Statute 24 campaign: context, progress so far and where we go from here

The foundation of the strength of the Statute 24 campaign has been staff-student solidarity.  After initially forging alliances in 2015 to successfully combat the university administration’s attempts to casualize academic staff through Teach Higher, we have since preserved and fortified these relationships through regular meetings, concerted efforts on campaigns against TEF, Prevent and insecure and exploitative conditions for hourly paid tutors, and lending our solidarity to strike action, staff Assemblies and pressuring Senate and Council.  The significance and reach of these alliances was embodied in our occupation of the Slate, where we explicitly called on the University to concede to the 6 demands of Warwick Anti-Casualisation’s fantastic campaign for fair teaching conditions at Warwick and ultimately won union recognition for hourly paid tutors.

Through our combined resistance as students and staff over the past few years, we have achieved significant victories that could not have been won if we had remained divided and atomized.  It has been through harnessing and further cultivating these alliances that the Statute 24 campaign has drawn strength and borne fruit – with the plans to reform the Statute successfully delayed after a series of motions of opposition were passed in departments, the Student Union and UCU; a staff Assembly occurred and overwhelmingly voted to oppose the reforms; and awareness-raising and social media campaigns, public meetings and demonstrations of strength were staged.

A key facet of the strategy to delegitimize Teach Higher was negative press – exposing the scheme for the programme of casualization that it truly was, belied by the university narratives promising an overhaul in the conditions of hourly paid staff to streamline bureaucracy and introduce more parity.  The language of ‘efficiency’ – a deceptive and ubiquitous pretext for the kind of deregulation fundamental to the neo-liberal agenda – was dominant in the rhetoric around Teach Higher, and through effectively dismantling this coded language and exposing the real nature of the scheme, we began to reclaim control over the narratives.  The same was true of the Statute 24 reforms – except that, this time, there was even less pretence from university management that this was anything but a power-grab, another flagrant attempt to shift institutional power away from workers in favour of bosses.   Locating this set of proposed reforms as an attack on academic freedom, and perhaps even more importantly as one element of a series of broad ranging assaults on the protections, job security and conditions of workers, was essential.

Through this we anchored our campaign in the ideals of protecting a vision of education as a public and social good, conceptualizing this not as an isolated campaign but a sustained resistance against damaging institutional changes within Higher Education which have presided over service and course cuts, wage suppression and unprecedented privatisation and casualization nationally and locally.  This enabled the formation of broad coalitions, and rooted the campaign in the sustained infrastructure and collective power generated by students and workers on campus in the fight back against the Higher Education reforms, maintenance grant cuts, pay cuts, Prevent, precarity, etc.  Our struggles must be broad-ranging, unifying, and robust, emboldened by a horizon of the more just, emancipatory and democratic education system we are striving towards.  We must not simply struggle against the removal of a particular Statute – but for a fundamental shift in the balance of forces within the university, a democratization of its opaque and privately-controlled structures, and fair working conditions and dignity for all staff.

With swathes of job cuts announced on campuses across the country, and perhaps soon threatening Warwick, this infrastructure and ideal – and not simply a reliance on fire-fighting which situates us always in a position of scattered retreat – will become ever-more important to ensure we continue to expand our resistance and advance forwards.  The recent inspiring victory of SOAS Justice For Workers – a complete end to casualization across all sectors of the University – should hearten us in this context, and offer a pressing moral and strategic insight into the important potentialities of organizing service as well as academic workers, uniting all sectors of the university community against the common enemy of management.

This control of narrative was one of the reasons we staged the protests on the university open days at the end of the year.  Whilst the sleek branding and glossy PR campaigns of the open days would have prospective students believe Warwick University is an enlightened, dignified and progressive institution, we know this image is false.  When students have been resituated as ‘investors’ and ‘consumers’ by disastrous neo-liberal reforms in education, we recognize threatening the illustriousness of the university’s reputation, expressed chiefly through the ‘sales pitches’ of open days, is a particularly significant point of pressure.  Indeed, it was the looming threat of open day disruption, as a culmination of sustained campaigning efforts, that eventually forced the university administration to scrap the Teach Higher plans.  Year on year we have disrupted university open days – for a variety of reasons and causes – and we realized that continuing this tradition would impact considerably the scales of calculation of management in pushing through the reforms to Statute 24, and embed the alternative narrative of a free and liberated education further into the everyday culture of campus.  Through both exerting pressure on management by interrupting their otherwise immaculate marketing strategies, raising awareness amongst parents and prospective students about the dangers and injustices of such reforms in Higher Education institutions, and reclaiming campus as a space of militancy, resistance and dissent – once a common sense of student life – we hoped to express the power and creativity of our campaign.

