On Saturday November 19th I left Liverpool at 6.30am on one of two coaches full of students and staff from University of Liverpool, Liverpool Hope, Edge Hill, LJMU and City of Liverpool College to travel to London and take to the streets with 15000 other angry protestors from every college and university in the country to defend our education system. NUS and UCU worked together nationally and locally to pull together the biggest education demonstration since November 2010.
The atmosphere at the march was fantastic, as usual, but what was different about Saturday’s march was the overwhelming intention of everyone I spoke to, to see this action as the first step in a sustained campaign to fight for our education system in a way where we collectively have the power to make gains.
NUS nationally have voted to boycott the NSS in order to pressurise the government to drop the highly damaging HE Bill and the impending TEF. UCU set policy at our Congress to support our students through this boycott. We have a democratically agreed mandate. Now we need to contact branches, offer guidance and support and enable them to actively support our students. Our employers will not like this, they will take a hardline approach and students and their unions will be targeted. As part of the NUS strategy, students will be advised not to complete a survey which can result in further increases in tuition fees. We have to actively be with them in solidarity.
Why do we have such a problem with the HE Bill? The impact of this Bill is far reaching, it allows the neo-liberal agenda to advance at speed, for profit providers will be allowed to set up alongside or within our universities and charge extortionate fees for profit. There are threats to staff and our rights, private providers are unlikely to have union recognition. There are threats to academic freedom as this bill allows the government to have an opinion on which areas of research do (and do not) receive funding. Most importantly, this complete overhaul of our education system will impact massively on our future students, particularly those from working class backgrounds. The public education system as we know it will no longer exist. Our education system will mirror the failed US system. None of us want that.
TEF is imminent, your institution could opt into a 2 year pilot as early as January 2017. UCU have to take immediate action against this. We have already let this HE Bill get too far. We need nationally co-ordinated local action in every branch across the country. We were out marching on Saturday to defend our education system, now we have to translate that collective anger into practical action. Our members are against TEF. We need to lead this fight from the front and with the support of our students, this is a fight we could win!
The HE Bill goes through its Third Reading today. There is a protest in Parliament Square at 1pm, if you are in London or can get there, please support it.
If you can’t get to London you can sign this open letter to UCU:
I will be speaking at a meeting on the HE Bill at Liverpool John Moores University on Wednesday November 30th at 5pm. Full details will be circulated asap. All are welcome!