Tuesday, 30 November 2010

We are winning, keep the pressure going (see link inside to video of council chambers occupation)

Video of Council House Occupation:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zc1dsn77BlQ 

After leaving Birmingham city council chambers (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-birmingham-11877270) , I have been pleased to find some changes have taken place at Birmingham guild of students.

Solidarity has returned to Birmingham’s students union!

For my entire time at university, I have never heard a guild officer (other than myself) utter or write the words “in solidarity”, for too long solidarity has been treated as something that only far left fringe activist would strive for.

When in fact, I think it is a beautiful thing, one thing that constantly strikes me about the students that I am meeting in anti fees and cuts campaign, is their desire for greater awareness and understanding of other people positions and needs. The students today in the council house demanded that Birmingham’s refuse workers, who balloted 96% percent in favor of action and are having around £4,000 pounds taken off their wages are listened to by the council. I have never seen a student lift a finger to help a refuse worker let alone seen a roomful of students with a working understanding of refuse workers issues.

In the words of Lilla Watson “If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time.  But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together” this is what built the student movement and the welfare state, the desire to look out for others and there needs not just our own. Solidarity is noble sentiment that we all share and we should voice it as loudly and as regularly as possible.

So I’m delighted to see the guild officer team ending their messages with “in solidarity”

And what a change of line by the guild, after failing to endorse properly previously actions the guild finally got round to supporting the peaceful rally in town today sending out messages on fb and putting it on the guild website. They also didn’t send officers down to criticize the action in front of the press! this I can only describe a productive behaviour by the guild and we should continue to encourage it.

 “There is also a rally taking place in the City Centre today (by the Bullring) at 12:30pm. The Guild of Students continues to support students who wish to protest peacefully and attend the rally. This event is not organized by the Guild or NUS, and has been organized by members of the Education Activist network who are expecting hundreds of students to attend.” – from the guild of student website

Additionally the guild has set up its own fb group http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=267045825745 (join it)  for the stop fees and cuts campaign on Birmingham campus, obviously it has a long way to go in building up the kind of networks it needs, which the “stop fees and cuts in brum” group has already done, but it is finally on the right route.

However, we should still encourage the guild to engage with other social media like twitter and phone trees, e-mail lists and e-mail discussion lists.

And the guild still needs to take the following steps and announce on one of their blogs that they also endorse these five points which Aaron porter backed on Sunday at UCL
  • to publicly support all student occupations- on the frontpage of the NUS website and all available media.
  • to call immediately for a new wave of occupations as a legitimate form of protest against fees and cuts.
  • to organise financial, legal & political aid for all current and future occupations.
  • to call a national day of action on the day of the parliamentary vote on tuition fees.
  • to officially support any staff taking further industrial action on cuts in the education sector.
So the guild will…
  • publicly support all peaceful student occupations- on the frontpage of the guild website and all available media.
  • The guild will call immediately for a new wave of occupations as a legitimate form of protest against fees and cuts.
  • To organise financial, legal & political aid for all current and future occupations.
  • To call a national day of action on the day of the parliamentary vote on tuition fees.
  • To officially support any staff taking further industrial action on cuts in the education sector.
if you are not on the phone tree already
Text “No fees” To 07988056867 to receive updates of anti fees and cuts protests and stunts in Birmingham.

In solidarity

stop fees and cuts in birmingham

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Friday, 26 November 2010

Some thoughts for the Guild of Students

As we think and talk about what we should do next, I feel I should give the guild some thoughts on what it could do next.


The guild and several officers in particular, please stop attempting damage and attempting to smother anti cuts movement on campus.


Dora Meredith President and Rob Hunter VPEA: despite repeatedly stating you had no time to support the Guilds Unison allies, even in minimal actions such as sending out one facebook message, twitter or e-mail. You did seem to find the time to come down for several hours and give out your criticism and let you disapproval be known on T.V and Birmingham papers. Making the student movement look rather odd and divided is not the way forward. 