As such we engaged in a noise demo in the Oculus building on the first open day, specifically targeting the Why Warwick? events orchestrated by management to further their marketing ploys.  We distributed thousands of leaflets, engaged in many conversations with parents and students around the importance of opposing the reforms to Statute 24, and effectively countered their ‘sales pitch’ of league table rankings, employment statistics and satisfaction survey results.  We are students, staff, social agents, members of a collective and a community, not instruments of metrics, markets or management: both morally and strategically we believe our presence on open days is powerful and necessary.  The central position we occupied in the Oculus entailed our banners emblazoned the windows of the building for all passers-by around central campus to see, whilst our earnest chants of student-staff solidarity reverberated through the space and beyond, galvanizing attention and conversations and infusing campus with an incendiary political energy.  Later in the day we dropped a banner off Senate House, further fostering the exciting militancy that had – rather than the university’s branding – marked the first impressions of prospective students.

The following open day we engaged in a silent march around campus, after hearing rousing speeches from SU representatives, workers and activists, to symbolize the repression of free expression and dissent that would result from the reforms of Statute 24.  We donned co-ordinated clothing, released flares, distributed flyers, dropped banners and marched through various buildings key to the university’s image and reputation.  At the end of the march we tore the tape from our mouths, entered the Oculus building then marched to central campus in a flurry of flares, chants and vibrancy, unshackled from inhibitions and constraints on free thought and expression, and unleashing finally and fully our collective strength.  We again garnered much attention, with all of campus aflame with our narrative, our actions embodying the significance of free expression and dissent in a context where those principles are under threat.  This ended the term’s campaign on an empowering note which would signal things to come in the new academic year.  Despite people being bound up with exams, lower numbers than we might have hoped on the actions, and the end-of-final-term-political-inertia setting in, these actions were a success, and set a precedent for the scope and escalation of resistance in the new term.

It is important that we are not recuperated by, nor tether ourselves to, the bureaucratic machinations of the Senate and Council as we enter this new cycle of struggle.  As discussed in a previous blog post, there has been some opposition to the reforms by members of Senate, and under pressure from concerted student-staff campaigning changes have been made to the proposed reforms, with the amendments under review by an internally formed working group.  Another Senate meeting has since passed, and it appears still that little has changed, with the elucidation of the proposed amendments to the reforms pushed back to the Senate meeting in October.

We must be vigilant, maintaining pressure and not letting up with our actions until these proposed reforms are thoroughly defeated.  Such tactics of postponement and tokenistic review are repeated time and time by such formal bureaucratic committees: adjust the proposals largely superficially and cosmetically so as to appear responsive to the democratic demands of trade unions, student unions and the pressure of activists, thus placating these efforts and jamming them in lumbering processes of prolonged tinkering until the pressure subsides.  Again, in this context of obfuscation, we must be clear in our narratives: no superficial alterations or accommodations of ‘stakeholder concerns’ can realign these reforms in the collective interests of students and staff.  As with policies such as TEF and Prevent, these reforms to Statute 24 are fundamentally damaging, intrinsically designed to attack the rights of workers.  These vague ‘working groups’ and opaque bureaucratic procedures are located entirely on the terms of management, and we should not be taken in by them – our opposition to the reform of Statute 24 at the behest of management must be firm and absolute.

As such, the horizon of struggle is clear: we must continue to pressure Senate and Council to oppose the reforms outright, as the motions passed in numerous democratic forums and departments within the university mandate.  We have won concessions and delayed the implementation of the reforms, but we have not yet won.  Warwick UCU have recently passed a motion to consider the potentialities of industrial action against the reforms to Statute 24 – this is incredibly significant and a development we wholeheartedly support, particularly as the power of trade unions has been dramatically enfeebled by neo-liberal reforms and this would signal the expansion of trade union resistance beyond narrow pay disputes.  Alongside agitating for such industrial action to occur if necessary, we must continue to broaden and strengthen alliances and the reach of our campaign, pursue a series of creative stunts, demonstrations and militant actions to maintain pressure, and convince broader layers of campus of the necessity of opposing these reforms through forums, public meetings, open letters, flyering etc.

We must do so with optimism, acknowledging that victory is possible, that the forward march of casualization and marketization is not inevitable and we can develop the collective power to resist and overcome.  We must do so with confidence, expanding the infrastructures of struggle we have already formed, taking stock of our previous victories and drawing inspiration from them.  We must do so with hope, that a different kind of education and society is necessary and within our power to enact together.

Advertisements

On ‘Shared Space’

QEC

Screen Shot 2016-03-21 at 22.03.07 Image: http://christianhubert.com

What does the ‘shared space’ represent? A sleek, sanitized, metropolitan homogeneity that can enable optimal marketing to prospective student ‘investors’? An accelerated and enhanced circulation of transport, and by extension capital, through the University structures? A further privatisation of public space and an appropriation of the imaginary of the commons?

