Posts Tagged ‘Education’


This article summarises some of the issues facing the education sector and how they are more acute in times of recession, and was the result of numerous discussions on Libcom. It first appeared in issue 1 of The Leveller.

The recession is everywhere we look, in this very paper there’s many articles reporting on, and discussing, the widespread and varied effects of the ‘economic downturn’ across all sectors. Education is feeling this sharply – whether you’re a school pupil, a university student, a teacher, a lecturer, a researcher, a library worker, an admin clerk, a canteen worker, or whatever, you have probably been confronted with the real effects of the current economic situation. This brief analysis of the effects of recession on education also includes the views of some students and former students about the recession, and what it means for education.

If you’re a university boss in a recession what’s the first thing you do when you’re short of money? As well as attacks on workers’ pay and conditions, and department closures, you can always bleed more money from students. A survey of university vice chancellors this year found that more than half want a minimum annual tuition fee of £5,000 .

Managing the recession ideologically is proving difficult for the governments and bosses; it’s hard for them to hide just how bad this crisis is. With some universities on the brink of financial ruin prior to the recession, and many more under even more economic stress now, they’re telling us the money has to come from somewhere. On one hand, they’re blaming the economic crisis on silly people borrowing ‘beyond their means’ and crazy bankers lending recklessly, on the other they’re telling students, who make up almost half of 17-30 year olds, to embrace even higher debts!

But hey, it’s a recession; we all have to make sacrifices, right? Well, this is the position of the useless National Union of Students. They recently abandoned a long-standing basic demand for free higher education. With growing economic pressure on university student, the significance of the fees issue is that in the current economic climate and with the precarity facing all of us, the most basic demands that a student’s union, however useless, should make, should be one of free education.

Free education isn’t even a radical demand – we had free university education until a decade ago when it was taken from us, and we shouldn’t forget that many of the people who brought in fees, and who make decisions about our lives without our say, every day, benefited from a free university education. It’s not clear what the NUS actually envisages a graduate tax looking like, or whether it would amount to the same as current fees, or proposed fees increases – their position currently is just an objection to paying at ‘point of entry’.

The notion that student fees are an issue only for the ‘middle class’ is nonsense. At a time when the government is close to its 50% university attendance goal, university is no longer the pursuit of an elite. With regards the perceived exclusivity of higher education in the UK, former student John makes the point that increasing fees can only serve to further widen the gap between rich and poor in access to university – ‘if you’re upset about a small number of people having access to uni, making people pay to go isn’t going to increase access to it is it? Especially as it’s just the thin end of the wedge. First no grants, then low fees, means tested, then higher fees, means tested, and eventually astronomical fees, with no means testing, like the US.’

Alex, a student teacher in Oxford says ‘education for its own sake is something that is seriously under attack here’, although a cynic would say education for education’s sake was already a thing of the past!

Year on year there is a steady rise in the number of hours students are working part-time to support themselves financially while studying. The situation for working class students is getting worse. A degree was never a guarantee of a stable job anyway, but given the proposed extortionate rises in fees, rises in costs of living, and general attacks on living conditions all round it seems the prospects for anyone in HE are as grim as ever.

Between 1996 and 2006, the number of students undertaking paid work to support their studies increased by 54% and the number of students studying full-time and working full-time rose by 86%. It has been shown that students working 15hrs a week are about a third less-likely to get a 2.1 or better degree than those who work less or not at all. So, as you would expect, those who can afford not to work, often end up with a better degree.

In the late 90s, when tuition fees were first introduced, about 41% of 17-30 year-olds (that’s ‘higher education age’) went into higher education . Student enrolments shot up between 1998 and 2001 and have stagnated since, at around 46%. Numbers of part time students have also increased over that period – of the 1.15 million people undertaking first degrees in the UK in 2006-7, close to one-fifth were studying part-time .

