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From The Socialist newspaper, 17 March 2010

Course closures, funding cuts, job losses, fees...

Defend higher education

The last 18 months, since the start of the economic crisis, have seen students and campus trade unions organising protest action in Britain on a scale not seen since the movement to oppose the introduction of tuition fees in 1997-1998. Why? Higher education faces a 'fight for survival' as reports show that funding could be cut by a third.

Swingeing job cuts, course closures and even campus closures are threatened. Proposed cuts mean, for example, that the only department in the country which specialises in palaeography, the practice of deciphering and reading historical manuscripts, would be gone, denying society an understanding of history.

This year the government will complete its review of top-up fees. The Association of Graduate Recruiters, which includes the likes of Shell, Asda and JP Morgan, has called for a phased increase in top-up fees and for there to be no limit on university fees by 2020.

While students face increased fees as well as cuts, the Guardian has exposed how annual earnings for some university vice chancellors have doubled or even tripled over the past ten years.

A study reported in the Financial Times has shown that the two-tier education system in Britain costs more than 50 billion a year in the wasted potential of working class young people.

These articles show the process driving the 'them and us' education system and the need for a fighting programme for a decent and free education for all. The letter to David Lammy MP, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, is a response to his insistence that charging higher student fees is unavoidable.

See www.youthfightforjobs.com for a copy of David Lammy's letter

A strategy for mass struggle is needed

Student protests this year have shown there are more and more students being drawn into the struggle to fight the cuts in universities. This is a significant change from the relatively quiet atmosphere in the universities a couple of years ago and reflects deeper changes in society.

Matthew Dobson, Socialist Students national organiser

The economic and political crisis of capitalism is leading to a radicalisation of young people. A mood of opposition is developing, alongside an increase in industrial struggles of workers and a wider movement of young people against unemployment.

The protests of hundreds of students at Sussex and Leeds universities in particular are a very good start. They have sent a signal to university managements that opposition exists.

However, at this stage these actions have not involved the majority of students and therefore cannot and should not be seen as the most that can be achieved. Increased participation in protest action by students necessitates increased debate on campuses about the most effective methods of fighting back.

The UCU lecturers' trade union has suggested that the raising of tuition fees could be as unpopular as the poll tax was in the 1990s. But the poll tax was not overcome by its unpopularity alone.

Our education under attack - Why a mass campaign is needed - a Socialist Students and Youth Fight for Jobs pamphlet

Our education under attack - Why a mass campaign is needed - a Socialist Students and Youth Fight for Jobs pamphlet. Bulk orders available

The student movement can draw important lessons from the magnificent mass struggle that successfully forced the then prime minister Margaret Thatcher to abandon that hated anti-working class policy and, ultimately, to resign.

It was the organisation of an 18-million strong campaign of non-payment, defying bailiffs and the courts in working-class communities across the country, combined with mass local and national demonstrations. It was organised by the Anti Poll Tax Federation on a democratic basis with mass participation of workers, trade unionists, the unemployed and youth.

To force a right-wing government to scrap tuition fees and stop its education cuts programme will require a campaign working towards a similar national scale and strength among students, with support from the wider working class.

Some left and anarchistic student groups give the impression that a mass movement is not needed and that it is enough to only mobilise the minority that are currently active in action or that the protests in Britain this year, in particular occupations, already constitute a mass movement. If this approach is taken by student campaigns they will be isolated from the majority of students and ultimately be unsuccessful.

Occupations can be successful when they have the aim of mobilising large numbers and if the tactic is combined with other action and mass support. This was seen in the struggles at the Visteon car parts factories in spring 2009, where sacked workers, with support from the wider labour movement, forced concessions from the bosses.

Mass action

However, there are dangers that occupations involving small numbers can become vulnerable to attacks from management and isolated from the majority of students, as was seen at Sussex.

An occupation of an administration building on 3 March involved around 70 students out of an earlier protest of hundreds. Occupiers had to leave the building when they were surrounded by riot police as, despite a large demonstration outside, they were unable to secure the building.

A few students were arrested and police attacked demonstrators. Six students were targeted by management for being involved with the protest and suspended from campus. To an extent the campaign against cuts has now had to divert its focus on to their reinstatement.

Socialist Students activists have played a leading role in the occupations at Sussex and other universities while also arguing that occupations against cuts must be combined with big public demonstrations, student strikes and coordinated with industrial action taken by university and other workers.

When up-front university fees were first introduced Save Free Education and Socialist Students called for a campaign of mass non-payment of fees alongside occupations and demonstrations to make fees unworkable. Such tactics may have to be considered again.