The construction of the shared space is an attempt to replicate the dynamics and aesthetic of the metropolis, but it is not just a microcosm of that landscape – it is an active creation of the metropolis itself, an extension of it, a reinforcement of it, but also a transformation of it. That is to say that Universities exist not only as spaces in which to reproduce and supply capitalist structures, but to innovate their advances, to legitimize them, to expand them under its intellectual branding. Indeed, the metropolis often now actively constitutes itself around the local University…

View original post 1,180 more words

Capitalism, Austerity, and LGBTQ Liberation

I think it’s important to dismantle the dichotomy between ‘welfare’ and ‘politics’.  Liberation groups often maintain that the personal is the political, but this sometimes does not manifest in practice.  I know this has alienated me from its spaces: as working class person, no matter how many socials or discussions I attend among other LGBTQ people, my grants are still being cut, my future prospects within a labour market bludgeoned by austerity and precarity are bleak to say the least, and many young LGBTQ people like me are enduring drastic cuts to benefits and informed by the Tories that we do not deserve the living wage because we are not ‘productive enough’.  The forces that are damaging our personal welfare are inherently political, pursuing particular ideologies, motivated by certain vested interests, exercised through the framework of state and corporate power.  These forces necessarily enmesh all of our lives, mould our socio-economic conditions, and entrench the polarization of resources and wealth towards the already rich.  There are concentrations of power with ultimate influence and authority over our lives, which operate structurally and beyond the control of any one individual – bosses and landlords, the Government, the police.  The power dynamics that are manifested in our personal relationships and interactions are microcosms of these hegemonic forms of power.

The institution of marriage is a good example of the convergence between the political and the personal, which LGBT campaigners have long struggled for inclusion within.  The traditional domination of men over women within this context is still rampant, but not in the abstract: marriage was engineered to secure, naturalise and maintain this power relation, to position women as meek and deferential, their economic independence and social autonomy surrendered to their husbands as sanctioned by the state.  In that sense it has always served as a primary reproductive unit within capitalism, resituating and privatising reproductive labour to the home such that the daily restoration of the husband’s capacity to return to work each day, manifested in cooking, cleaning, washing, ironing, even having sex, could remain invisibilised and thus unwaged.  This dynamic has not changed with the inclusion of mostly cis, gay white men into the structure of marriage, but rather has redefined queer identities to adhere to these classical gender roles.  We know that these gender roles are not in any way essential to who we are: they must be imposed and forced upon us, policed and maintained by socio-economic structures.  These gender roles are intended to model and discipline our desires and affections, thus being the primary source from which LGBTQ-phobia emerges if we deviate from the rigid and binary personalities they expect of us.

This enforcement means not only the branding of products along binary gender lines, our conditioning by social institutions to affirm and emphasise particular characteristics in alignment with the gender we were assigned at birth, but also patterns of economic exploitation and exclusion which devalue ‘feminized’ forms of labour and, in doing so, bind those who are not cis heterosexual men who traditionally perform this labour to the margins, and to disproportionate reliance upon state support (or, perhaps more aptly, state control).  In this context, austerity measures have distinctly racialized, gendered and minority-sexuality implications – precisely because they are an attack on the working class.  If we consider austerity a reinvigorated assault upon our common resources – i.e. a dismantling of state support and public services, the slashing of benefits, privatisation of public assets in every sector from healthcare to housing – it is always those who have been most dispossessed from the traditional reproductive stabilities of the nuclear family and waged work that will be adversely and disproportionately affected.

We see austerity manifested in cuts to community centres and social spaces for LGBTQ people, deepening the isolation to which we are often subject and denying us a space for collective association.  This has further fragmented our lives in a context where everything is individualized, where the logic of capitalism informs us that any trial can and must be overcome by personal striving and aspiration, and that disadvantage and poverty is therefore simply an inevitable consequence of idleness and fecklessness.  We see it manifested in cuts to housing benefits, the dismantling and literal demolition of social housing, and spiralling rents in the private rented sector – all of which is located in the context of a mass housing crisis, rising homelessness, and innumerable and ruthless evictions of vulnerable people.  This, again, has disproportionately affected LGBTQ people, and LGBTQ youth, and especially youth of colour.