 (Unison & UCU are fighting on campus on behalf of students for lower fees and to keep staff wages at decent rate some staff are being paid £12,915, yet are taking 4.4% cuts, while their managers have taken none themselves, the guild still refuse to back them).


I know you think it is impossible to send messages of support like other well respected allies like unison and UCU.


Unison “@stopcuts brum Thanks from Bham Uni Unison Exec for the support yesterday & congrats on a peaceful, lively, tuneful demo”


Birmingham UCU On behalf of the University of Birmingham branch of the University and College Union, we would like to send our solidarity to the students taking non-violent action at the University of Birmingham. Our higher education system is under a sustained attack that will turn the clock back on generations of social progress, democratic advance and educational achievement. Under the government’s proposals, our country looks set to become the most expensive place to study in the world, while the cuts to public funding represent an unprecedented attack on the fundamental basis of our education system, an attack that may well lead to the closure of colleges and universities. Your action is an inspiration to staff and students seeking to oppose these vicious attacks. - Birmingham UCU Committee”


Aston UCU - Aston University UCU committee sends our support and solidarity to students in occupation at Birmingham University. The attacks on universities threaten to destroy the sector as we know it, barring generations from the benefits of higher education. Staffs stand with students in the struggle to defend education, access and the right to knowledge. Your actions give us hope. In solidarity, Aston UCU.


But is really worth, coming down, stopping your work, purely to come down slag students off? I disagree with many things you are doing, but I’m only criticizing you for the things you are not doing, rather than the things you are doing because I don’t want to damage your efforts.


Rob Hunter (VP Education) at one point you took the UNISON and said 'thank you for coming to this demonstration ...' as if you personally hadn’t angrily argued against a motion in support of it the previous week, told students not to attend the rally and refused the publicize the rally.


Ashley Chambers VP democracy and Resources and Rob Hunter: you came into the sit in at the Aston Webb, telling students involved that the university was going to come down hard on them and that they should leave. In future do not turn up again if your only purpose is to try and bully and scare students involved.
why ar you still, claiming that by joining, Birmingham City university students union, Unison, the Universities and Colleges Union and the National Union of Teachers in Criticizing a establishment that has been vigorously active in pushing for cuts to higher education and for no cap on tuition fees will, make it a fringe organization with no relevance in the debate.


Criticizing the university does not make the guild a fringe party without a foot in the door; such an accusation is ridiculous, quite the opposite it means it is not taking part in the meaningful dialogue on campus between the unions and the university. Rob hunter, Dora Meredith and Ashley chambers team mislead students by claiming that for a guild council motion on 18/11/10 would take the guild out of the rational debate despite it being in line with Unison, UCU policy i.e the majority of political organizations on campus.


For a Students Union Taking part in the dialogue between the university and unions is common sense, especially since staff unions are currently now bargaining on behalf of students to keep fees down without the guilds help. A ridiculous position for the guild to be in, sidelining themselves for the sake of avoiding a group on the spurious reason that they believe in principle in free education, which the political clique in charge of the NUS seems to have an anathema over.


These organizations, UCU and Unison, are our main allies nationally; the guild has now shamefully adopted a position in which they are its opposition locally.


Ashley chambers: you slam students for not getting involved on your officer blog http://guildvpdr.wordpress.com/2010/11/19/guild-council-coulda-woulda-shoulda/ and threaten to cause students who don’t turn up to guild council hassle.


Yet at the same time, in the only forum for how the guild should run its campaign, your fellow officers Dora Meredith and Rob Hunter have failed to act on single one of the very reasonable requests made at the meeting, which I will list below in the hope they are finally done.


At the same time as threatening students for not coming along to meetings, the guild brazenly ignores students who do, no wonder the guild is failing to engage and empower students. The guild needs to starting offering students more than the stick as a reason to get involved in campaigning. I want guild councilors and students to become more active, more involved as well, I would do so by inspiring them, giving them training and chance to have meaningful input not by threatening to take away my personal patronage.


1. The guild create a Facebook group, phone tree, e-mail list for fees and cuts campaigning, so it has a dedicated communication channel for this campaign.