Walkouts

Walkouts and strikes involve consistent work and organisation and should aim to win the active participation and support of the majority of students. Socialist Students is proposing that the broad anti-cuts and anti-fees campaigns organise such action in universities, schools and colleges in the autumn.

If a campaign has a number of activists on a particular course, walkouts could be organised on a department basis initially. This tactic is most effective if it is coordinated with strike action by workers and organised nationally.

UCU has already organised strike action at Sussex, Leeds and Westminster, which is likely to continue. The other trade unions in education such as Unite, Unison, GMB, NUT (in schools and sixth forms) and EIS (in Scottish schools) also need to take industrial action to defend jobs, pay and conditions.

On this basis, linked to action by students, a one-day shutdown of schools, colleges and universities nationally would be possible. Combined with mass demonstrations and occupations, this mass action could build a mass movement that could force university managements to back down from cuts and other attacks and could develop further nationally if necessary.

Unfortunately the National Union of Students (NUS), the main national student organisation, and the majority of student unions across the country have so far not been willing to organise a struggle.

Socialist Students aims to link up local campaigns and student unions that want to fight against attacks on education. Through mass action we need to build a fighting democratic student organisation involving all who want to fight for free and good quality education.


Dear David Lammy MP

Thank you for your response (5 February) to the 10,000 petition signatures handed in to Downing Street on 28 November 2009 by Youth Fight for Jobs members as part of our demonstration.

We are far from 'assured' by your commitment to "widening participation in HE [higher education] for economic need and for social justice". The evidence suggests that you and the government are more committed to huge cuts in education, to student debt, and only allowing the wealthiest in society a say in the future of HE and education as a whole.

You mention the government's 'independent review' of Higher Education Funding, "chaired by Lord Browne of Madingley". Browne, a boss at BP after its privatisation, left the company (under allegations of corruption) with a 5 million payoff and a 21 million pension pot. The so-called independent board also includes leading bankers, former advisers to Tony Blair and advocates of higher fees.

The review board does not include representatives of students, education trade unions, parents or any other group affected by its recommendations. Surely these groups are better qualified to decide how education should be run? The current review should be scrapped and replaced on a genuinely independent and democratic basis.

Your letter refers to the 'relatively modest' reductions in HE funding planned in the next few years. Out of 12 billion state funding, a horrendous 2.5 billion worth of cuts are expected. Leeds University UCU members estimate that this cut will mean 700 equivalent full time jobs will be lost at their university alone. The destruction of entire departments, courses and services in universities across the country is posed. We say no to cuts in HE funding and no to increased fees.

You put forward the idea that graduates should bear some of the costs for HE funding. Youth Fight for Jobs is not arguing for the abolition of income taxes, which is how working class people contribute to higher education funding. But big business and the very richest should pay proportionately more tax "in the light of the significant benefits to them" of an educated workforce.

Instead New Labour has reduced corporation tax. The PCS civil servants union estimates that tax avoidance, primarily by the wealthy, costs the public purse around 100 billion every year. Banks, including those the government bailed out, offered bonuses worth an estimated 60 billion. The independent review board's own Peter Sands, Standard Chartered Bank CEO, was offered a bonus of 2.1 million.

Instead of recouping money from them this year your government will bar the doors of university to tens of thousands of young people on the grounds that there is not enough funding.

During a recession more people try to enter education, be that FE or HE, to train or retrain and avoid the dole queues. A government that was serious about providing a future for a generation of young people would prioritise spending on education and job provision. Clearly you are not.

The huge cuts planned throughout the education sector will mean either cuts in student places, or a huge deterioration in the quality of education on offer to students, or most likely both.

Our petition had two main demands. One was for free education. The second was for real jobs. We call for a job creation programme to offer young people a chance to work and provide essential public services. This question was not addressed by your reply.

Ben Robinson, Youth Fight for Jobs national chair

UCU London regional demonstration

Defend jobs, defend further, higher and adult education

Saturday 20 March 2010

Meet 12pm at Kings College London, then march to Downing Street to hand in a statement to Gordon Brown.


Bologna process: Ten years of neoliberal attacks

On 11 March 2010 education ministers from the 46 countries that now participate in the Bologna process celebrated ten years of 'cooperation' in luxury at the Hofburg Imperial Palace in Vienna.
Meanwhile, a study by a German health insurance company showed that 16% of German students suffer depression because of the increased pressure in higher education.
It was claimed that the Bologna process, initiated at a meeting of Ministers of Education from 29 European countries in Bologna in 1999, would make higher education standards comparable across Europe, but in reality it has been a means of driving through neoliberal reforms in the sector.
In Britain we hear little about 'Bologna' because in 1999 the New Labour government was already implementing most of its anti-working class agenda.
Here Michael Koschitzki from SAV (the Socialist Party's sister organisation in Germany) and Tilman Ruster, from the SLP (also a sister organisation in the CWI) in Austria explain what Bologna entails and describe the struggles to defeat it.