While it is true that in real numbers university admissions are UP (this of course means nothing really as many graduates find their degrees worthless and are either unemployed after graduating, or find themselves in employment in sectors that do not require a degree), students entering higher education from poorest backgrounds have stagnated , thus in percentage terms, they now represent a smaller proportion of the actual student body despite a very slight percentage increase ‘low socio-economic group’ teenagers accepting university places.

With the average annual bursary students receive at around £1700, it’s no wonder so many work to support themselves, and why they often leave university with debt in excess of £10,000.
Those dismissing the fees issue shouldn’t do so too readily. University has opened up, largely because loans were introduced. Not because loans in themselves are a good thing, but simply because they allowed people who could not live off the grant to have the money to go. Of course, the government deliberately reduced the value of the grant over a few years, especially in the 90s.

In our own back yard, Queens University has the highest term-time part-time work on average per student for any UK higher education institution, and it’s in the ‘UK Ivy League’! Belfast students are more likely to have part-time work, for less money, and are more likely to live at home than the UK average. The average student working in Belfast part-time earns £91 per week compared to the £98 UK average. Almost two-thirds of university students in Belfast have part-time jobs compared to the UK average of 41%, whilst 29% of students studying in Belfast live at home compared to the UK average of 18%. That figure is also rising across the UK, with a growing number of students opting to stay at home with the recession putting an ever greater pressure on student finance. This is an important aspect of the impact of tuition fees on poorest students – their choice of university has become even more limited, with more electing to stay at home for university because their families can’t afford to support them studying elsewhere , and most expressing concern about the prospect of earning a living when they graduate.

Higher Education (HE) is facing increasing attacks on a variety of fronts, with up to 100 HE institutions are planning job cuts in the next year , as well as moves towards ‘efficiency’ (that’s ‘cuts’ again to me and you) and recruitment freezes. No doubt the proposed cutbacks will be justified in the light of the recession, with workers again paying for a crisis of capitalism’s making. Locally, at Queens University for example, a few issues are particularly pressing:

– Discussion is afoot to increase student fees to £10,000 per year!
– Many departments have been closed in the last few years, because it’s not immediately obvious to the bosses how money can be made from their respective disciplines – the departments of Geology, Classics, and the History of Science have all faced the axe of a ‘rational’ business model.
– Other departments, such as Politics, and Philosophy, disciplines broad enough to warrant their own departments at many universities, have been amalgamated, in the name of ‘efficiency’.
– While in 2008, other departments had been seeking compulsory staff redundancies for the first time in the university’s history. This plan was shelved after union members threatened action, but could still remain a possibility, and were a precedent to be set, could see the imposition of such measures across the university by bosses.
– Staff are facing increasingly excessive probationary targets.

In the face of proposed job cuts at 100 HE institutions, workers in the sector, including lecturers, cleaner, security staff and library workers, are also campaigning for a 6% pay rise, and a minimum of £2,000 per year pay rise for the lowest paid in the sector. The bosses are threatening workers that it’s either pay rises or jobs, and that these two issues will be ‘traded off’ against each other.

The issues facing schools now are by no means new, as with those facing other sectors, they are simply more acute and pressing in times of recession. Teaching unions are currently considering industrial action over numerous issues:

– Class sizes
– Compulsory testing for primary school pupils
– 10% wage increase
– Job cuts in 6th form and FE
– School closures

Last year, a quarter of a million teachers walked out on strike against below-inflation pay-rises, disrupting nearly 10,000 schools and inspiring other workers in their fight against the government’s 2% pay cap. This at a time with inflation running at around 5% constituted a real terms pay cut.
In April this year, parents in Glasgow, as part of the Save Our Schools Campaign, were occupying local primary schools scheduled to be closed.

In London, pupils at a Hounslow school organized a protest over the removal of one of their annual ‘non-uniform days’ – this might not seem significant, but such days, and indeed anything fun in schools is often first to go when teachers are under pressure to cram in more and more content into an already overloaded teaching term. This was an example of pupils taking a stand, to have a say in what happens in their school.

