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LANCASTER: Defending Education – Day of Action: 21 June 2010

Posted in Comment & Observation, Uncategorized by Wit on June 28, 2010

Congrats to Julie and her helper(s) for their Alexandra Sq action on the 21st June. I was out of the country all last week, but heard it went down quite well. Here’s a paste of their text from the day:

Defending Education – Day of Action: 21 June 2010

Education sector unions are planning a Day of Dissent on Monday 21st June, the longest day and also the day before the new government emergency budget is announced which is set to cut public spending yet further. Staff and students’ organisations have united to form an unprecedented sector-wide coalition in further and higher education, “United for Education”. Bringing together UCU with other education sector unions, this coalition aims to be a vehicle for uniting the entire further and higher education sector to call on the new government to stop the cuts and defend education..

Education is Under Attack

  • Over £1bn has been cut from higher education budgets over the next three years.
  • £200 million has been cut from adult learning budgets, with a further £300 million expected.
  • Thousands of jobs already gone.
  • Thousands more are at risk.
  • For the first time in decades our education system is shrinking and the barriers to access are rising.
  • Now, the new coalition government is threatening yet more cuts to public spending.
  • Current and future generations are at risk of being locked out of our education system.

We are calling on all staff and students to unite with us in lobbying the government. We want the sector to speak with one voice to say that enough is enough-it’s time to stop the cuts and to invest in the future of education.

Counting the human cost of cuts

  • 200,000 qualified applicants could miss out on a university place this autumn.
  • 70% of FE colleges are planning to close courses.
  • If the cap on top-up fees is removed, current and future generations of young people will be priced out of university education.
  • 1 million 16-25 year olds are unemployed and not in education or training.
  • 7 million adults in Britain are illiterate, and 14 million innumerate.

Education is an engine of economic recovery and social mobility, but it also changes the lives and builds the hope of individuals, families and communities.

What you can do to help:

  • Show your support: join us at our stand in Alexandra Square on Monday June 21 between 12.00 – 2.00 and help us to hand out leaflets and raise awareness.
  • Sign the petition calling on the government to stop the cuts.
  • Help us to build a united sector. Find out more.

——————-

Meanwhile, the budget has been announced and we can all plainly see the utter depravity of  “our elected leaders”.

Unite!

😀

W

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21st June: United for Education Day of Action!!

Posted in Uncategorized by Wit on June 18, 2010

SEE THIS IMMEDIATELY:

http://unitedforeducation.org.uk/21-june-whats-happening-where-you-are/

Copied and pasted below:

21 June – What’s happening where you are?

Here’s what we know about so far. We will update these with more details as they come in. Is your event missing? Email info@unitedforeducation.org.uk and we will post it.

You can also see this information on our action map.

The listing indicates which local branches are organising events, but members of any union will be more than welcome to show their support.

Aberdeen University, the campus unions (Unison, UNITE, UCU, Prospect) and AUSA are rallying outside the University Administration in Old Aberdeen between 12-2 on Monday 21st. Please come along during your lunch hour and show your support by signing the petition. 

Abingdon and Witney college UCU members will be knocking on doors, getting people to sign the petition and will be encouraging staff to wear UCU lanyards/t- shirts for the occasion.

Barnsley, Joint union protest, 12.15pm. Mandela gardens in town centre. Barnsley College UCU and UNISON and  University of Huddersfield UCB centre.

Birmingham City Centre will see a joint union march and rally. UCU members are assembling at 12 midday outside UCU office at Alpha Tower, Suffolk Street, Queensway, Birmingham and marching to Matthew Boulton College.

Birmingham Metropolitan College, Lunchtime protest 

Bishop Auckland College UCU and Unison are holding a joint union stall, petitioning and leafleting.  

Blackburn College, UCU, UNISON, & ATL are organising a protest lunch, gathering on the college campus at 12.00 and walking into the Town centre to gather outside of the Town Hall to raise awareness over the issues with the public.

Bournemouth University, leafleting staff and students against the cuts.  

