In the next few weeks student anti-cuts campaigns at campuses across the UK hold their first meetings of the new term.
This term, the battles over cuts in education that raged last year will be taken up again — but they will develop faster, and the stakes will be higher.
Student campaigns should link up with campus trade unions and labour movement anti-cuts committees. They need to co-ordinate their activities regionally and nationally. It’s not enough to take on management on individual campuses — the movement needs a national, political voice.
Grassroots student activists will have to build a national network themselves, since NUS is failing to provide the movement with the leadership we need.
The cuts in education are part of the Tory package of cuts in society at large — students’ fight to protect themselves and their courses is part of a general labour movement fight.
Universities and colleges around the UK are still dealing with the £500m education spending cuts that Peter Mandelson decreed last year, at the end of New Labour’s time in office. University administrations will still be implementing these cuts when the Tories announce the full scale of their new cuts in October.
An article in the Financial Times on 22 September reports that the government is considering cutting the University teaching budget by 75%.
It is already expected that well over 150,000 applicants will find themselves without a university place this year.
The aim of Mandelson’s cuts was to transform education, not to save money. Mandelson’s plan was to allot funds to the universities that best tailored their courses to suit business leaders’ needs.
The Tories too will use funding cuts to re-shape education. They will turn it into a paid-for commodity rather than a public service; a tiered system, where working-class students go to bottom-rung universities and get know-your-place vocational training, while learning for its own sake becomes a luxury available only at more expensive, top-flight universities.
Lecturers’ workload and class sizes will increase, as resources are funneled away from quality teaching into business-driven research.
And, whether through a graduate tax or through increased fees, students will be made to pay more for their education. A report from the London School of Economics calculates that the “full price” of a history degree at an English university is now £7,631 a year.
In order to stand up to these attacks, students need to organise anti-cuts campaigns. Campaigners should use the first few weeks of term making students aware of what is coming.
They should contact local staff unions, and offer support to staff in their disputes. They should send representatives to labour-movement anti-cuts committees or trades councils.
They should prepare students for mass direct action to disrupt business-as-usual on their campuses, learning from the tactics of occupations like that at Sussex last year.
Student Unions should direct their considerable resources to organising these campaigns. Where a SU executive is unwilling to take up the task, grassroots campaigners should do the job themselves.
These campaigns need to build mass support amongst the body of students and avoid winding up limited to pre-existing activist cliques trading under new names. This means knocking doors in halls of residence, keeping up a high tempo of activity, and being imaginative in the first few weeks of term.
Student campaigns and those Unions prepared to fight need to co-ordinate their activity nationally. The National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts (NCAFC) is setting up regional meetings, where activists can share experiences and plan joint action.
No cuts! No fees!
Under pressure from the growth of anti-cuts activism, the National Union of Students has called a demonstration on Wednesday 10 November.
In theory the demo is a joint one with UCU. In fact the tiresomely predictable decision to call it on a Wednesday shows how (un)serious the NUS leadership is about getting workers along, or indeed getting a good student turn out. There is also, so far, no official publicity. Nonetheless it is vital that activists mobilise the biggest numbers possible.
The political message is more problematic, since NUS is weak on cuts and supports a graduate tax. The National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts is working with a number of left-led student unions to organise a "Free education" bloc around the demands:
No fees, no graduate tax;
A living grant for every student;
No to cuts, tax the rich.
We will be meeting at University of London Union from 11am on 10 November.