Tory higher education funding farce

tuition fees demoI never set out to be the blogging equivalent of Mystic Meg, but annoyingly I’ve had several predictions turn out to be true. Here’s one of them. Two years ago, almost to the day, I argued that the new funding regime brought in by the LibDem-supported Conservative government would leave Higher Education with a yawning funding gap. Would you Adam and Eve it, this morning The Indy led with Tuition fees: three quarters of students won’t be able to pay off their debt. Continue reading

Labour Students and the cause of free education

Free education for allNUS Conference 2014 was one of the most leftwing conferences in years, passing a string of radical policies of default support for staff strikes, campaigns for a 5:1 pay ratio, a legal fund for victimised student activists and of course, free education. The graduate tax had become a soft compromise option for many in Labour, a midway point between full blown privatisation under the Tories and the full repudiation of Blairism that free education represents.

By rejecting both fees and a graduate tax, NUS moved into line with Labour-affiliated unions such as the GMB, Unite, UNISON and the TUC in demanding free education. This is a deeper shift in policy than a purely cosmetic change in how education is funded. It represents a stance against privatisation, against the idea that education is a commodity, and the policy clearly calls for education to be paid for by taxing the rich and democratic control of the banking sector. In other words, free education isn’t just a policy, it’s a whole new philosophy of how Labour should behave towards vested interests, private companies and unaccountable power when it is government. Continue reading

Why university staff should reject their new pay offer

UCU and EIS members in higher education are currently voting in a ballot whether to accept the employer’s “full and final offer” in the pay claim. I’ve voted to reject it, and to continue industrial action as soon as possible. I’d argue others should do the same.

The offer, for 2014/15, is a 2 per cent pay increase, with an extra £30 for those on the lowest point on the pay spine. It is significant in that it breaks through the 1 per cent limit being imposed on public sector pay, but it is nowhere near good enough. It doesn’t address the pay-claim for 2013/14 – which is what university staff have been taking action over – that’s still at 1 per cent. Current RPI is at 2.5 per cent – 2 per cent doesn’t even match that, so is still likely to represent a reduction in real-terms. Continue reading

Justice for the Farthing Five: end the victimisation of students

University mortar boardIf you’ve been following recent events in the student movement, you may have heard of yet another worrying development at the University of Sussex. The Brighton campus has held a legendary place in the protest movement this year, as students have repeatedly occupied administration buildings in protest at privatisation and weakening of staff terms and conditions.

Now, vice-chancellor Michael Farthing has taken the extraordinary step of expelling five students associated with the occupation from their degrees. Though to be fair, it perhaps isn’t that extraordinary – I wrote about the increasing climate of crushing dissent on campuses a year and a half ago, and it’s got far worse. There is a petition being circulated calling on Farthing to reinstate the students immediately. Anyone who is concerned about academic freedom – or merely the right to protest – should sign.

Activists prepare for another day of action against student debt

Debt-in 2University campuses across the country will play host to another day of action against the privatisation of student debt, this Wednesday, 20th November. This follows numerous student actions on the 5th November “bonfire of austerity”, along with a week of action in late October which saw the offices of several Lib Dem MPs targeted.

Students at 26 universities are set to stage direct action events, rallies, information stalls and public meetings. The day of action has been called by two bodies that co-ordinate national student action: the Student Assembly Against Austerity and the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts. Continue reading