Bradford College, UCU strike action against cuts. The two branches at Bradford College will be on strike on 21st June, the second strike day against the threat of compulsory redundancies. There will be a lunchtime rally, hopefully involving the UCU branch at Bradford University, the students union and other campus unions as well as MPs and councillors. 

Bradford University unions are staging a lunchtime protest starting at 12 noon outside the Great Horton Road entrance of the Richmond Building 

Bristol University joint unions, including ATL, UCU and UNISON will be holding a rally at 1pm between Wills Building and MV on Park Row.

Brooklands College are running an all day stand in reception staffed by UCU, Unison, ALT & NUT members to promote the campaign and rally support for signing the petition. Also using the opportunity to recruit new members, handing out promotion material and application forms.

Burnley College, UCU are planning a lunchtime meeting with Unison to build a coalition against the cuts

Calderdale College UCU will be holding a staff in the foyer between 12.30 and 1.30pm, to which community groups affected by cuts at the college gave been invited. Pink and Blue fairy cakes will be given out to everyone who signs the joint union’s petition.

Cambridge Regional College UCU,ATL,UNISON & NUS are running a campus wide poster campaign and lunchtime stall in the college mall to encourage staff and students to sign the petition on-line at the stall

Canterbury College, Lunchtime protest.

Cardiff University, Unite, UNISON, UCU and NUS members are marking the day by taking their full lunch hour to highlight how rare and experience this is for staff. The joint unions will be holding a protest picnic outside the main building between 1 and 2pm and also joining the rally organised by Cardiff Trades Council on the following day, Tuesday 22 June at 5pm outside the Wales Assembly Buildings.

Carshalton College will be joining the day of action with a running meeting at the front gates between 11:30am and 2pm.

City and Islington College union members are holding a lunchtime protest with members from all campus unions uniting behind a giant ‘United for Education’ banner.

City College Birmingham, UCU strike action against cuts

City University are spending the day leafleting and using the occasion as a union recruitment opportunity with campaign stalls and membership materials.

Croydon College, lunchtime protest

Darlington College, UCU will be leafleting the campus

De Montfort University, 12:00-14:00, UCU and Unison will be operating a joint stall on the steps of our Campus Centre (located in the middle of the city site campus) in order to raise awareness for our campaign, gather extra signatures for the joint ‘United for Education’ petition and of course distribute leaflets to students, members of staff and members of the public passing by. Several laptops will be available in order to provide an immediate and easy way for people to sign the petition. The UCU & Unison banners will be part of the scenery and various UCU and Unison posters will be displayed in the area.

Doncaster College UCU are holding irregular vuvuzela protests throughout the day in protest at the  threat to 16 further jobs and attacks on the terms and conditions of assessors, whereupon they will be symbolically thrown out of the building by UCU’s Health and Safety Rep and will go and leaflet staff and students.

Dudley College, Joint UCU, UNISON, NUS lunchtime rally.

Dundee University Unison and UCU will be holding a joint stall and leafleting the campus

East Riding College, lunchtime stall, 12 to 1pm with petitions, goodies, food and drink (and of course joining packs).

Edge Hill University UCU, UNISON and NUS will be meeting staff and students on 21st June at the Senior Common Room, Education and Health faculties between 10 and 11 and then again between 12 and 1.30pm. Find out more about what you can do to help and sign up as a member on the day. Free T-shirt, mugs and many other goodies are also up for grabs.

Edinburgh city centre, EIS will be setting up a stall next to the Duke of Wellington Statue on Princess Street, Edinburgh from 10 am – 4.30 pm for members of the public to sign a petition as part of the ‘Day of Action.  Balloons and Leaflets will also be distributed.

Essex University, Petition signing stall,

Fareham College, UCU and UNISON will have a joint stall during the morning and lunch break on 21st June. We will be in the central Mall of the college and will distribute leaflets and give people the opportunity to sign the petition. Our Principal has given his agreement to our plans.

Filton College union members are joining Bristol University and College colleagues leafleting outside Wills Memorial

Glasgow University UCU are using the day to mobilise a lobby of Court about the cuts

Gloucestershire University are holding a joint union event.