2. The Guild to back the Unison/ UCU protest on campus on the 24th and outreach to these organizations.


3. Give permission to Unison and UCU to use the guilds logo on its their leaflets, obviously giving the guild a chance to see and edit the leaflets firsts.


4. To organise speaker events, public debates and training sessions as they are mandated to do, to inspire and empower students to fight against tuition fee increases.


5. The guild of students should start using twitter, a useful social media tool to engage students.


6. Should back its formal allies the right to work campaign, in their activities in Birmingham


7. Back its formal allies the National union of teachers, in their campaigns against cuts and closures around Birmingham.


8. Back its formal allies UCU in their campaigns to keep fees down and staff wages at a reasonable level.


9. To back its formal allies Unison in its efforts to protect university support workers and keep student fees down.


10. The guild should attend the Birmingham unity meetings organised by UCU, unison NUT, NUS, Right to Work and Birmingham city students union.


11. The guild should publish its copy of the sustainable excellence document, which outlines the cuts to be made at Birmingham University, which the university has indicated it is happy for it to do.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Official footage from inside the Aston Webb Occupation will be released in the coming days

Official footage from inside the Aston Webb Occupation will be released in the coming days.

Please if you have any of your own footage from outside and pictures send them in asap, so we can use them in the feature.


Media Roundup for Birmingham Occupation

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-11827507
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-11831453
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-birmingham-11827490
http://www.birminghampost.net/news/2010/11/24/forty-students-in-tuition-fees-protest-at-university-of-birmingham-97319-27707298/
http://www.birminghammail.net/news/top-stories/2010/11/24/forty-students-in-tuition-fees-protest-at-university-of-birmingham-97319-27707298/
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/universityeducation/8155328/Tuition-fee-protest-where-demonstrations-will-take-place.html
http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2010/nov/24/tuition-fees-protest
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-11828882
 http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/gallery/2010/nov/24/tuition-fees-students#/?picture=369016104&index=7
http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/gallery/2010/nov/24/tuition-fees-students#/?picture=369016101&index=9
http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/gallery/2010/nov/24/tuition-fees-students#/?picture=369016106&index=12
http://www.itv.com/central-west/

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

what next?





Time
25 November · 05:00 - 08:00

LocationThe guild of students, old stu dev space (below recption)

Created by:

More infoWe occupied the Aston Webb, the site of the broken promises of Clegg and bare faced lies of Cameroon.

We embarked on this occupation because we believe the Government’s cuts to be economically unnecessary, unfair and ideologically motivated. We stood in solidarity with unions and staff some of whom are being paid £12,915, yet are taking 4.4% cuts - while their management rakes in some of the highest wages in the country and plan on operating on large unnecessary surpluses.

We need to continue a vigorous campaign on campus and nationally, come down tomorrow at 5pm @ the guild of students in the old student development space to discuss, what we can do next.

If you have not already text no fees To 07988056867, to join our phone tree.

the uni took our internet away

sorry for absence... don't worry we are back online and still fighting for a education that is free to all!

bbc article

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-birmingham-11827490

strong rally outside




student chants, off iconic aston webb

video

wanna talk to us

skype us a stopcutsatbrum :) we would love to talk to you x

some pics from the occupation

 decision making
 the balcony
what a view...
Despite some difficulty from security guards preventing many of our students getting in more than 30 students are currently in occupation of the aston webb building. this is a copy of our written statement.

Students at the University of Birmingham have embarked on this occupation because we believe the Government’s cuts to be economically unnecessary, unfair and ideologically motivated. We stand in solidarity with unions and seek to be active members in a broader anti-cuts coalition. The government must understand that if they continue to destroy the livelihoods of the majority to benefit the rich and powerful minority, they will face increasingly widespread and radical action.

The government is however not the only catalyst for our action. This University currently adheres to a strategy which prioritises corporate profit above the value of education. To this end we have set out an alternative budget proposal that fairly shares the burden of government cuts. If the Government and University continue with their marketisation of people’s lives this will only be the beginning.      

