in the crowd at one point or another as we made our way through London. The city heard our chants as we passed the Houses of Parliament, the Home Office all the way to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. Boos erupted as we stood collectively outside the building that decided to scrap the maintenance grants that feed and house our students. To the individuals lining the streets to watch, the workers taking breaks to make us part of their snapchat stories and the government employees peeking through closed curtains we made our presence loud and clear.

Surrounding the peaceful actions of between 8,000 and 10,000 individuals was a heavy police presence. Especially protective of the government buildings. A heavy police presence could be seen as a sign that the government is attentive to our concerns; the actions that followed proved us wrong.

For those of you that don’t know, kettling is a police tactic for controlling large crowds in which a formation of large cordons of police officers move to contain a crowd within a limited area.  Many of the demonstrators are quite familiar with this tactic, which often keeps a group immovable for hours at a time, involves the use of, arguably excessive, force to drive back protesters who try to leave the area and often accompanied with unwarranted, indiscriminate arrests.

Understandably, most people don’t like being kettled. Being effectively detained for an undetermined amount of time is a pain if you get hungry or thirsty or need the toilet. Let’s not forget the negative effects it may have on the mental health of individuals who want to simply voice their opposition to government policy. The swift movements of the police were met with a stampede to escape, which led us into streets not allocated for our protest and not restricted of traffic. The police didn’t become any calmer, and as we dispersed we were met with chases, individuals being tackled, violent force being used to restrain some, and the distressing sight of riot vans and police helicopters.

 

Accompanying the riot helmets was consistent surveillance. Some officers held video cameras designed to collect the information of any individuals involved in the protest. This agenda to identify those participating presumes guilt, and is yet again another cause for concern. We are not criminals. We are exercising our civic duties to political expression. In this respect we march in solidarity with those who support us but would like to conceal their identities from the more repressive instruments of the state.

We organised because we want a free education system, free from regressive loans and corporate control. Free from discrimination in who is allowed to study and what we study. The protests turned violent after an escalation by the police that saw us not as the concerned citizens that we are, but as rioters who threaten public order.

Thankfully none of the Warwick students who participated were  detained. Much to the testament of the SU, the NCAFC and the organisers at WFFE, whose support is greatly appreciated. Yet as the adrenaline died down, clarification set in. By the end of the night all of us were accounted for, which cannot be said for other protesters that we marched alongside. Being detained, being questioned and the threats of trial and punishment are harrowing experiences. But the struggle continues…

What do we want?

Free Education.

When do we want it?

Now.

International Students’ Day of Solidarity Speech

*This is a transcript of a speech given at today’s rally to oppose the mistreatment, exclusion and exploitation of international students and all migrants and refugees. WFFE rallied to support migrants, and other activists did the same across the country for the NUS’s International Students’ Day of Solidarity*

day of solidarity

My name is Arianna, I am a PhD student here at Warwick. As an EU student myself, over the years I have often found my intentions questioned, whenever I campaigned for issues to do with the treatment of international students within the university and beyond. And the question has often been the same – ‘Oh but you are an EU student, why should you care? This does not concern you, YOU are not affected.’ Well, that’s exactly the point. And that’s exactly why I think it’s so important that we are here today.

When I came to the UK back in 2008, as an EU undergraduate student, my experience was incredibly easier and smoother than that of my fellow students from outside the EU. Nothing made us different, except I did not have to have my bank account and personal background scrutinised by the UK Borders’ Agency before even being allowed to step foot into the country; I did not have my biometric details taken; I did not have to queue for hours to register my details with the police when I arrived; I did not have to worry about missing a class with the fear that UKBA would be notified my attendance and that I could potentially lose my visa if I missed a certain number of classes, or I worked one hour more than what I was allowed to.

And all this was only because of the passport that I happen to carry; a pure accident of birth, that made such a difference to the way in which the British state and the university system have treated me throughout my time here.

And that’s exactly what is so absurd, and inherently unfair, about the border regime that operates within the UK higher education system, and throughout our society more broadly. Opportunities such as the ability to move freely, study, work, live and exist safely in a country come to be increasingly attached to the passports that individuals carry. And our universities reproduce these artificial and grossly unfair divisions by charging students from outside the EU double or triple the amount of tuition fees, just because they can, and because international students come to be seen – and be treated – as easy cash cows to milk to prop up our under-funded and marketised education system.

This is just plain wrong. For years now, things for international students from outside the EU coming to the UK to study have got worse and worse. They have been at the forefront of a string of attacks on the part of governments which have limited their right to access education, to remain here to work and live after completion of their studies, to bring their families over with them. Requirements to get a visa in the first place have become so restrictive that for each international student that makes it here to study, there are probably ten less lucky ones, who have not been able to make it. And things threaten to get worse and worse, with continuously new restrictions being proposed by the government that attempt to make the experience of studying here more and more a privilege for the few that can afford to buy their way through border control, rather than a right which is accessible to all.

migration-is-beautiful

And that’s what we have to stand up against. We must recognise that the attacks that our fellow international students face are the result of a regressive, xenophobic immigration agenda which seeks to close down borders, restrict freedom of movement and create essentially racist divisions within our society. Now, I believe that for too long, when protesting the mistreatment of international students at the hands of the UK government, we have fallen victim of the same divisive rhetoric that is at the root of the government’s xenophobic agenda in first place. University leaders are keen to emphasize the value that international students bring with them in terms of their economic contribution to British universities, and to the British economy; and they are keen to emphasise that international students are not really migrants, and for this reason should be treated more leniently.