Goldsmiths College UCU and Unison are planning joint action to highlight the closure of their nursery facility

Hackney College, UNISON and UCU holding ‘cross the picnic line’ picnic and games event at Hackney Community College.  We’re hoping we’ll get enough members and students to turn it into an impromptu demo outside the college on Falkirk Street.

Henley College unions will be holding a lunchtime stall and leafleting staff and students

Hereford College of Art, The UCU and NUS will be running events in tandem, including speakers and recruitment stalls.

Hugh Baird College, 12-2pm, Conga against the cuts – During our lunch hour we aim to have a giant conga to celebrate education and all of the benefits the college brings to students, staff, businesses and the local community. Flyer with handy George Osborne mask. This is being organised by UNISON, UCU and UNITE reps.

Institute Of Education staff unions have organised a special lunchtime meeting and rally including speakers from UCU, UNISON, the Students Union and Kevin Courtney, Deputy General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers. They will be joined by union members from the local Bloomsbury College.

Isle of Wight College, Lunchtime demonstration outside the college

Kings College London are holding lunchtime picnics

Lambeth College, Lunchtime strike by UCU members and a march through Brixton to demand no compulsory redundancies, hopefully involving other unions in support for the Day of Action. Meeting at Brixton Centre at 12.30pm.  Short rally in Windrush Gardens. 

Leeds and Leeds Metropolitan University Unison and UCU are holding a joint rally meeting outside the city art gallery

Leicester College campus unions and NUS are joining to demonstrate outside each of their three campuses.

Leicester University, between 1-2 p.m., UCU, Unite and NUS holding of a joint stall in places where people go for lunch to raise awareness, petition and distribute leaflet to students and members of staff about the campaign. This will also be used as an opportunity to recruit new members.

Liverpool Community College UCU are holding a march, a rally and a union recruitment drive across their two sites

Liverpool Community College, LIPA, Hope University, University of Liverpool and Liverpool John Moores University unions are holding a protest and then assembling at 1pm at LJMU John Foster Building (Lecture Theatre G01), Mount Pleasant to hear speakers from UCU, UNITE, Unison, GMB and NUS.

London Metropolitan University unions are holding ‘protest picnics’ on both campuses

London South Bank University UNISON, GMB and UCU have planned a day of action to include a joint union stall, leafleting and lunchtime demonstrations against redundancies throughout the campus.

Manchester University, Penalty shoot out and picnic at lunchtime on Monday, with UCU, UNISON, UNITE and the Students Union in order to “Defend Education”.  

Middlesex University staff will be holding a lunchtime protest and leafleting staff, students and members of the public

Neath Port Talbot College, Staff will be holding a lunchtime gate protest on Monday 21st June to support the campaign. Local press have been informed.

Newcastle College UCU are staging a protest picnic outside management office!

Newcastle-under-Lyme College, the unions are holding a joint lunchtime meeting between 12.30 and 1.30. This is open to both union and non-union members of staff as well as students

Newcastle University, Newcastle University Campus Unions will hold a Joint day of action involving UNISON, UNITE and UCU. We will have speakers, stall on information on the cuts and of course the petition, from noon.

Newman University College, Joint stall outside the canteen for a couple of hours over the lunch period on 21st – display the posters, get people to take leaflets and sign the petition etc.

New College Stamford, lunchtime conference, 12.20 – 1.30 Monday 21 June 2010, Studio Theatre

North Warwickshire and Hinckley College UCU and Unison are holding a ‘Handshake Walk’ between their two campuses and meeting at a pub in the middle.

Nottingham Trent University unions are leafleting in town on Sunday, on campus on Monday and joining the Trade Council’s protest on Tuesday

Open University UCU and Unison re holding a joint event

Oxford and Cherwell Valley College , Lunchtime rallies and demonstrations outside two of the college sites

Portsmouth University, Joint event with a stall in a prominent position where staff will be able to sign the petition.

Redcar and Cleveland College, Please show your support for UCU members and Reps at Redcar and Cleveland College by turning up and supporting their protest on Monday 21st June 2010.  The event will start at 12.00 pm and go through till 2.00 pm to allow as many people as possible to participate.  College Gate, Redcar & Cleveland College,  Corporation Road, Redcar, TS10 1EZ.