In terms of recruitment, for the first time in a decade, the UK government met its targets for new science and maths teachers. Why? Because aspirational financiers and bankers, ironically people from the sector largely responsible for creating the recession are abandoning money-making for the less-precarious, though we should hesitate to say ‘secure’ about any job these days, world of teaching.

What will this mean? With the government no longer as ‘desperate’ for teachers, it’s likely that they will cut funding funding trainee teachers in England and Wales, and in the long term, it would not be surprising if the ‘golden hellos’ for shortage-subjects at least, were retracted or at least slashed.
This would mean that student-teachers would find it much harder to live during the intense PGCE year, as is the case in Northern Ireland, where students get NO bursary at all. This results in trainee teachers either breaking the bank with loans, many of whom have families to support, or coming from only a small proportion of graduates who can afford to be a student again for another year (possibly with rich parents or some independent source of income). Either way the landscape for the next generation of teachers is changing as much as it has for undergraduates.

Amongst all this of course, is the oft-ignored question of what is education for at all? With teachers complaining about the restrictive curriculum and seemingly never-ending battery of tests, and pupils resenting them even more, it’s clear that education as it exists doesn’t serve the interests of the working class. School is a chore, resented by both the staff and the students in many cases. Education for education’s sake is something most of us will never have experienced. The bosses need to keep producing generations of workers they can exploit, and education is twisted within this system – so we’ve schools adopting prescriptive courses, or universities producing graduates with extremely generic skills that leave that malleable enough to be good paper pushers but often wondering why they had bothered at all, having simply followed what amounted to nothing more than a glorified box-ticking exercise.

All this needs measured of course – so we have Sats and league tables in schools, and Ofsted inspections – schools competing to be deemed ‘satisfactory’ and avoid ‘special measures’. While at university we have the Research and Assessment Exercise (RAE), almost universally despised by university teaching and research staff.

For those who don’t know, university departments have to justify their existence, and individuals their jobs, by raising their ‘research profiles’ – this usually means individuals being highly pressured to produce as many articles as they can between RAE periods, in order to keep their jobs. Of course, this means they have less time to do that other important part of their jobs: TEACH. Many complain they’ve less time to develop their courses and incorporate developments in their subjects into their classes. The constant pressure to publish, publish, publish, means they’ve less time to mark, prepare lectures, read essays. What does this mean? In effect, many work long hours, often taking work home, just to stay on top of their reading, writing, marking etc. Since many in academia, especially those new to it, are on fixed-term contracts, often of 1-3 years, there is the constant fear that ‘if I don’t do this work, they’ll find someone else who will’.

Education workers under capitalism will always face this competition, and pupils and students will always feel strangled by a system that pigeon-holes them and measures them, labels them and categorises them. Education should be a liberating and fulfilling activity that equips us not only with the skills and knowledge that we need to live, but also allow us to pursue goals and interests that we want to pursue. This won’t happen under capitalism, where education is co-opted to meet the needs of bosses.

The seeds of a fight-back are there. In the last month alone, teachers are on the verge of a number of strikes and boycotts, while we’ve also seen pupil protests, and school occupations, and we could see higher education workers across the sector take industrial action against job cuts this year, so while it’s early days, this could be the tip of the iceberg.

It is clear that the effects of the recession are widespread, affecting all aspects of education; primary, secondary, and tertiary; students, teachers, and lecturers. However, we shouldn’t lose site of the fact that the recession is being used to mask attacks on the working class that bosses and the government have always wanted to implement. Whether we’re being told we’re ‘lucky’ to have a job, or ‘fortunate’ to able to go to school at all, it is expected of us that we’ll make sacrifices in order to get us out of a crisis that was not of our making. When the systemic and structural apparatus of capitalism results in the abject failure to meet most people’s basic needs, which has manifested itself beyond doubt in the current economic climate, we’re told to tighten our belts. When we’re experiencing increasing attacks on our living and working conditions, we’re told that our sacrifices are necessary to bandage up the festering wounds of capitalism. Never are we told that there’s another way of running society, or that it’s the fundamental nature of capitalism that has resulted in this collapse. To anarchists, it’s clear that not only should the working class not be footing the bill to revive capitalism from a catastrophe of its own doing, but that it isn’t worth reviving.


