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Posted on 5 February 2009 at 0:00 GMT

United action needed to save education

London Metropolitan University's vice-chancellor, Brian Roper, has announced that the college is in severe financial difficulties.

Paula Mitchell, London Socialist Party

The Higher Education Funding Council has cut its central grant by 18 million a year and wants 38 million in overpayments over the past three years to be paid back. The overpayment arose because of errors in the figures for student completion.

Management have responded by threatening to cut 330 full-time posts, which could mean 400 to 500 people lose their jobs (between 12% and 20% of the current workforce). This is a devastating assault on hard-working staff, but it is also a big attack on students and the quality of higher education.

These cuts will mean fewer courses, fewer lecturers, larger classes, less time in class, less individual contact time with staff, fewer specialist librarians and in-house IT staff, less specialised support, more stressed and overworked staff across the whole university - in other words education will suffer!

London Met management have attacked students' ability to organise and protest, imposing their control on the student union, and consequently there is currently no functioning student union. But students have actively supported the Save London Met campaign so far, and out of this there is the potential for a new, more militant student activism to develop.

For years, management have been ferocious in their attempts to drive down conditions and staffing. In 2005, when the university threatened 300 staff with the sack if they didn't sign new contracts, members of the lecturers' union UCU fought back. London Met Socialist Students society mobilised the support of students with petitions, leaflets and meetings, and attended picket lines. They aim to offer the same support again this time.

London Met is unlikely to be an isolated case. University funding is effectively payment-by-results - they get paid per student that completes their course. This means huge pressure on universities to make the figures look as good as possible. Whether or not this has been the case at London Met, the problem of over-payment and financial shortfalls will occur in many other universities as well.

Students and staff unite

This attack comes at a time of economic crisis, posing the threat of devastating cuts to public services, including education. Future grant cuts could exceed even those faced by London Met this year.

The big bosses and bankers have enjoyed a frenzy of speculation and greed for years, enriching themselves beyond their wildest dreams. Now workers, young people and students are expected to pay the price.

There are many other problems facing students, including fees and debt, as well as worsening prospects for getting jobs in a recession. Students at London Met understand that to win on their own demands they need the support of lecturers and other staff.

500 students and staff protested at the governors' meeting last week. If the government can spend billions of pounds bailing out rich bankers it can certainly find a few million to rescue London Met university, its students and its staff.

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Coronavirus crisis - Finance appeal

The coronavirus crisis has laid bare the class character of society in numerous ways. It is making clear to many that it is the working class that keeps society running, not the CEOs of major corporations.

The results of austerity have been graphically demonstrated as public services strain to cope with the crisis.

The government has now ripped up its 'austerity' mantra and turned to policies that not long ago were denounced as socialist. But after the corona crisis, it will try to make the working class pay for it, by trying to claw back what has been given.

  • The Socialist Party's material is more vital than ever, so we can continue to report from workers who are fighting for better health and safety measures, against layoffs, for adequate staffing levels, etc.
  • Our 'fighting coronavirus workers' charter', outlines a programme to combat the virus and protect workers' living conditions.
  • When the health crisis subsides, we must be ready for the stormy events ahead and the need to arm workers' movements with a socialist programme - one which puts the health and needs of humanity before the profits of a few.
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