HAPPENING NOW! Students shutting down finance office in protest against grants cuts!

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We are here today to protest the cuts to maintenance grants and demand that the University stands in public opposition to the new loan system. These cuts will adversely affect the poorest and most marginalised students, and are sure to only entrench deeper inequality across society.

By replacing maintenance grants with loans, the poorest students – previously recipients of largest grants – are forced to take on the most expensive loans, effectively paying back more than their richer counterparts. Poorer graduates will be indebted for longer.

We firmly reject this system, and demand that our University does the same, by way of declaring public opposition to the scrapping of maintenance grants. The student body has already made its opinion known, with an overwhelmingly positive vote during the ‘All Student Meeting,’ in favour of supporting maintenance grants.

It took 18 MP’s 90 minutes to vote in favour of converting maintenance grants to loans. Our University should firmly oppose this behaviour and political system, if it is intent on safeguarding democracy. In the latest Warwick Question Time our new Vice Chancellor, Stuart Croft, after being asked about maintenance grants appealed vaguely to ‘discussion’, creation of committees and passing a motion through University Council. We believe that our University should not hesitate to stand up for the rights of its students, and utilise Russell Group’s Lobbying Power in order to demand and secure a better future for students, especially those who are most vulnerable. Instead, our VC chose not to acknowledge Russell Group’s ability to petition the government and protect students.
We also see the wider problems in higher education and our university, including FOI requests, the injunction imposed on student protests at Warwick, and the racist Prevent agenda.

The government’s Green Paper proposes an assault on higher education, with numerous reforms including University exemption from FOI requests. FOI’s at Warwick have revealed ‘241 staff being paid below living wage,’ amongst other worrying facts, and as such represent transparency and accountability mandatory for the University to be a fair place for student and staff alike. At the same question time, our Vice Chancellor said that FOI’s cost too much money and allowed for alternative education institutions to ‘snap up’ top degrees and top candidates. We demand that our University fights the government Green Paper reforms to ensure it remains open and transparent.

We believe that the injunction against occupation style protests infringes on our right to properly protest on campus, as occupation style protests are an integral and historically successful method of dissent. Stuart Croft made vague reference to nebulous ‘violence’, whilst we in turn demand that the University apologises for its violent actions against students, and lifts the injunction, allowing us to campaign against the structural violence inherent within the world today.

The Government’s Counter Terrorism Programme, Prevent is a racist, Islamophobic and ineffective piece of legislation. We demand that the University rally against this. We understand Croft’s adherence to the ‘law’, but equally the University must recognize this legislation as dangerous, prejudiced and unjust. We demand that Warwick must reject Prevent to the full extent of its capacities.

We come here today to protest for the rights of a free and open education. To oppose the scrapping of maintenance grants, and the inequality that entails. To oppose the scrapping of FOI’s and the opacity and marketization of the University this promotes. To oppose the current injunction against occupations so that we may protest freely, and to oppose the racist and bigoted agenda of Prevent.

We come here today to disrupt the finance office. This neo-liberal organ at the heart of the university reflects the ongoing neoliberal austerity programme that further immiserates and attacks not only students, but also vulnerable people from all around the UK. We must reject the programme of cuts of which maintenance grants are one small but significant part. The finance office is complicit in these cuts, complicit in the deterioration of our University into a mere business, and must be interrupted. We disrupt because of the collapse of accountability in our university, and the diminished efficacy of democratic channels. At this stage, disruption is our only option in order to defend ourselves from structural exploitation.

We reject the idea that a termly question time with the Vice-Chancellor be the extent of students’ democratic engagement and influence within the University; an event where we are given no straight answers but one, that decisions must navigate the endless bureaucracy that is the management structure of this institution; a structure in which University management, whose interests within the neoliberal university are contrary to that of students, decide on the ‘best course of action’ on their students’ behalf. So we have come to the finance office, right beside the VC’s office to push for a meaningful dialogue that occurs on our terms, which genuinely engages with the gravity of our concerns and addresses the urgency of the situation.

