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17 November 2005

Northumbria socialist students rock against racism

Socialist students at Northumbria University have been campaigning against racism and prejudice through our Unite Against Racism campaign this term.

Leah Jones, Northumbria Socialist Students

We began the year by petitioning against racism and for our local NUS to support campaigns against racist organisations such as the British National Party (BNP) and the National Front, as a part of the national campaign, No to terror, no to war, no to racism.

We began the campaign with the intention of building for the 2 November demonstration against the BNP in Leeds, at their leader Nick Griffin's court hearing for inciting racial hatred.

The demo had been called by the civil service union PCS. It was backed by the Yorkshire and Humber TUC and local community groups who had been subject to increased racism and violent attack since the BNP stepped up their campaign to profit from the mood of uncertainty and fear which has developed after the 7 July terrorist attacks on London.

The Students' Union wasn't interested in taking up the campaign, so Socialist Students decided to promote and raise money for the campaign by organising a Rock Against Racism gig at Northumbria University, supported by Tyne and Wear Anti-Fascist Action (TWAFA) and the PCS.

The gig was booked and six bands confirmed to play but two weeks before the date we still hadn't received our promotional material back from the societies' office and the Students' Union had double-booked our room! This cost us an extra 250 but despite the local NUS barring our progress at every turn the gig went well, with over 70 people attending and raising 135 for Northumbria Socialist Students.

The money raised from the gig allowed the society to pay for Zena Awad, national co-ordinator of Socialist Students, to speak at a What is socialism? meeting the day after the anti-fascist demo, which 14 people attended.

We are now building the campaign further and pushing the students' union to back the demonstration in Leeds on 16 January, when the trial will re-convene.

We are also supporting TWAFA in their campaign against the BNP in the coming Gateshead by-election and the Socialist Party branch in the council elections next year when we will be able to oppose the far right by offering a real political alternative to the vicious cuts and attacks of the political establishment.

FE students need a living income

The government are living in a different world to the one college students face every day. Education is becoming less and less of an affordable option, and many jobs available to us offer minimum wages, appalling conditions and no future.

Ben Robinson, Socialist Students FE organiser

Around 50% of FE students are forced to take on part-time jobs. The costs involved: books and notepads, transport and food, often add up to more than the government allows for. This doesn't cover FE students who live away from home or care for children. In addition, the occasional CD or night out is increasingly expensive.

Most students have to travel to get to college but there is no national provision for travel or even hardship funds, with individual colleges deciding their own policy. The provision for childcare is not much better.

The government's Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) provides 30 per week for those from families on less than 17,000, then on a sliding scale of amounts for those from families with incomes up to around 25,000 (after tax).

But even for those who are eligible, it is not a guaranteed income. Last year, around a third of those eligible did not receive it because of a combination of lack of awareness and the sheer level of bureaucracy involved. It is also used as a form of punishment, where missing one lesson, or even lateness, can result in its withdrawal for a week. A bonus of 100 is also available five times during a two-year course, but this is also limited by similar criteria.

EMA isn't enough as a sole income. Many students are forced to supplement it with low-paid jobs.

If college students attend all their lessons and spend the recommended time doing homework, reading around etc, it's a full week. For those who work a ten-hour week on top of that, it's 50 hours. When your income is the maximum EMA and the 16-17 minimum wage, that's 60 every week. So that's 60 a week, for 50 hours!

Tony Blair and Gordon Brown apparently see no problem forcing students into these conditions. They consider 60 a week to be an acceptable income for college students but they won't pay for it out of public funding. However, they are willing to pay over 3.1 billion on the war in Iraq. The estimated cost of increasing EMA to 60 a week for every college student is 150 million, pocket change in budgeting terms.

International Socialist Resistance (ISR) and Socialist Students are campaigning, anti-capitalist youth organisations. We call for our schools and colleges to be properly funded, for education, not for business! All college students and young people have the right to a decent life, and we fight for an EMA of 60 a week, towards an income that meets the needs of all students.

We call on the NUS to take up the issues facing college students, and campaign alongside trade unions for an end to the attacks on free education, and for colleges to be able to provide the services and courses that students need from them.

A government-commissioned report is proposing that private companies should come in and take over 'failing' FE colleges - making a profit out of education. More on this and how to fight it in future issues.

Lincoln University Hull campus

Fighting the bosses' lies

DOZENS OF students at the Hull Campus in the University of Lincoln protested on Monday 14 November against the proposed sell-off of the site to a local sixth-form college. The sale is expected to happen while the 1,000 students based there will be studying!

Luke Aylward, Lincoln Socialist Students

The students were also upset with a lack of investment in Hull, while the main Brayford campus in Lincoln is the focus of a 35m regeneration. One student spoke to the socialist explaining what's happening.

"As well as selling the site to Hull College, they're planning on sacking 28 technical teaching staff. They haven't invested in new facilities for four years. The bosses are just letting our facilities degrade, and now they're not suitable for our degrees."

Students are also angry about the painfully small budget allocated to Hull campus. One student even quoted a sum as little as 10,000 a year, despite the university's annual turnover of 78 million. Another student told us about how they were lied to by the university's bosses.

"The vice-chancellor (David Chiddick) said that they weren't investing 16m on the main campus, and that they were moving us to the main campus during the summer. They lied to us. They used underhand tactics".

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