LGBTQ people are often estranged from families that are averse to our identities and expression, and thus are forced to rely upon social housing or endure constant insecurity in the private rented sector, where stagnating wages are barely sufficient to make rent from month to month, let alone bills, and where our lives are constantly at the whim of exploitative landlords who seek to profit from our housing needs.  Similarly, the cuts to and imposed caps on benefits have disproportionately impacted us: especially when we are forced from our homes by hostile parents or abusive relationships, we are often left with no other option but to depend on state support to avoid destitution.  Because of such displacement, hardship and interpersonal flux, routine instances of LGBTQ-phobic attacks, and institutional oppression – among other reasons – we are more likely to suffer mental health problems.  We are also more reliant on sexual health services, and domestic and sexual violence services.  All of these services are being systematically dismantled, underfunded or privatised by the Government.  Not only have many of them been lost entirely, some have also been consolidated and streamlined to optimise the use of minimal resources – entailing job losses, overstretched services, overburdened workers (many of them with similar identities to those they support), and a kind of provision which does not have the capacity to address the specificity of our circumstances and adversities.  Specialist services for queer BME women in particular have suffered, for example.  PACE, a mental health service for LGBTQ people, has also recently shut down due to cuts to local Government budgets, yet another casualty of a brutal austerity regime.  The continuing fragmentation and gradual privatisation of the NHS is too adversely impacting healthcare services which LGBTQ people disproportionately rely upon, diminishing access, lengthening waiting times, and straining provision.

And, within the educational context: cuts to maintenance grants, which over half a million of the poorest students rely upon.  Many of those estranged from their families rely upon support like this, and due to enduring employment discrimination of LGBTQ people, when we are charged with the most debt we are impacted by that debt hardest and constrained by it for longer.  This, of course, reflects a broader recomposition of higher and further education, towards a marketplace in which students are customers and Universities businesses.  In this context, Universities are pressured to expand and compete with other institutions, with obscene expenditure on advertising, glitzy buildings and extortionate Vice Chancellor salaries whilst student services are cut, bursaries are attacked, and jobs are casualized, outsourced and lost.

All the antagonisms inherent within the market, capitalism and austerity are more pronounced for our community.   Capitalism relies upon difference, otherness and hierarchy to profit at the expense of the most marginalized; to denigrate the victims of its structural injustices – as scroungers, liars, even ‘threats to our security’ – and thus legitimize those injustices; and to maintain work relations and divisions.  Maintenance grant cuts are an LGBTQ issue, as is the broader onslaught of austerity – and the economic system which underpins these policies does not and cannot operate in the interests of our communities.  We must confront it, and challenge it politically – not simply on the basis of it disproportionately impacting LGBTQ people, but rather because an injury to one is an injury to all.  As long as many live in deprivation and poverty, as long as the majority are exploited for the prosperity of the few, as long as injustice thrives, we must collectively fight for liberation – not for more minorities in positions of power, but for an economic and social system over which we have communal control, in which resources are equitably distributed, and where none are elevated to positions which entitle and reward them for exploiting others.

Join us tomorrow to demand #GrantsNotDebt – and to demand liberation.

https://www.facebook.com/events/1666121383640789/

The Attack on our Education

As students and university staff, we must recognise and denounce the Conservative government’s transparent attempts to marketise education outlined in the green paper and policy. We must resist this process, ensure it is not seen as an inevitability, and remain vigilant and critical of future plans to jeopardise education, the public university and education as a right as opposed to a privilege. The Tories want education to serve employers and big business – this is no secret. The introduction of fees was the first step towards the full marketisation of the sector, and we can understand the green paper and its latest set of announcements and potential policy as the next move, and an equally violent attack on education. If this consultation reaches legislation unchanged it will be nothing less than the end of public education.

Among the alarming policies, are the following plans:

  • Future tuition fee rises could be imposed by ministers without a vote in Parliament, opening the door to unlimited, unaccountable fee rises.
  • Fees to rise at least with inflation from 2017, for institutions that tick the boxes of the market-oriented Teaching Excellence Framework.
  • The Research Excellence Framework could become even more narrow and metric-focussed –  further restricting academic freedom.
  • New private providers will be given help in the market to cut into existing public universities.
  • At the same time, the government is developing the management of “exit” of institutions from the market – reaffirming that the Tories are planning for public universities to collapse under their attacks.
  • There is also a vague threat of increased government control of student unions, linked to the undemocratic anti-trade union bill currently being put through Parliament – our right to defend ourselves collectively through our unions is likely under threat.
  • The Teaching Excellence Framework (or TEF) will measure universities’ performance on market-oriented metrics, including graduate employment.  This will define “good teaching” as little more than increasing the value of our work to employers and big business. Teaching will no longer be about serving students, it will be about serving our future employers.

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.  Already overburdened hourly paid academics will be tasked with providing more “high quality” teaching, leaving them less time to pursue their own research and punishing staff who do not or cannot fulfil the rigid criteria and expectations of the TEF. Moreover, the Trade Union bill vastly limits the capacity for workers to resist such changes through industrial action.

Another worrying feature of the government’s Green Paper on higher education is that it proposes removing universities from the Freedom of Information law.