We extend solidarity to those defending their futures from these regressive measures, which move to segregate our society by means of favouring the rich and powerful, who remain out of touch with the needs of the majority. However, we feel there exists an imperative for change within the University of Birmingham, as not only was the Aston Webb building the stage from which Nick Clegg fed the nation false promises, the financial surplus of the University of Birmingham will stand at £25million irrespective of cuts and a fee increase. The university still operating on a substantial surplus renders the increase in fees nothing more than an exercise of greed and social segregation. Furthermore, the fact that the Vice Chancellor of the University of Birmingham enjoys an annual salary of £342,000, whilst happily imposing cuts such as the 4.4% decrease to the wages of support staff paid £12,915 pa is an outrage.  
We will not stand for this disgraceful behaviour in our university.
Neither should the nation for the effect these cuts will have across our society.
We support the actions of Unison today in calling a mass rally, and call upon other parties and organisations to rise up and take a stand against the exploits of our apparently liberal affected Tory government. 
We demand
     

1.    No raise in tuition fees

2.    For the University to criticise the Browne Review as a socially regressive plan that will limit access to   
       education.

3.     A budget of the university’s financial plans, broken down by department for the next five years be made 
        public. 
4.       The “Sustainable Excellence” document, which lays out the university’s plans for cuts, to be made public for 
         the benefit of those affected and subsequent scrutiny.
5.        David Eastwood, the vice chancellor, to resign for his role in the Browne Review and his demonstrated    
         lack  of impartiality on the issue. 
6.       Pledge from the University to not make any preventable cuts to any courses or services. 
7.       For academic and support staff at the University of Birmingham to not have their wages cut by the 
        university.
8.       The university to send representatives to the occupation to engage in open negotiations with students, 
        providing a forum for the student body to represent their views.
9.       For the university to allow students to come in and out of the building, to use the space we have occupied 
        for 36 hours as a means for public debate and raising awareness, after which we will leave peacefully.
10.       For no recriminations for the students involved in the occupation.
We call for
1.       Liberal Democrat MPs to stand by their pledges made at the last election to vote against an increase in tuition fees.
2.       Students, staff and workers to stand united against government cuts, working towards an understanding of each other needs and positions in order to build a broad and effective movement.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Protest at Michael Gove’s (Education Secretary) Visit to Birmingham





 
Time
19 November · 17:00 -19:00

LocationCoppice School Trinity Road Sutton Coldfield B75 6TJ





Called by Birmingham N.U.T. Meet Uni train station at 5pm tomorrow to travel up bring banners, protect education!

Mr Gove has announced that 13 urgently needed new school buildings will be cancelled in Birmingham, and another seven, planned for academies, have been suspended pending further discussion.

and a recent analysis of Mr Gove's Academies Bill conducted for the NUT by independent consultant Martin Rogers has shown that t...he Government has failed to calculate properly the funding impact of its Academies Bill. As a result of the Government's Academies 'Ready Reckoner' Local Authorities (LA) will have to give large, excessive and unfair amounts of funding from other services as well as from education to Academies. This could mean that many LA will have to make major cuts on top of the 25% cuts demanded by Government. Not only could LA be seriously damaged but also budgets to schools that either choose or have to remain in LA could be slashed. The paper analysing this potential consequence is attached.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

The University of Birmingham and the cuts, alternative view

I’m sure you all aware that the University of Birmingham, in response to government policy, are planning considerable changes. Currently the narrative pushed by the guild officer team, for the last three years, is that we must focus on lobbying the government to stop the changes at the top. Considering that at this point to tip the balance a total of 42 Lib Dem rebel votes are needed, with 15 Lib Dems remaining loyal, the attempts to spark a Lib Dem rebellion seem somewhat futile however, it’s a worthy attempt, which we can all get behind.                      