Now, we must see this for what it is: a fundamentally dangerous, pernicious and divisive rhetoric, which seeks to create a distinction between ‘good’ and ‘bad’, desirable and undesirable migrants. This is a logic that we must resist, and reject. And that’s why the fight for better rights for international students need to go hand in hand – indeed, needs to be one and the same – with the fight against all border regimes, against all immigration controls, against all xenophobia and racism that operate within our society. The immigration policies of the UK government are nothing short of horrendous: migrants, refugees and asylum seekers are humiliated, locked up in detention centres, stripped of their human rights, of their right to work and exist safely; they are victimised, blamed for an economic crisis they did not cause, then exploited by that very same economic system, often left in deprivation and threatened with deportation or detention. They suffer at the hands of state violence, cast away from the public sight either left to suffer outside the UK borders, or locked inside detention centres where they are deprived of virtually all freedoms.

And this is because of the deliberate strategies of the powerful, which we see operating time and time again throughout history at times of crisis: an attempt to create divisions between the insiders and the outsiders, between us and them, between the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’ migrants, in an attempt to blame those who are weak for a crisis that they didn’t cause, to use fear as a mechanism of control. This is a mechanism that we must recognise whenever we see it in operation, and fight. And that’s why it’s so important that today we are here, in unity and in solidarity with all migrants who suffer at the hands of the British state, and for which things are about to get worse and worse as xenophobia and Islamophobia rise in the wake of the Paris attacks. This is the time to resist against all divisions, to fight against all racism, and to resist all borders, whenever we see them in operation – inside and outside the university. This small action today is hopefully the beginning of a much bigger wave of mobilisations. The fight is on!

‘All Migrants Are Welcome Here:’ Warwick Supports the International Students’ Walkout

On November the 17th, we – as Warwick For Free Education – will be organizing a day of action  in solidarity with international students and migrants.  This will be just one of a coordinated series of mobilizations on campuses across the country, as part of the International Student Day of Action called by the NUS.  We will be engaging in a vibrant, public rally and awareness raising activities such as flyering and a photo petition.  We think this demo is particularly urgent due to the renewed attacks on international students in the form of the NHS surcharge, the scrapping of the post study work visa and broader restrictions on the rights of migrants to live and work in the UK, rental checks which will adversely impact the already most marginalized and further inhibit the access of migrants to housing, and extortionate tuition fees, increasing year on year, which render our universities only available to the more affluent across the world.

We reject this logic, and the logic that brands international students exploitable economic resources.  We reject the exclusionary policies of this Government and the complicity of our Universities in their xenophobic agenda, engaging in intrusive surveillance and attendance monitoring upon international students and acting as willing gatekeepers on behalf of the United Kingdom Border Agency.  We reject a callous agenda that has resulted in the deportations of such students as Majid Ali and Yashika Bageerathi, the former of which was deported back to a country where family members were disappeared and murdered by the state in the context of politically-motivated persecution.  We reject an agenda which has resulted in the deportations of thousands more beyond our Universities and colleges, which subjects migrants to barbaric and inhumane conditions in detention centres, which leaves refugees to risk death in a desperate attempt to breach the border rather than afford them welcome and a dignified, safe life.  This protest is framed not only in the context of the renewed attacks on international students, but also the forthcoming Immigration Bill which is set to tighten border controls and further restrict access of migrants to the plentiful resources of the UK, and entrench the xenophobic and racist narratives that have dominated through the recent crisis and continue to criminalize and legitimize the violent policing of migrant lives.

We firmly believe that our Universities, our educational system, and our societies, should be welcoming, open and inclusive to all.  We wish to express our solidarity with international students and migrants who are routinely attacked and marginalized by this Government, and to voice our absolute opposition to these attacks. We urge all students, home and international, to walk out of their classes next Tuesday and attend our rally.  It is our hope that this act of unified resistance can act as a platform from which to develop a sustained campaign to dismantle all borders to education, and ultimately to aspire to complete freedom of movement for all.  Our fight for free education is hollow if we do not strive towards this universality, and if we do not consistently attempt to intervene in the broader systemic forces which consolidate artificial national divisions to designate illegality and justify oppression on this basis.  We must strike at the root of the structures of power and material conditions that deny educational opportunities to many across the world in the first place, so embedded in legacies of colonialism and imperialism, and recognize our fight for free education as necessarily situated within and oriented towards the struggle against broader social injustices.

No one is illegal!

.day of solidarity

Some more information on the politics surrounding the day is available below:

http://www.nus.org.uk/en/news/students4migrants/

http://anticuts.com/2015/10/13/all-students-together-join-the-international-student-walkout/