We will not sit idly by as University bigwigs have conversations in committees, putting their interests above our education and our futures, and are complicit in the dismantling of public higher education.

The demonstration in London two weeks ago showed that if you scrap our grants, we will shut down your bridges. Now, in the finance office, a space that does nothing for students, we are saying once again, if you are complicit in the scrapping of our grants and the grants for future generations who desperately need it, then we will protest and disrupt you.

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Low Pay in HE

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New research by the THE has shown that only 10% of UK Higher Education insitutions pay all staff the living wage.

Back in Febuary we revealed that the living wage is not paid to many members of Warwick staff.

“A recent Freedom of Information (FOI) request has revealed that at least 241 workers who have been employed on campus for 6 months or more are not paid the living wage. This puts us a long way into the shameful group of 39 UK universities who have more than 100 staff on less than the living wage.”

Warwick says it does not recognise the living wage as a benchmark for fair pay, and instead pays a ‘bonus’ to all staff who fall below the living wage on average. This is unacceptable, and vulnerable to deliberate confusion. And so we are repeating our demand that the univeristy immediately commit to becoming a living wage employer.

In the context of TeachHigher, the a disgraceful refusal to pay a living wage is evidently not the only way in which Warwick exploits its staff. Low pay is increasingly being combined with highly casualised employment.

This issue effects both academic and non-academic staff, and we should be clear that we have solidarity with both. It is not only seminar tutors who are under attack, but also conference staff and others, who allow our univeristy to function.

We can see two clear national trends: a widespread disregard for the living wage, and increasingly precarious employment for academics.

Sadly, Warwick is at the forefront of both.

Management Discuss Future of HE: “Become a Corporate Body?”

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Today, during a Warwick 50th anniversary administrative staff discussion, it appears that university management were actively discussing the way in which they treat students as consumers, and the transition towards increasing corporate and privatised education institutions.

It is beyond doubt that our university is committed to an ongoing project of neoliberal reform. They want to be dealing with consumers and profit, rather than students and education. The thing is, they aren’t usually stupid enough to say so in public.

Our students union has a very clear democratic stance on these issues: we believe in free education for everyone. As long as the university remain committed to pursing the exact opposite their claims to respect student democracy are laughable.

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CORPORATE GLORY HOLE (OR, WHERE I WENT TO UNIVERSITY)

Written by a Warwick Alumni, and first published here.

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I only write when I feel very strongly about something. I don’t always rarely achieve my aspired level of social comfort and vocal stillness. I swear a lot in attempts to convey any strength of expression – there is power in a well placed “CUNTING” or “FUCKERY”. I like that.

As expressed in my initial disclaiming post, I am not a writer or communicator, (this blog will probably just be for this post to be honest) I do not often wade in with well expressed opinions or clarity of thought, but it’s fine; not only am I good at different things, but I know plenty of people who can talk and think on point and trust me they do it fucking well. So they do that, and I drink and swear.

BUT: the reason I am writing is that I am having a very strong feeling about something – not an event, or a culmination, or a midpoint, or a start, but a feeling about something synoptic and very important to me, a feeling strong enough to make me sit down and tappy tappy tappy on my clapped out laptop and say what I shitting well think. I’m not going to be ‘blogging’, that’s not going to be a thing now, at least I don’t think so – but getting my thoughts on to paper and then on to a screen gives the time and space to momentarily turn the volume down on the Richard O’Brien in my brain, so I can get through the Crystal Maze and let the words fall into a vertical perspex tube in the right order.

The feeling I want to articulate is that I am not proud of Where I Went To University. This is complex to me because Where I Went To University and The University That Taught Me are two different ideas.