At Warwick, societies and student journalists have long sought to utilise the Act in order to access information from our somewhat opaque management structure; universities are notoriously shady when it comes to freedom of information, and Warwick is no exception. Given its severe limitations, it is beneficial to students and workers at universities for the act to be strengthened. The Paper doesn’t attempt to argue that the move is in the general interests of students; rather, it argues that current FOI laws put universities at a disadvantage relative to private providers.

If any more evidence was needed that this government plans to fully subordinate higher education, in form and function, under the rubric of the neo-liberal market, this is it.

One of the most alarming and blatantly unjust pieces of policy we’re probably all aware of is the axing of maintenance grants for the poorest students. “From the 2016‐17 academic year, maintenance grants will be replaced with maintenance loans for new students from England” This is a direct attack on the poorest students in education, and makes a mockery of Tories’ talk about ‘access’ and increasing the number of working-class students in education by 2020.

With tens of thousands of pounds worth of debt looming over students, the higher education system evokes a constraining sense of fear and narrow cautiousness regarding our actions at University. We are told that we are here to get a degree, which is sold to us as a necessity in order to secure a happy and successful life – clearly wrong on both counts. Graduate unemployment is at an all-time high, and rates of mental health problems amongst students and graduates continue to soar. In order to make sure each leaves university with a degree, we are taught we must prioritise grades above all else and give ourselves an easy life by following the University mantras. This philosophy of marketization is having a hugely damaging effect on student life, as we are pressured into severely restricting our activities to comply with the neoliberal agenda, leaving little room for exploration, expression and creativity within academia as well as outside of it.

Rather than choosing our degree subjects through a genuine desire to learn and freely explore academia, it is now becoming more frequent for these incredibly important decisions to be primarily based on a prescribed system of risk-assessment and self-management which values academic attainment and employability above all else. Students are finding themselves in this situation upon realising that the burden of student debt will require them to get as high a paying job as possible after graduation. This manipulation of students leaves many feeling alienated and overwhelmed, stuck with a degree which they do not enjoy, which does not inspire them. It’s clear that the priorities the Conservative government have with regards to education do not lie in the hands of students.

The economic debt the majority of graduates become trapped with lends itself to a sense of moral debt experienced by many students in relation to their universities – the neoliberalisation of education positions universities as service providers in an educational market, and our side of the contract necessitates that we consume, but don’t complain or speak out. A trend seems to be appearing in which students are being ground down to passivity and compliance by their indebtedness to their higher education institutions, feeling as if they cannot, or have no right to, resist or challenge the system so long as they “get what they are paying for”.  We simultaneously imagine ourselves as owing to the Government, that we have been awarded a luxury whose cost we must resolve to repay, and as customers entitled to a particular excellency of service because of the money we have paid to our University, placing further pressures on strained staff and re-situating dissent from the streets to feedback forms.  Both mentalities distort the true meaning and unquantifiable worth of education.

Another threat that the Tories have recently posed to education is enforcing the English Baccalaureate if re-elected, meaning that students will have very limited options of subject choices at GCSE level, once again narrowing the boundaries of education and serving the interests of only a very select few students who happen to perform most strongly in traditionally “academic” subjects. Although this does not directly effect universities per se, it could vastly alter the accessibility of higher education to a very large proportion of students, and furthers the concept that, rather than serving the interests of those wishing to learn, the primary purpose of education is to produce an academic elite, a very conservative envisioning of one at that, and to make graduates into easily comparable commodities and “good” employees.  For all the Tories’ statements of poorer students not being deterred from attending University by 9K fees, the problem courses much deeper: the inaccessibility of our education system at all its levels entails that the most disadvantaged students will routinely not achieve as highly their more privileged peers.  When a degree is sold to us as a pre-requisite to gaining a foothold in a ruthless job market and to securing a prosperous life, the increasingly competitive entry requirements of universities leave many feeling as they have no options and no future.

It’s clear that the future of education truly is at stake here, unless we envisage the perfect education system as one that works to serve the needs of the 1% and large corporations, and is seen as nothing more than a tactic for accumulating capital, at the expense of the time, money and futures of students and staff alike. It is a matter of absolute urgency that we must stand against these ideological attacks on higher education, as students and staff, and continue to support the struggle towards a free, democratic and accessible education for all.  

DEMO CALL OUT #GrantsNotDebt 26/2

grantsnotdebt

FACEBOOK EVENT

Last term, the Conservative government released their Higher Education reform bill in the form of a green paper. The changes proposed in this paper represent some of the starkest threats to public higher education since the introduction of tuition fees in 1998. These proposals signify a particular ideological view of higher education: full marketization, the extension of debt through mass loan rollouts, the casualization and outsourcing of staff, and the erosion of working conditions and pay. The rationale offered for these “reforms” is that the sole purpose of university is to produce a “pipeline of graduates” (to quote our universities minister) able to compete within the labour market. This vision of higher education motivates the recent announcement that from 2016, maintenance grants will be abolished and replaced with maintenance loans, which will disproportionately impact those who most need financial support.