Read Full Post »

Reclaim the Campus

The Autonomous Students Network (ASN) was founded at the October 2008 London Anarchist Bookfair at a meeting organised by London Autonomous Students Network (LASN). ASN has a strategic outlook based on tackling our problems at source, from the bottom up, which enables us to directly create alternatives to capitalism ourselves. This is why we choose to work on issues directly affecting us at our colleges, because we can have a real effect on these, which in turn have knock-on effects for people elsewhere.

We favour methods such as going on strike with canteen workers and spreading information to others on campus about companies here, rather than going on a general anti-war demo or twinning our college with a less well off college elsewhere.

Our common values are autonomy, anti-capitalism and horizontal organising and direct action.

It is a federation of groups based at different colleges and individuals, not everyone involved is a student, but the issues we focus on are often education-based. We’re keen to work with like-minded people, so get in touch if you want to struggle with us!

Email: autonomous-students-network [at] riseup.net

Mailing list: autonomous-students-network [at] lists.riseup.net



Read Full Post »

Law 133



Here is a call from the Occupied La Sapienza University (famous for the 1977 occupation of 50,000 that was violently evicted by Communist Party and Cops)

To the faculties in mobilization, to the undergraduate and Ph.D. students, and to all the precarious researchers “We won’t pay for your crisis”, this is the slogan with which a few weeks ago we started our protest at the university of La Sapienza, Rome. A simple, yet at the same time immediate, slogan: the global crisis is the crisis of capitalism itself, of the financial and real estate speculation, of a system without rules or rights, of unscrupulous companies and managers. The burden of this crisis can’t fall on the educational system – from the school to the university – on the health system or generally on taxpayers. Our slogan has become famous, spreading by word of mouth, from town to town. From the students to the precarious workers, from the working to the research worlds, nobody wants to pay for the crisis, nobody wants to nationalize the losses, whereas for years the wealth has been distributed among few, very few people.

And it is exactly the contagion that has been produced in these weeks, the multiplication of the mobilizations in the schools, in the universities, and in the cities that should have stirred up a lot of fear. It is well known that a fearful dog bites; similarly, the reaction of President Berlusconi was immediate: “police against who occupy universities and schools”, “we will get rid of violence in our Country”. Only yesterday Berlusconi declared that he was willing to increase the financial support to the banks and that the State and the public expense would stand surety for the companies’ loans: in a few words, cutbacks to education, less funds for the students, cutbacks to the health system, but public money for the companies, for the banks and the private sector.

We are wondering where is violence: is it a violence to occupy universities and schools or instead that of a government who imposes the Law 133 to cutback the funds for the education system and refusing a parliamentary debate? Is it the dissenter violent or is it who instructs the dissent to be put it down by the police? Who is violent: those who mobilize for the public status of university and schools or those wh want to sell them for a few private profits? Violence is on Berlusconi government’s side, while in the occupied schools and universities there is the great joy and indignation of who fights for his own future, or who doesn’t accept to be put in the corner or forced to be silent. We don’t want stay in silence in the corner, of who wants to be free.

They tell us that we are only able to say no, that we don’t have any proposal. There is nothing more false: the occupations and the meetings of these days are really building up a new university, a university made of knowledge, as well as of sociality, of learning, but also of information, and consciousness. Studying is very important for us: and it is exactly for this reason that we think that the protests are necessary: we are occupying so that the public university can endure, to continue to study and do research. There are a lot of things that have to be changed both in the universities and in the schools, but one thing is certain: the change can’t pass through these cutbacks. Changing the university means increasing founds, to sustain the research, to qualify the educational processes and to guarantee mobility (from study to research, and from research to teaching). The cutbacks mean just one thing: transforming the public universities in private foundations, decreeing the end of the public university. 