Where I Went To University is a glossy A5 pamphlet printed on paper that costs more per sheet than a cuppa, with deliberately identifiable colour selections, and company approved fonts. It is a slick short story about a young set of buildings in between the City of Peace and some fields, about how those buildings and their low airspace were turned into a construction site controlled by a management which were and are the eponymous corporate glory hole of this piece. About how those who built or branded on this space made it rain that sweet sweet dollar money into the raw laps of the management, and those who pass through the young buildings for their intended purpose of education just have to live with the mess, and are charged a cunt-tensing fortune for the privilege. That sweet dollar money keeps the glory hole in luxurious working order. Fresh paint on the wall, perhaps studded padding around the hole itself for maximum comfort, definitely ample parking in the vicinity, and most importantly security guards armed with CS gas stationed nearby to prevent any yobs intruding on vital visits to the spotless, comfortable hole.

I’m not fucking proud of that. (Not not proud of glory holes, I’m fine with whatever floats folk’s boats, I’m just trying to use that complete shitty image to convey the nature ofWhere I Went To University.)

The University That Taught Me is a different work altogether. There are no logos, cordoned off areas, or spotless walls there. The University That Taught Me is made of brains. Brains of some of the best people I’ve ever met. It’s made of tutors who teach so well you go home with a cured hangover and a sword made of anger, knowledge, and referencing with which to test your next ideas. Yes you bitch about it but it’s because your brain is having to work. Tutors who teach so well that you can feel that same bitching brain downloading new software in real time except that it’s not iOS, it’s your life being quickened by the possibilities made clear by these amazing humans working from tiny offices, crammed side by side full of everything they want to give you, these humans who teach so well that their reading suggestions make you want to do oral with the library, who make you look beyond the beautiful, ordinary walls of your seminar room. Who show you their brains so you’ll show them yours. Who make you think so far outside of yourself, your background, your strength, your comfort, so that you really learn to work.

These amazing tutors who bust every nut they have so that your brain can level up, and so you can start to level up on your own. They write, they edit, they talk, they schedule, they email, they sign, they do all this from their rectangular offices full of biscuits and deadlines and stress and the undiscovered, they do it all so that people are educated. They do it so that all of this important stuff doesn’t have concrete poured on it, get painted over, or put in a glass box and just stared at. They teach us because knowledge can be power and whatever experiences – positive, or negative – you’ve had with any tutor, that fact puts us all on the same team. Their sin bin is our sin bin, we are wearing the same colours.

THAT is what a university is – brains working. Not like the Brain from Pinky & the -, not like the brains compared to the brawn of an organization, but brains working because they can and because there is work to be done. The grey squishy stuff that makes you want to fuck people, that chooses each disastrous outfit, that is your self-talk, that has such wider capacities than those simple things, that determines your life, is the basis of the realness of a university. True experience of the essence of university is all of the shit from Dead Poet’s Society, and all the shit from History boys, it’s Dumbledore’s Army, it’s getting to smoke with the gang behind the bike sheds, it’s that scene in A Clockwork Orange where his eyes are held open, it’s an episode of Time Team where they find a whole Saxon village, it’s an intellectual breakup and the ensuing discovery of BDSM and swinging, it’s carpe diem, it’s tearing pages out of books when you find them wanting, it’s a messy benediction and it’s midnight mass at 9.00am on a Thursday when you’re still drunk and have no fucking money but your bus pass got you to campus in order to motherfucking learn –
BECAUSE:
if you’ve chosen to be there, if you worked your anadin-popping stress-dreaming sixth form arse off to be there, if you’re taking a financial commitment more significant than the average modern marriage to be there, your heart is with the team that’s taught, not the team that’s bought. Or dreams that are taught, not bought. Fucking whatever. I don’t give a shit about whatever pure cheddar phrases click for you over this feeling but seriously, I think it’s important. The old school idea of university as a place of study is precious and Nigel Thrift is turning Warwick’s environs into business Disneyland. Bizneyland if you will.

The University That Taught Me isn’t a pamphlet, it’s not printed, it’s not even written. It exists continually in the people I’ve met, the ambitions I now have, the things I’ve learned, the work I will make, and my respect for those who teach like those who taught me. I would not be the calibre of hungry, hopeful, interested and motivated hot mess that I am without the people who shared their brains with me.