Maintenance grants are used by the million poorest students to support their studies. Scrapping them is an attack on those with the least resources, increasing the burden of personal debt on the most marginalised – even the Government’s own advisor on social mobility has warned against it. Despite it being entirely unlikely that the change will make any long term impact on public finances, the move was undemocratically put through a back room committee and voted on by only 18 MPs. On the Jan. 19, Labour used an Opposition Day debate to force the issue, whilst the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts blocked Westminster Bridge outside. Sadly, the vote was narrowly lost – but the fight’s not over yet.

On Feb. 4, we disrupted the University’s finance office with a noise demo and sit-in, forcing the new Vice-Chancellor Stuart Croft to meet with us and discuss our demands. Despite securing significant victories – Croft pledged to initiate consultation and dialogue on a number of our demands – we must nevertheless continue to struggle beyond the established channels. This is why we are calling a demonstration on the Feb. 26 to demand that Warwick University use its considerable leverage to condemn the abolition of maintenance grants. Under the umbrella of this abolition, which is just one way in which higher education reforms will target the most vulnerable in society, we also call on the University to oppose those more subtle forms of marginalization at work in the Government’s vision and rectify its own past actions. Thus we are demanding:

 

1) That University management publicly oppose the cuts to maintenance grants, and lobby the Russell Group to do the same, and pressure the Government into reversing these cuts.

2) That the University undertakes minimum compliance with the Government’s Prevent agenda, support University College Union’s boycott call, and implement full transparency with respect to all interactions with Prevent.

3) That University management lift the £12,000 High Court injunction, which is an authoritarian impingement upon the right to protest.

4) That University management lobby and advocate (individually and through the Russell Group) for universities to remain under Freedom of Information Act, and advocate for the Act’s extension to private universities.

 

We need students and staff to mobilize for this demo in order to show the University that we will not be silent in the face of these sweeping assaults on higher education. We will not accept the University’s complicity in this Conservative ideology, and we denounce its past attempts to render itself impervious to scrutiny and dissent.

wffelogo3

Join the resistance!

tinyurl.com/grantsnotdebt

#GrantsNotDebt

 

On Question Time, and the Masquerade of Democracy

dec 3

At the Vice Chancellor question time a few nights ago, we witnessed the new VC, Stuart Croft, respond in no substantive, decisive or principled fashion to any of the questions about an education system in jeopardy. Questions about Prevent were glossed over, questions about pay polarity within the University deflected, questions about injunctions and the living wage and maintenance grant cuts dismissed. He declared that there are no ‘simple solutions’, that some of these are ‘national issues’ over which the University has no sway – as if Universities are simply subjects of neo-liberalism and not engines for some of its worst advances.

Although the actions and agitations of Warwick For Free Education have contributed to the pressure which impelled the new Vice Chancellor to host this Question Time, last night’s performance and rhetoric continue to expose the contradictions and deterioration of democracy within the marketized University. In his first all student email and at the Question Time last night he gestured towards a different, more genial atmosphere and mode of governance, whilst committing to no political response or decisive action on the new devastating set of Higher Education reforms. We recognise these gestures as a ploy to placate our anger and coax us into forgetting the past, as an attempt to conceal the draconian responses of this University to our campaigning beneath vague indications of more dialogue and more engagement. This dialogue only ever seems to result in pledges for more dialogue – and never action.

We have not forgotten. We have not forgotten the police violence, the emotional impacts of which plague many of us to this day. We have not forgotten the injunction, which represses our right and freedom to protest. We have not, and cannot, forget the pain and violence the processes of marketization inflict on our community of students and staff. We will not forget, and we reject entirely the notion that a change in personality of the figure who governs our University could ever be sufficient to defend our vision of education and our collective wellbeing. Our interests are, and have always been, opposed to the managers and administrators of the neo-liberal University, those who accrue obscene salaries whilst workers suffer casualization and real wage cuts, our living costs rise, and our campuses are privatized. Not only has our new Vice Chancellor exposed himself as little more than a politician, the same as Nigel Thrift before him, his structural position constrains and pressures him to adherence to the dictates of the market.

We reject the notion that there is some common ground that can be reached between us with enough dialogue, especially when it is situated on the terms of management. We reject that a termly Question Time where we are not responded to decisively, let alone even promised progress, is anything but an act of political theatre intended to palliate antagonisms between the University community and management. We reject the notion that this should be the extent of our democratic agency. We demand fundamental change.

