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ULU vice president Sean Rillo Raczka: Students will be marching to the City this Wednesday 9th November to continue the fight against fees and cuts.

students protest

Students will once again take to the streets on Wednesday 9th November to continue the fight against fees and cuts. This time we are marching to the City of London to show our anger at the very financial system that has instructed the political classes to smash the last vestiges of the welfare state and public sector. The government’s plans for education need to be highlighted and opposed now more than ever, as fundamental attacks on education as a public service, and on universities as public institutions.

The Higher Education White Paper entitled ‘Putting Students at the Heart of the System’, does exactly the opposite; especially if you are poor, adverse to tens of thousands of pounds of debt, or don’t go to a private school that successfully trains you to pass A Levels and ace an Oxbridge interview.  Real opportunity, merit and potential are not Mr Willets’ big idea.  Instead poor students will do crammer qualifications in something the Confederation of British Industry approves of (from home naturally), whilst working full time, with no access to a library, and no opportunity to learn or expand beyond the strictures of the course.  The well-off and connected who dominate Oxbridge and other top Universities will still have their ‘elite’ experience, although the faces of Universities, even the elite ones, will change.  In a few years we may see at the very top of the University sector some institutions going private, in the middle the research universities will struggle on with a lot less research and fewer subjects, and at the bottom universities will likely close, and many others will strip the humanities and social sciences from their provisions (as London Met already has).  Some may in effect cease being universities and have the majority of their profitable courses taken over by private providers.

These private providers will be the very same who will have entered the ‘market’ in order to undercut and steal business from existing universities.  Any private providers could get degree awarding powers, from venture capitalists to textbook publishers, all wanting to squeeze what they can out of education.  There may also be a few maverick, profit-making institutions that try to sell themselves as elite, like AC Grayling’s New College of the Humanities, which is set to open up shop next year in Bloomsbury.  NCHUMs will charge £18k a year, the crucial catch being that the shareholders include the star academics attached to the project.  Naturally other academics are not too happy about this, or the fact that Grayling’s baby is merely tutoring students to sit an external examination of the University of London, which the shareholder-professors have had nothing to do with.

So in my view this year is even more shattering to higher education in Britain than the tripling of the tuition fees cap last year.  And the fees were bad enough, with fewer students applying for University already, we know that it will put off thousands more in the coming years.  I haven’t even mentioned EMA and the effect its abolition will have on the chances of working class children to access further education.  It really is chilling.

With that as a background to events it’s no wonder students are still angry (not to mention academics and support staff, who face unemployment, reduced pensions, or worse terms and conditions under new private entrants into HE provision).  They are, however, also somewhat directionless.  The fees battle was lost last year, despite a magnificent movement on the street, and there is no vote in Parliament on the white paper until next year.  With the Liberal Democrats even more tightly tied to their Conservative masters than before, the only way students and staff can succeed in fighting off the privatisation of education is by uniting with the wider trade union movement, and other groups opposing the cuts: pensioners, disabled people, community groups and more.  Together we must make it impossible for our institutions (be it universities, councils or hospitals) to accept the illegitimate government cuts, which could mean shutting our universities down in order to save them. This renewed effort must be kick started on the 9th of November.

Going to the City of London, rather than Parliament, now looks even more attractive with the Occupy movement putting the spotlight on the financial system that has demanded the Western Governments slash and burn public spending.  In the student movement, there was such anger that the education of future generations is being thrown away to put profit into the pockets of the avaricious city ‘investors’, that we decided, especially in the absence of a Parliamentary vote, to march to the City of London.  In our view, the actions of the government puts private sector profit at the heart of everything it does; from benefit reassessment to health service commissioning to secondary education.  The majority of funding for the Conservative Party comes from the City, the wealth of our millionaire cabinet often derives from the City, and the background of our Toryboy rulers is very much square mile.  Little surprise that the government sits back and watches while top company directors’ pay skyrockets, whilst smashing workers with below inflation rises.  The interest of the City and the Government are one and the same.  I doubt the politicians need be told what is expected of them by the ‘Masters of the Universe’, just as the judiciary is capable of harsh political sentencing to crush political dissent and intimidate activists without having to be told to watch the government’s back.  That is simply the nature of the ruling class.

But of course, and partly thanks to students, the shape of the anti austerity movement is very different from last year.  We can’t expect a day out in the City reminiscent of last year’s student protests; the Trades Unions have awoken from decades of slumber, and even some of their leaders seem to be up for a fight.  We have the Occupy movement highlighting anti-capitalist resistance around the world - our student march on the 9th will pass very near Occupy LSX in the City.   We will rally near London Met, the institution I mentioned earlier as the early exemplar of the decimation that the government is wreaking.  There won’t be fifty-five thousand students on the streets like November 10th last year, but if several thousand come down to London, we will certainly give confidence to students up and down the country to take action, especially given the lack of NUS support.  We need the 9th to show that students are an integral part of the anti cuts movement, that we will be there on November 30th for the coordinated strike action, on the picket lines and marches with our UCU and UNISON comrades and all those striking to defend services, jobs and pensions.  I hope we will also see a wave of popular student occupations between the 9th and 30th November, hitting universities where it hurts, raising the profile of the cause and organising for the 30th.

The only qualm I have about fighting the government to save universities, is that I certainly do not support universities as they are; bastions of privilege, institutionally sexist, racist, disablist and homophobic, not to mention commercialised, uncritical and restraining. Consideration of these issues must all be part of the fight for something better, which certainly is not the HE White Paper.  The prize is the end of this government, and with war being waged on all fronts it looks to me that they will have a difficult time lasting it out.  The government is making a crisis for education and public services, so it’s only right that we make a crisis for this government.

Counterfire Student protest live blog

From the New Left Project website

Map of the march route [pdf - 2.9Mb]

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