Robert Gordon University, campaign stalls within the RGU buildings (to reach staff and students) and outside the RGU Admin building/Student Union building opposite a shopping centre at lunchtime

Sheffield Hallam University, UCU will be leafleting at 12 noon at the main entrance to City Campus

Sheffield University, we are having a joint campus union protest on the University Concourse 12.30 – 2pm focussing on the row we are having with the university over the formation of a two tier workforce.

South Nottingham College are holding a rally and stalls

South Staffordshire College, Lunchtime protest 

South Thames College campus unions will be leafleting the main Wandsworth building between 12 and 2pm

South Tyneside College site entrances will be petitioned by UCU and UNISON members. Look out for a very special guest……..!

Southampton City College, ‘Help for Signatures’ stall in a prominent area of the college – the plan is to have both the online and paper petition available – everyone who signs the petition get a UCU mug of ‘Heroes’ chocolates. (taking a twist on the ‘Help for Heroes’ campaign.

Southampton Solent University unions will be leafleting on the day and have written to local MPs and governors. UNISON have also arranged for leaflets to go with June payslips to all staff!

Southampton University, Large joint event using the opportunity to highlight the potential loss of 200 MSA staff this summer, with 200 placards’ representing the loss of the 200 jobs.

Southend Branch of South Essex College UCU and UNISON will be running a petition stall in the college entrance encouraging staff, students and members of the public to sign the petition.

Stourbridge College, Lunchtime protest

Strode College UCU will be running a stall on the college’s front lawn to raise awareness about the current threat of cuts.

Swindon College unions will  be leafleting in the town centre with a photocall and sending letters to local MPs.

Tower Hamlets College are staging an ‘Alternative Budget Day’ uniting HE, FE and schools.

UCU Northern Ireland are running a virtual campaign designed to sign up MPs and MLAs to the Make Education Count campaign

University College London trade unions are holding a picnic and using placards and leafleting to form a silent protest

University of East London UNISON and UCU will be leafleting staff and students on both campuses

University of Leicester UCU, Unite and NUS are holding a joint stall to raise awareness, petition and distribute leaflet to students and members of staff about the campaign. This will also be used as an opportunity to recruit new members.

University of Lincoln UCU will be demonstrating in the main Atrium

University of Northampton UCU are planning a lunch time action and displaying a huge petition poster in front of the Senate building. Also holding a stall filled with  petitions,  leaflets and  sample  letters  to MPs available to staff and students  passing by.

University of Stirling staff are holding a joint union meeting

University of the Arts, UCU strike action against cuts

University of the West of England, protestors will assemble outside the students’ union at 12.00pm and then march to the vice-chancellor’s office, accompanied by a following samba band, where they will hand in a petition against the cuts at 2.30pm (see notes for directions).

Walsall College UCU are holding a day of leafleting and will be joined by students who are going to leaflet the town centre and local supermarkets

Waltham Forest College UCU and UNISON will be having a lunchtime demo with leafleting from 12 – 2pm and also inviting students to join in at the college gates.

Warwickshire College unions will be holding a protest picnic on the front lawn

Westminster University, UCU members are lobbying their Board of Management on Monday at 12pm, 309 Regent Street. Members of UCU at the University of Westminster have been observing an assessment boycott since the 21st of May in protest against cuts to over 200 staff posts at the university. In response, management are threatening to dock 50% of staff pay for every day that the assessment boycott continues. Join our lobby and support UCU at Westminster

Westminster, House of Commons, Joint unions meeting, Committee Room 12, 12-2pm, chaired by Kelvin Hopkins MP, with speakers from all the coalition unions.