To abandon our protest, our organizing and our struggle to the remote maneuvers and equivocation of a managerial class, which has demonstrated time and time again their lack of concern and regard for our welfare, is only to pacify ourselves. When our maintenance grants are being abolished, when the Higher Education reforms threaten to decimate public Higher Education, when state-sanctioned Islamophobic monitoring and surveillance courses through our University structures – and our management remain at best neutral and at worst complicit – the time for polite conversation has passed. Systemic violence and exploitation is being enacted upon the most marginalized within and outside our educational institutions, and we cannot wait on the hollow rhetoric and nominal gestures of management to resolve these issues for us. When our voices are disregarded amidst the advance of the market, intervention is rendered our only option.

The new Vice Chancellor has exposed and demonstrated his position – and we will respond in kind.

On the Politics of Consultation

*A critique of the government’s HE Green Paper consultation process by a Warwick for Free Education Activist. Please consider signing the petition attached beneath.*

The Green Paper consultation is a charade. This is not meant simply in the context of it being anathema to our principles as a group organizing towards free education – the Green Paper proposes nothing short of the complete marketization of the Higher Education sector which, for all their rhetoric around social mobility, will inevitably result in the further casualization of the University workforce, cuts to the already most underfunded and disadvantaged Universities and their replacement by private entities, the slashing of courses that are not amenable to the interests of employers and capital, rent and fee hikes, cuts to student support such as maintenance grants, Disabled Student’s Allowance and the student nursing bursaries, and the distortion of education from a common good into a commodity. ‘Social mobility’, whether we indeed believe this phrase a token substitute for the presence of genuine justice – more a re-arrangement of individuals within fixed social hierarchies rather than an abolition of the hierarchies themselves – it fails even on its own terms, serving as a smokescreen to conceal the upward redistribution of wealth operationalized by market mechanisms.

‘Teaching excellence’ seems, by extension, to mean the expansion of an increasingly insecure workforce which is bound into compliance by metric regulated performance management and mounting workloads – as if ‘excellence’ is indeed interchangeable with ‘exploitation’, where the maximum possible amount of labour is extracted at the minimum cost, within a climate of intense bureaucratic pressure and relentless target acquisition. ‘Student choice’ seems an equivalent of ‘consumer choice’, which is afforded an incongruous priority in the title given that this document was in its first instance formulated with no broad input from students themselves, and actively hinders the expression of our voices in the modelling of its consultation questions (not to mention the proposed mechanisms of restriction of Student Unions in the framework of the repressive Trade Union Bill, constraining the democratic will of the student body). It seems, then, ‘student choice’ is a façade intended to disguise the real interests guiding this document – those of bosses and corporations.

‘Student choice’ is rendered little more than a token appeal and performative platitude within this context: which in truth reflects not an autonomy to manoeuvre within Higher Education as one wills, in pursuit of passions, creativity and personal flourishing, not a democratic control over the content of one’s education, but an ability to differentiate a selection of University options from a range of sophisticated branding and varying fees, functionalized by a value-for-money, career prospects oriented calculation. ‘Choice’ seems to afford less and less power to us, and more to the whims of employers – with whom the modern University is so intimately connected – as if the market is the ultimate arbiter of not only self-determination but quality. The optimisation of an assortment of skills compatible with specific career trajectories, the necessity to subordinate our futures to the greed of a range of bosses, apparently encapsulates in it all the dimensions and aspirations which might define ‘choice’. This term exposes itself, and the market framework in which it is situated, as hollow, with the best options available to those who pay more, and all those ‘choices’ culminating in the same indebted, exploited condition, and indeed riven with the broken promises of an austerity economy and a precarious labour market (after all, for all the Government’s proclamations of more people from disadvantaged backgrounds being afforded access to Higher Education, broader social and economic inequality has only deepened under their rule).

On its own terms, even, the private provision of education is, as with the privatisation of other spheres, set only to lessen quality, as Universities will be afforded more streamlined access to funding and degree awarding status, ultimately tailored towards recruiting the largest possible intake of fee-paying students and the mass production of degrees at the cheapest possible cost. We only need to look to the ailing state of Further Education to recognise the ills of market administration of public goods, where four out of 10 colleges are now threatened by closure or merging.

But, beyond this initial title, the language of which continues unapologetically throughout the consultation document, the entire façade of consultation is unravelled as little more than a superficial tapping in to the already most privileged voices within a policy framework fixed in principle and intention but malleable on some technicalities. It is an ostensibly equitable process of debate which is situated on the terrain and terms of the powerful. Again, the language of ‘choice’ betrays itself here, never entailing the determination and formation of our education in accordance with student voices, but simply the expression of those voices by proxy through the market and elite figures, borne out by the patronising assumption that we as students do not know what is in our best interests, but that those decisions are best rendered by the (unstable, destructive, prone-to-crisis) market.