Where I Went To University makes me ashamed. I am exhausted with shame at how something I was a part of treats people, treats lives, treats freedom, and treats education.

The University That Taught Me is a place for which I will be forever grateful, am immensely proud to be attached to, and have huge respect for. The people under whom I studied ARE the true university, they are the heart of Warwick and should be acknowledged for the work they do – educating yobs. A dehumanizing word; and, coming from the lips of the Vice-Chancellor at the end of a summit on police brutality, a perfect illustration of the difference between Where I Went To University and The University That Taught Me. 

Why I Am Spending International Women’s Day Inside an Occupation

Hope Worsdale originally published this at the Huff Post.

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This weekend, I am celebrating International Women’s Day with fellow women and non-binary activists inside an occupation of Senate House, the administrative heart of the University of London. As I look around at these people, with whom I am united in common goals of free and liberated education, an end to austerity and the protection of workers’ rights, I am reminded why radical spaces like these are so important.

I am reminded of the power and importance of solidarity within both the free education and feminist movements, and why left-wing activists must mobilise in force to support actions such as this one. I am reminded that all over the world, women are leading powerful, successful grassroots movements that are consistently overlooked and silenced by our patriarchal society. Above all, I am reminded that direct action is an incredibly empowering tool used by many women and non-binary people to struggle against a sexist system that oppresses us on a daily basis.

It is clear to me that when we demand free education and an end to cuts, we are simultaneously demanding an end to gender inequality within the sector. The pay gap is still a fundamental issue – around 2/3 of workers paid £7 or less an hour are women, and for every £1 a man earns, a woman earns 85p. These figures are even worse among black women – our system is not only inherently sexist, but racist too. In academia, only one in five professors are women, and the work of women theorists and academics is constantly disregarded. In the context of the welfare state, 10% of all women’s income comes from benefits, compared with 5% of men’s income. So what happens when the white-male-dominated government cuts benefits? Of course, women are hit the hardest.

As I sit here at the heart of the biggest university in Europe, I feel I am at the heart of the pervasive neoliberal agenda that is rife in education at the moment. Anger is growing within the student movement as we are witness the ongoing commodification of education and privatisation of our institutions. As universities and schools look more and more to preparing us for well-paid jobs rather than educating us holistically, students are increasingly regarded as tools to be used to uphold capitalism, and with this move comes the fortification of sexism, as it is my wholehearted belief that women and non-binary people will never be truly liberated under this system which will always prioritise profit over people.

This I why I believe that International Women’s Day needs reclaiming. As I browse the IWD website, I see that one of the sponsors is BP, a fossil fuel company and corporate giant which is not only actively contributing to the destruction of the planet, but is also profiting from that wreckage. I also see that the website is arguing for “more women in leadership roles” and for “the growth of women owned businesses”. Although I acknowledge and condemn the fact that women are underrepresented in these sectors at the hands of sexism, I nonetheless reject this form of feminism and refute the idea that we will achieve a fair and equal society if there are more women in company boardrooms and positions of economic power. To me, all this would engender is a situation where women are oppressing other women, and that is not liberation. We must never lose sight of the fact that capitalism not only upholds the oppression of women, but in fact relies on it in order to function.

So that’s why I am spending International Women’s Day inside an occupation. In this autonomous space that we have reclaimed, we are uniting as women and non-binary people and we are discussing and debating our ideas on feminism and left-wing politics, in a way that directly challenges the capitalist, patriarchal system which dominates our lives. By doing so, we are not only envisaging and fighting for free education, but we are actually demonstrating what this vision may look like in the future.

Because I Love Warwick

Miguel Costa Matos

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The rationality of student activism is exquisite. Why would you spend your efforts trying to change an institution you’re going to leave after 3 years? The answer could end at – I want to see a better, different higher education system. But that seems patently insufficient. Why here? Why pressure individual Universities?

Part of the reason why I do activism is some sense of attachment to the institution you’ve attended. For all our lives, we will be Warwick graduates and so we want to see our institution do well – though not necessarily by their standards. I’d venture so far as to say that the reason we do activism is that we love Warwick.