Weymouth College UCU and Unison branches will be holding a joint lunchtime demonstration against the cuts

Wiltshire College, Stall on college sites and taking the petition round to all departments

Wolverhampton College UCU are planning a large rally in Wolverhampton centre

via United for Education

Snoopin’

Posted in Uncategorized by Wit on June 18, 2010

Fuck-me, we got 108 hits yesterday and most of them from emails, including from lancaster email accounts. There’s been some people talking about this and passing it around. … … …

Middlesex Philosophy:

Posted in Comment & Observation, Uncategorized by Wit on June 18, 2010

No comment from us right now, just these links:

From Middlesex:

http://savemdxphil.com/

http://savemdxphil.com/2010/06/08/announcement-8-june-the-crmep-is-moving-to-kingston-university/

“Post-mortem” by Commune:

http://thecommune.wordpress.com/2010/06/15/save-middlesex-philosophy-post-mortem/

AND this one particularly, which is worth copying out below:

http://thecommune.wordpress.com/2010/06/17/lessons-of-the-middlesex-occupation/#more-5385

the commune:

lessons of the middlesex occupation

17 06 2010

A Middlesex student looks at the recent student occupation in protest at the closure of the philosophy department

The timing of the Middlesex occupation  – during the general election, and so just before major cuts across the  country – means that it is particularly important to draw lessons from it. A group of us are in the process of collaboratively writing up our experiences for the benefit of future occupations. However, this has not yet been completed, so what follows is simply a personal and partial account of some of the positives and negatives of the occupation.

The best thing about the occupation – which lasted for twelve days and covered a whole building – was that it proved how much a small number of people can do if they have the energy and the will. Because the occupation was a response to the closure of the philosophy department, most involved were philosophy students, and many were part-time and postgraduates, who hardly knew each other beyond the occasional confused questions in weekly seminars. We started with forty people, although numbers varied because of people’s work and other commitments.

These numbers were boosted considerably every time we held an event, when students from other universities and people from other struggles came to support us. There was unfortunately little involvement from other Middlesex students, largely because the academic year had ended; the occupied campus is an hour away from the main campus; and because Middlesex lacks any recent tradition of protest and so any established ‘activist’ or political groups.

Although the lack of other Middlesex students was a huge disadvantage, the absence of established groups with their own agendas was for the best. The only home-grown politicians we had to contend with were the Middlesex Students’ Union. However, they made it very clear they wanted nothing to do with us: the President denounced the occupation on the first day – she was told to leave – and, in a meeting between management and students, she asked to observe for management! The lack of support from the Students’ Union was a blessing, allowing us to work together without their motions, amendments and other stalling techniques.

This was complemented by a lack of imported politicians – for whatever reason, the SWP and their various splits and counter factions clearly decided the occupation wasn’t worth staying for. So, apart from a few ‘representatives’ at the couple of mass meetings we had, preaching was kept to a minimum, and was completely absent from the meetings in which we decided to escalate, and from the day to day running of the occupation. This meant that people developed ways of working together largely free of structures, and that the expansion took place spontaneously, organically and according to what at any one time seemed possible, rather than as a result of following blueprints. From a day-time occupation of the boardroom to an occupation for the night, from occupation for the night to occupation of the whole building, it was us who made each move.

On the tenth day of the occupation, management begged us to come to a meeting in which they offered us nothing. The next morning, before even waiting for our response to their ‘offer’  – which they rightly guessed would have been refused – we were given a letter from their lawyer, informing us that they were going to the High Court to get an injunction. We received the injunction at 8pm, at which point security prevented more people coming in. With twelve hours before the injunction came into effect, we had a meeting to decide what to do. Luckily, we’d had an event that evening, so there were quite a few people around – forty at least.

While previously we had seemed determined to stay forever, the inclusion of seven individuals’ names on the injunction – apparently found by management on Facebook – really frightened people. We didn’t understand the implications of this, and so many left, feeling that they would otherwise be endangering those who had been named. Although it was decided at the meeting – with encouragement from those named – that people who were able and willing to defy the injunction should, only about fifteen stayed beyond the time that the injunction came into effect.

The next day, due to a breakdown of communication with those outside, the pressure upon those inside, and a feeling that no-one else would come into the occupation even if it were possible, we decided to leave. This ended what had been quite a powerful occupation with a bitter aftertaste. For me, bumping into Tariq Ali giving a speech outside only made that worse, returning to the same old people and the same old politics. The injunction had served its purpose of frightening us into leaving, and temporarily breaking us as a group. However, the fact that it was not enforced showed us – too late – that an injunction does not mean the police will raid the next day, suggesting that we would have been able to stay at least a few days longer if we had wanted to.