Indeed, there is little opportunity or capacity to raise an opposition in principle or totality to the Green Paper, to challenge the essential notion of the market provision of education. Instead the questions are leading, inaccessible, naturalising of market mechanisms, and intended to advantage voices already situated within positions of power. For example, looking at question 12(a) – “Do you agree with the proposals to further improve access and success for students from disadvantaged backgrounds and black and minority ethnic (BME) backgrounds? Please give reasons for your answer” – this manipulation is manifested. After all, if we were to answer to the contrary, that would entail that we were opposed to the concept of improving access to education for disadvantaged groups – which, as a group committed to liberation, we are of course not. This question is not structured to facilitate the expression of opinions which refuse the very idea that market mechanisms safeguard social mobility.

Similarly, looking at Question 7, in relation to the Teaching Excellence Framework, “How can we minimise any administrative burdens on institutions? Please provide any evidence relating to the potential administrative costs and benefits to Institutions of the proposals set out in this document” – we see the unfair advantages and weighting provided to the voices of certain individuals within this consultation. There is no opportunity to express the perspective that metrics in themselves are detrimental constraints to exploratory, imaginative and cooperative teaching, or indeed that teaching quality and the positive purposes and effects of education are quantifiable at all. It is obvious, also, that those who are most capable of providing evidence and statistics will be perceived as more legitimate and thus will be assigned more significance by those mediating the consultation. Those most capable of providing evidence will be those already in positions of institutional power, familiar with the logistical mechanisms of such already existing projects as the Research Excellence Framework. By extension, the voices which will most influence the outcomes of this consultation will be those with already vested interests who are familiar with navigating existing structures of power. The terms of the debate are set with particular principles, in such a manner as to unfairly advantage those already invested in those principles.

Further to this, the consultation is an incredibly long, complex and technical document, which – for all the Government’s rhetoric around ‘student choice’ and increased access – is heavily inaccessible to students and those without specific institutional knowledges, thus restricting our input and exposing ‘choice’ not so much as an expression of popular control over our education but an embellishment of the allure of varying degree ‘investments’.

Thus consultation entails a kind of perfunctory and performative appeal to negotiation within the context of a predetermined political and economic agenda. The parameters and logic are static, and non-negotiable – but some of the nuances can be bargained over. Not only do we reject vehemently the format, language and terms of this debate, but rather the very notion that our victory should emerge from such channels or that our resistance should be contained within their deceptive legitimacy. Whilst we have not discouraged engagement with this consultation, nor have we encouraged it, nor validated the notion that such engagement should be the extent of our democratic stake in educational policy and processes.

We fundamentally reject the notion that an ability to effect minor adjustments to a programme of market principles set by an unaccountable and detached ruling class should be the only legitimate expression of democratic will – and, indeed, we contend that our principles of participatory and open democracy as a group are incompatible with such a consultation. Indeed, this consultation reflects the elitist and exclusive nature of our parliamentary channels, dominated by the interests of private gain and profit. Further to this, we believe conciliation with that ruling class is impossible, especially one so committed to austerity and neo-liberalism as the Tories: we recognise that our vision of education can only be effected by the mass, militant and grassroots movements of students and workers nationally and internationally, as it has been won in Germany and elsewhere.

Exercising our democratic voice individually and in private, through an incredibly dense and technical consultation intended to marginalize student voices, is a poor substitute for collective control over the structures and content of our Universities and education, and this is the goal we agitate towards. We recognise the interests of the Government and corporate elites as antagonistic to our own, and that to contain our struggle entirely within their ‘legitimate’ channels and consultations is not only to moderate and recuperate that struggle, but to validate defective and tokenistic models of democratic engagement, and to belie the fact that the Government answers not to discursive engagement but, in its final instance, to the market. It is there, through protest, agitation and disruption, that we must assume leverage to halt this Green Paper and its catastrophic proposals for Higher Education.

Anything less would be to dismiss where the battle lines have been drawn and to acquiesce to the assault on education as a public good. Whether the Tories were voted in or not (and 24% of the electorate is hardly a significant democratic mandate) – we recognise the necessity to be actors in our own struggle, that moral agency is not internal to the dynamics of the state but frequently outside and in conflict with it, and that to abandon our fight to ‘legitimate’ appeals to the conscience of an unconscionable Government is to result only in a betrayal even more severe than that which defined students voting en-masse for the Liberal Democrats in 2010 on the (subsequently broken) promise of halting any tuition fee rise.

Our fight is not situated in artificial consultations but on the streets, in occupation, in mass political education on our own terms, and in collective struggle against the forces that will not hesitate to decimate public Higher Education.

***

Sign our petition below to call on and pressure Warwick University management to oppose the Green Paper.

https://docs.google.com/a/estudiant.upf.edu/forms/d/1eSJI5RwyN8_ChwvTqgQVYSeYR2SpB_FXLz8pOs8fN6w/viewform?c=0&w=1