The design and its tools are clear: Law 133 was approved in august, and against the protests of dozens of thousands of students they claim the police. This government wants to wreck democracy, through the fear, through the terror. But today, from La Sapienza in mobilization and from the occupied faculties, we want to say that we have no fear and we won’t step back. On the contrary, our intention is to make the government retreat: we won’t stop struggling before Law 133 and the Gelmini decree will be withdrawn! This time we will proceed till the very end, we don’t want lose, we don’t want submit to this arrogance. For this reason we ask all faculties of the Country to do the same: they want to repress the occupations, so that a thousand of faculties occupy!

Moreover, after the extraordinary success of the general strike on October 17th, we think that is the right time to give an unitary and coordinated answer in our cities. We suggest two national dates: a day of mobilization on Friday November 7th, with demonstrations spread all over the cities; a huge national demonstration of the educational world, from university to School, on November 14th in Rome,  the day the unions proclaimed the general strike of the university; a day to be built from the bottom and in which the central figures have to be the students, researchers and teachers in mobilization. At the same time we think that it is useful to cross, with our forms and claims, the general strike of the school proclaimed by the unions on Thursday October 30th.

What is happening in these days tells us of a powerful, extraordinary and rich mobilization. A new wave, an anomalous wave that doesn’t want stop and that rather wants to win. We have to increase this wave and the will to struggle. They want us idiots and resigned, but we are cleavers and in movement and our wave will go far!
From the occupied faculties of the La Sapienza, from the University in mobilization, Rome. 





Read Full Post »

Education Not For Sale


Education Not for Sale is a network of anti-capitalist students founded in September 2005. We exist to fight the rule of profit in our education system and in society as a whole, seeking to organize students alongside workers in struggle to replace capitalism with a society based on collective ownership, social provision for need, ecological sustainability and consistent democracy. We organize in the National Union of Students, in student unions, on campuses and in a variety of campaigns and movements.

We fight for:

  • Free, top-quality, secular and democratic education and public services at every level, funded by taxing the rich and business.
  • The abolition of all fees and a living, non-means-tested grant for every student, in FE and HE.
  • Education not profit: business out of our schools, colleges and universities. Institutions run democratically by students, education workers and communities and aimed at developing free human beings, not teaching factories run by bureaucrats to make a profit and produce compliant workers.
  • Mass direct action to win our demands, a campaigning NUS which mobilises such action – and a rank-and-file movement of student unions and the activist left prepared to take up the fight in opposition to NUS’s current right-wing leadership.
  • Mass involvement and democratic control in NUS and student unions: for fighting unions, not bureaucratic service-providers.
  • Student-worker unity; a fight to organize students who work; consistent support for workers’ struggles, on campus and beyond, in Britain and worldwide.
  • Consistent support for women’s, black, LGBT and disabled liberation. Defend the NUS Liberation Campaigns. Free abortion on demand; free 24 hour nurseries and other social provision to liberate women from domestic drudgery. Militant opposition to the BNP, no platform for fascists. Fight racist lies, defend asylum-seekers, no borders.
  • A political, internationalist student movement turned outwards towards the anti-war, climate change, global justice and anti-capitalist movements.
  • Opposition to imperialism. The immediate and unconditional withdrawal of all troops from Iraq and Afghanistan. We oppose any war and sanctions on Iran. In the event of an attack on Iran, we will launch a direct action campaign at campuses across the UK, along with student Stop the War groups.
  • Solidarity with student, workers’, women’s and other movements fighting exploitation and oppression everywhere. Solidarity with the Palestinians in their struggle for self-determination.
  • Left unity. The organizations of the student left should unite – maximum unity in action, free and open debate about our differences and disagreements.

Agreed at the Reclaim the Campus campus, May 2008

We call on all student activists and organizations who broadly accept this statement of aims to support ENS.

Read Full Post »