The week afterwards we occupied the library for a night, which, although not disruptive, was very important for morale, and meant that in the end we all defied the injunction – for it covered all Middlesex property.

This was followed by the suspension of four students and three staff members, a night camping outside the university’s flagship campus and a disruption of the university’s glossy art show on Brick Lane. Those who were suspended were those people who were both named on the injunction and defied the injunction by going to the library, plus a few extras who had been in the library. These people were identified through CCTV cameras in the library. Looking back, we should have covered these up!

Suspended students are not allowed to enter university property without permission, although this is only for a limited period until the university decides to lift it. In the first hearing, students were made to promise not to occupy again. However, in a subsequent suspension, the university dropped that condition, perhaps worried – rightly – that the student would refuse to make that promise, thus putting them in the difficult position of having to find a harsher punishment – which might dirty their own reputation still further. The subsequent events and the nonsense of the hearings have given us enough confidence that I believe that if the occupation happened again, many more people would stay beyond the injunction, whether or not they were named. No university management, no matter how angry, wants to be shown dragging their students out with police.

Another difficulty with the occupation was the fact that it was in protest against a cut to a particular department, leading to a problematic over-emphasis on the worth of ‘philosophy’ and a link to a campaign which focused on the department’s high research ratings, both of which didn’t help when making links to struggles against cuts in general. Demanding the reinstatement of the philosophy department made it seem that we were simply asking for keeping the status quo, rather than fighting for something more. Focus on our demand could also lead to the conclusion that the occupation was a complete failure: now that the philosophy centre has been moved to Kingston University, management have not only got away with closing a whole department and suspending students and staff but have shipped off most of the troublemakers to another institution.

However, there was much more to this occupation than its demand. As well as developing our own confidence to go further next time, it allowed us to create alliances with other universities and struggles. It also enabled us to make links with staff at Middlesex – we had a meeting in which about forty administrative, academic and service staff made it very clear that they were part of our struggle and hated management as much as we do. Although the staff unions were not officially supportive of the occupation, a substantial group of the staff have organised with us to create a broader ‘Save Middlesex’ campaign, to expand the fight to all students and staff at Middlesex against the further cuts that will be coming in the next year.

Despite its limitations, this occupation serves as an example of how far it is possible to go with only a small group of students, free of political party interference, gradually challenging more and more of what they had previously taken for granted. The inevitable occupations in the coming year, as cuts hit in nationally, can learn lessons from Middlesex, both from how far we went and from how much further we could have gone.

—-

Solidarity!

W

The Current Crisis of Higher Education

Posted in Uncategorized by Wit on June 17, 2010

The Current Crisis of Higher Education

(Briefly)

Recent events in Europe and the UK have forced us to face the fact that Higher Education is currently in crisis: intellectually, financially, politically. Research and teaching have become disaggregated; employment has become increasingly insecure and exploitative, with a rise in “casual” contracts; knowledge production has become thoroughly dependent on the possibility of pursuing revenue, and intellectual concerns have largely become a management matter. Meanwhile, students are paying more and getting less. Modules, courses, whole departments are being closed down. The university has lost all cohesion and the intellectual community is fast-dissolving. More worryingly, as of yet there has been little organised resistance; what resistance there has been has appeared isolated, fragmented, and easily put-down.

A striking, but by no means isolated, example of these trends is the recent closure of the internationally renowned Middlesex University Philosophy Department, discontinued for undisclosed “financial” reasons. Given the everywhere-acknowledged fact of this department’s excellence, this decision clearly demonstrates to us the precedence in the Academy of a “business-like” mentality over intellectual judgment and integrity. The stark results of this are everywhere on display. Worse, this intellectual crisis in turn disclosed to us a deeper political crisis, when staff and students at Middlesex were suspended following (peaceful) protest actions. More worryingly, these attempts to forcefully end protest by the University were backed up by a High Court injunction against the protesters, just as had occurred several months earlier in response to protests at Sussex University (in March 2010). In this connection we might also note the High Court interference with RMT rail workers’ and TUC British Airways strike actions, and identify a disturbing trend.