I know some of us have some really strong feelings about Warwick’s status quo. I know some of my comrades would say that they hate Warwick. I don’t – in spite of my firm belief that there is much to be changed, I enjoyed my time here, the friends I’ve made, the experiences I’ve had. But whether you love or hate it (or somewhere in between), we’re united by the shared, lived experience of studying here, and of caring for this place and its improvement.

Often, those on the right accuse activists of hating the University, of wanting its demise. They are wrong. We want its transformation, into what being a University should really mean – a cohesive and inclusive community of learning and research, of collaborative inquiry and discovery.

They are afraid of reputational damage to the University. But not only is activism done in the interests of the University, it is done because it is in the interests of the University. Reputational damage is a tactic – and an effective one given the peculiarity of the University’s economic structure.

Ultimately, we are acting in the University’s interests. The University is not Nigel Thrift. It is not the ability to confer degrees. We are the University – the students and staff. Fighting for a democratic, accessible and free University is fighting in our interests, and in the interests of all those who associate themselves with Warwick now and in the future.

Sheffield Students Occupy Nick Clegg’s office!

The Free University of Sheffield is now taking place outside Clegg’s Hallam constituency office.

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Students initially began the occupation at 11.30, before being removed from the office by police. They are now occupying the space outside the office.

The lib dems sold out students and made a farce of democracy. It is only right that they are mercilessly targeted – we should never let a party who have so betrayed us have any student support again. Interestingly, it seems the lib dems know this too, and they are rapidly moving rightwards, abandoning any premise of supporting HE reform or a more accessible education system.

There are also worrying reports of an attempted arrest. We hope this isn’t true, as a peaceful occupation should never be met with state violence (although we know, from bitter experience, that this is not the case.)

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This the Free University statement:

Students from the Free University of Sheffield have occupied Nick Clegg’s constituency office. We have transformed the space, symbolic of betrayal and the politics of the neoliberal establishment, into an autonomous, collectively-run learning space: The Free University of Sheffield. Among other things, we will be running an arts and crafts session and seminars on the failures of liberal democracy and the first downfall of the Liberal Party.
We are occupying the space in the name of free education: education free from fees, free from privatisation, and freely accessible to all.

Currently universities are built on the idea that students are customers and that education is a personal investment. We believe that education needs to be seen as a public good which benefits society as a whole. It must be free and accessible to everybody, and the responsibility for this should be distributed throughout society. This responsibility lies with those who can afford it – the rich and the corporations—not with those who benefit from it the most. Students should not be crippled by debt simply for choosing higher education.

We need to remind ourselves of education’s intrinsic value; it can give us fulfilment, empowerment and a shared sense of cooperation – something which has been lost in today’s universities.

In 2010, Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems got into power on the back of a promise to end tuition fees. Instead, they tripled them. Almost half of Lib Dem MPs broke their personal promise to vote against a fee rise. [1] And only four days ago they announced that they would stop Labour from cutting tuition fees if the two parties went into coalition. [2] The Lib Dems have repeatedly shown that they do not care about the students who elected them into power five years ago.

University of Sheffield student and Free University activist Alison Kwan said, ‘We are trying to project an image of what we think education should look like by subverting an oppressive neoliberal space into an accessible, free and non-hierarchical one. By occupying Clegg’s constituency office we aren’t just condemning Nick Clegg’s actions. We are rejecting the broader political system that has failed to represent us and we are making our voices heard in a way that voting in a general election could never allow’.
We also want to extend our solidarity to the students in occupation at UvA in Amsterdam. Their resilience in the face of brutality has been inspiring.

Keep up to date with us via:
www.facebook.com/thefreeuniversityofsheffield
twitter.com/freeunisheff (@freeunisheff)
And the hashtag ‪#‎OccupyClegg‬
[1] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-11964669
[2] http://www.independent.co.uk/…/lib-dems-say-they-would-bloc…”

Solidarity!