Initially the Bologna process raised the hope of improvements in higher education in Europe. It promised greater mobility and flexibility for students but in fact the number of students who study abroad is virtually the same as it was ten years ago.

Meanwhile governments have tried to push through major attacks on education.

The Bologna process has not developed in the same way in every participating nation. But there is a general pattern. Higher education in continental Europe has traditionally involved a single-term system, where students study for five years or longer to get a university degree.

The introduction of the British model under Bologna saw students pushed out of education after their bachelor degree without going straight onto master level as had been the case previously, reducing the number of students, especially female students, who receive a full higher education.

This leads to an increasingly 'two-tier' education system, with higher quality and more expensive qualifications only accessible to the rich, and a lower quality education for the poor and working class students, with low-paid jobs at the end of it.

Tuition fees

The Bologna process has seen attempts to introduce tuition fees in participating countries. In Serbia the introduction of tuition fees, under the cover of the Bologna process, stirred up turmoil and led to a big student movement in 2006. In Ireland the threat to introduce fees in 2008 saw the biggest student movement in decades develop.

The Bologna conference booklet states: "Each cycle of higher education should be relevant to the labour market." New education schemes have more and more been orientated towards the needs of private companies. Bosses and managers of private companies and banks are increasingly influencing course content, in some cases even being explicitly invited onto the management boards of universities and colleges. After Bologna reforms were implemented in Hungary only 108 different subjects were offered instead of around 400 previously.

The Bologna process prepares the way for a European 'education market' where universities are seen as an important source of income. On the basis of international ranking, universities compete, with the prestigious, elitist and extremely expensive Anglo-Saxon universities as their model.

The expensive private education sector has grown in many countries. Bologna's structuring of higher education into modules of credit points was preparation for a market where these modules are purchasable through private institutions.

The implementation of Bologna has also seen growing privatisation of the various services required by students such as housing, canteens etc. The administrative, technical and teaching staffs in universities have been reduced. In other words, as the CWI warned at the time, none of the proclaimed improvement objectives of the Bologna process have been achieved.

Bologna reforms have met resistance. In Greece the government attempted to change Article 16 of the constitution, which does not allow the existence of private universities and guarantees the provision of free education. This was opposed by a huge education movement which rocked the country in 2006 and 2007. School and university students and teachers occupied education buildings and organised a united struggle. While they were successful in defeating the government then, cuts will no doubt be posed by the current crisis.

Resistance

In 2009 Germany and Austria were also shaken by strikes and protests. In June 270,000 school and university students took to the streets in Germany in united strike action. While school students opposed the underfunding of the education system, the struggle of university students was particularly aimed at the introduction of the bachelor and master degree system and for free education. They explicitly attacked the Bologna reforms as a means to cut higher education and restrict it to vocational courses. Further protests are planned.

When Austrian students began to protest against Bologna reforms in the autumn of 2009 the movement quickly grew from a spark to a flame. It was one of the biggest movements in Austria for some time and inspired occupations and protests in neighbouring countries. Like in Germany, Austrian students directly attacked the Bologna reforms. Their message was that the Bologna process is not irreversible and that resistance is possible.

The politicians who celebrated the Bologna process do not share this approach. They, like education decision-making bodies, are aligned with the interests of big business. For example approximately 40% of the universities' council of Austria are bank and industry executives.

United struggle needed

European sections of the CWI call for an end to the Bologna process and to all neoliberal attacks on education and other public services in Europe. A joint day of action against privatisation is needed across Europe, bringing together the movements of the Greek general strikes, students against Bologna, and all workers in struggle against attacks on the public sector, pensions and living standards in Britain, Ireland, Spain, Portugal, Italy, France and elsewhere.

This needs to be linked to fighting for an end to the profit-driven capitalist system and replacing it with a socialist alternative, where the economy and society are run democratically to meet the needs of all, not big business.


Our Education Under Attack:

why a mass campaign is needed

New pamphlet on how to fight the cuts and increases in fees by members of Socialist Students and Youth Fight for Jobs

Our education under attack - Why a mass campaign is needed - a Socialist Students and Youth Fight for Jobs pamphlet

Our education under attack - Why a mass campaign is needed - a Socialist Students and Youth Fight for Jobs pamphlet

Out in April
Contact us if you would like a speaker for a launch meeting / rally - socialiststudents@hotmail.com
Bulk / pre-order discount available.

Why not click here to join the Socialist Party, or click here to donate to the Socialist Party.


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