At Lancaster University we are beginning to feel the effects of this crisis, particularly in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. Recently we have experienced cuts to travel funds, the incongruous merger of the philosophy, religious studies, and politics departments, the last minute scrapping of core Music Studies modules, and the closure of IAS – to list just a few examples. Whilst new buildings rise-up around us, and perfectly serviceable slabs are replaced with granite, staff face increasing pressure in relation to research, teaching and administrative duties. Other “casual” staff, including research associates and postgraduate students, find themselves taking on increasing responsibilities whilst remaining grossly underpaid and unlikely to find full-time lectureships. Meanwhile, students find themselves attacked from above as the weakest link in the chain: whilst the little education they receive becomes steadily more meagre, increasingly worthless, their Vice-Chancellor is everyday courting the Government and media with speeches suggesting that tuition fees over £7000 per annum are acceptable. All decisions and changes occur with little or no consultation. A state-of-exception prevails; we are told that we face “difficult times”; we are told to consult the news and to blame politicians. But, we don’t need to consult the news because we are already everywhere confronted in our daily working lives with the fact of this crisis, with our complete alienation from all decision making processes, and with the threat of worse to come.

[Feel free to distribute this]

Higher Education is in Crisis

Posted in Uncategorized by Wit on June 1, 2010

Higher Education has, over the last year, been steadily and increasingly heading toward utter crisis. It is clear that this point has now been reached. Total cuts to university budgets will be over £1.5 billion. It is clear that the disaster set in motion by New Labour is being accelerated by the Conservative Coalition.

The Effects:

These are all stories reported by the BBC during the last five days:

Due to underfunding by Government, it is estimated that at least 250,000 university applicants will be refused a place for economic reasons. Spending cuts have reduced extra university places at a time when there has been a huge surge in demand. The number of applicants not getting a place will have doubled in two years.

Meanwhile, Colleges across Britain are suffering from the huge cuts to funding, from decreased student numbers (due in part to cuts), and from competition from new academies. Why the Conservative Coalition are investing in new buildings and new school colleges and not in exisiting facilities is certainly a cause for bafflement.

In response the Government has suggested (as did New Lab before them), condensing courses into two years. This from the party that, in recent memory, bemoaned “mickey mouse courses”. It seems, when the choice is between HE and big business, the Tories are happy to make fools of us all. UCU has emphatically voted against these “sweatshop” courses, but unfortunately that won’t stop a host of related trends, such as the move toward “distance learning”, “part-time” courses and other such thrift measures, which speak loudly of a lack of Government funding for Universities and of a lack of financial support for increasingly beleaguered students.*

As a result primarily of the financial meltdown, but also of other smaller factors – increased competition, for example – the Golden Promise that HE guarantees better employment has dissolved. At the same time that tuition fees have massively increased (and are set to increase more this year), students are finding that they are unable to find jobs. Not only is this because of a lack of jobs, and a flooded job market, but students who aspire to careers such as journalism, publishing, even the police and teaching, are increasingly finding that they are forced to gain extensive work experience, or to work in underpaid trainee or casual positions. In Higher Education this is also manifest in the current policy of covering teaching-hours gaps with causal-contract work, rather than employing new lecturers. As a result many Postdoc students are finding that they cannot find proper academic jobs, and are instead being paid salaries around £5000 per annum for “casual” work. As a result, they are forced to undercut their own labour. They are not only being steadily proletarianized, many of them are actually living in poverty. Whilst teaching seminars to perhaps 30 or 40 students and giving course lectures to perhaps 100 (each student paying £3500 for a years study), they are making ends-meet only by undergoing the humiliation of applying for housing benefits – a long, arduous and unrewarding process.

Is it any surprise, then, to hear it reported that calls to a university helpline have increased by 25% over the last year? My only fear is that the next story will report a 25% increase in suicide rates amongst academics. I’m not joking.

Finally, then, is it any wonder that University and College staff are considering a national strike? The only wonder is that it hasn’t happened already. Above and beyond the complaints already listed, staff and students across the country are watching in horror as decades of hardwork is being swiftly destroyed. Courses are closing at many universities, including at Lancaster. Whole departments, even extremely successful ones, are being closed down – most notoriously in the case of Middlesex Philosophy department. Other departments are being merged into incongrous joint departments, such as the infamous merger of Politics, Philosophy and Religious studies at Lancaster. As senior academics retire they are no longer being replaced, whilst new staff aren’t being taken on, leaving departments across the coutnry increasingly reliant on under-experienced and underpaid causal labour. Those who do have full lecturerships are finding themselves without job security, and increasingly pressured by new “impact” criteria, reduced funding, more paperwork, more teaching work, and less support.

Students don’t have it any better, finding themselves with increased tutition fees, yet less choice, less quality, less time, more pressure. Postgraduate students, meanwhile, are being used with open cynicism as cash-cows, following Government limits on undergrad student numbers. Whilst their fees are massively increasing, the minuimum wages paid by jobs they work to try to fund studies are not. Quite frankly, the fees will reach a natural limit because very soon students will not actually be able to pay. Indeed, this is already the case, to a large degree. Friends doing PhDs are working three or four jobs and only scraping by. Research time is pushed to the margins. Meanwhile, one of their jobs may well be teaching two classes of undergraduate seminars. Despire the increased fees paid by undergraduates, postgrad teaching assistants are not paid enough to even nearly cover their own fees – in effect, their wages are worth less than nothing. Meanwhile, preparation for seminars, for which, in reality, they are often not paid, eats into their remaining research time.

It really is past time, then, for an active and forceful student protest against this Government induced crisis. It is past time for students and staff to recognise their common problems and to engage in collective action. We need strikes, and we need them now. We need more than strikes. Where is the NUS in all of this?? It is too busy pandering to politicians in exchange for future parliamentary work experience. As students we need to look to UCU and co-ordinate with lecturers’ actions. We also need to stand on our own feet and co-ordinate effective student protest. It is plain that NUS is no longer a forum for this. We will have to tear it down. It is irrelevant. What is relevant is student solidarity, solidarity with lecturers and other staff, and solidarity with all those workers who find themselves similarly to be paying for the Bankers’ crisis.

Go go go go!

W

*Note here, that UK courses are already amongst the shortest in the world. Soon European and and US universities will no longer take our degrees seriously (despite Bologna-attempts). (Avg timescales: UK: UG 3-4, Masters 1-2, PhD 3-4; Elsewhere: UG: 3-5, M: 2-5, PhD 4-8+; cumulatively, an English student may earn a PhD after 7 years, whilst elsewhere in Europe and USA it will be at least 9 years, and quite probably a good deal longer. Correct me if I’m wrong).

The Original Subtext

Posted in Uncategorized by Wit on April 19, 2010

Here is the original Subtext publication that inspired our flyers and this blog:

Demand Transparency #1

Posted in Subtext2 Issues by Wit on March 25, 2010

Subtext2: about

Posted in Uncategorized by Wit on March 25, 2010

Subtext2 is a newsletter and blog-space produced and maintained by a group of postgraduates, postdocs and teaching assistants from Lancaster University (UK).

It takes its lead from Subtext, a now disbanded (?) newsletter produced by a small group of Lancaster staff and students detailing the subtext of developments at the university.

Subtext2 is also the product of an ongoing set of dicussions by PGs, PDs and TAs about the problems and difficulties they encounter in pursuing their research and  teaching: about their working conditions, about the cuts, and about the various Government and university management strategies that are detrimental to us and to the university as a whole. The purpose of these discussions is to create a body of PGs and TAs capable of articulating demands. Our aim for this academic year is to reach a stage where we can call a general meeting of PGs and TAs.

Subtext2 is not, then, the mouth of this group, but a parallel project carried out by a few of those who take part in these discussions. As such, it is able to move beyond the remit of the discussion group to address not only those issues facing Lancaster staff and students, but our higher education system as a whole, and indeed the political situation as a whole.

Hope you find it informative.

Best wishes.