 Why then ignore the university? They are not exactly a benign organisation, with only students’ interests at heart; the university management has its own agenda which doesn’t always coincide with the needs of the students or staff. The university is, by its own admittance, considerably well placed to deal with cuts; operating on an annual surplus £45.925 million and this year is predicted to operate on £36.134 million poind suplus. This puts it in a relatively good position compared to other Higher Education institutions. Despite this good position the university is planning on making £20 million pounds extra a year by 2012/13. Of this £20 million, £10 million is to be made up from increases in revenue (i.e. student fees) and the other £10 million from cuts to services. All this has been framed in a university plan called Sustainable Excellence, which outlines changes to be made by the academic year 2012/13.

“the policy, established through Sustainable Excellence, of taking difficult decisions to disinvest from those areas which do not support our strategic ambitions,” From Shaping our future Birmingham 2015
(http://www.birmingham.ac.uk/Documents/university/shaping-future.pdf) Sustainable excellence is an odd take on the idea of sustainability; it does not outline a plan of how to maintain the current standards of education and services at the University of Birmingham, instead it outlines a plan to maintain the universities aggressive growth strategy in the face of cuts. So sustainable in university doublespeak can be taken to mean growth; and disinvest from those areas which do not support our strategic ambitions can be taken to mean cuts to those departments which are not profitable.

On top of the money taken in from fees and cutbacks, the university is planning on using its expanding American-style, alumni-based funding to support its aggressive growth strategy. 

 “Circles of Influence fundraising campaign will raise £60 million by 2012 to support areas of critical investment, and will be developed beyond that date”

By critical investment the university means its long term strategic goals such as the development of the estate. However, supporting critical investment could instead be investment in students and staff. The immediate impact of the university managers’ ‘grand ambition’ is going to hurt not just staff and students, but the university’s finances.  Restructuring costs were projected to rise to £9.2m this year, which was a reflection of costs attributed to the Sustainable Excellence proposals. Meanwhile the University of Birmingham has developed, proportional to income, one of the most expensive management systems in the country. The total cost of management pay in 2001 was £3,150,000, rising to £13,310,000 at present. The number of staff paid over £100,000 at the University of Birmingham has gone from 28 to 96 and there have been average increases of 19.9% each year since 2000, for the top university staff. The Vice-chancellor's salary has also  staggeringly increased from £169,000 to £342,000. These increases are vastly out of proportion with the growth of the university (6.6% per year) and increases in the average staff member’s wages (less than 4.55% per year). Extraordinarily, the Vice-chancellor charges the cost of a chauffeur to the university (despite living less than 1 kilometre away from the university) a cleaner and gardener despite earning over thirteen times the average UK salary.

The university has a strong financial position, strong alumni fundraising network, and a system of excessive wages and rewards. If, instead, it was to commit to a less aggressive growth strategy, cut back on top wages, put alumni money into services already in place and stop its planned lay-offs, then the current plans for increasing income through raising student fees and cutbacks to services would be unnecessary. There would even be resources left over for new growth.

This is not the time for aggressive growth paid for at the cost of students, staff and academic quality. Rather it is the time for our version of ‘Sustainable excellence’; to curtail unsupportable growth and maintain the services we currently benefit from in areas that may not be deemed immediately profitable.

Note: The Guild of Students’ response to the plan which formally prioritises aggressive growth over maintaining access to education, staff jobs and quality of education, has been to welcome the plans. It was formally noted that “Students, whilst welcoming the reasoned approach set out in the paper, were concerned that disinvestment might lead to reduced student choice in the future. It was noted that enhancing the quality of teaching and learning and the student experience were “important aspects of sustainable excellence.” The Guild last year passed the sustainable excellence proposals through both council and senate. I would encourage students involved in the Guild to encourage the representation of students’ needs and not just the needs of the government and University elite.

Monday, 15 November 2010

Picket, Vince Cable Tuesday 16th nov 1pm


We are joining the NUS Backed Right to work Campaigns protest against cable in brum! Join us at 1pm tomorrow at the ICC in town (get off at five ways train station and walk down broad street towards town).
The Con-Dems are launching an onslaught of cuts and privatisation and a vicious ideological attack on our welfare state. Already Clegg has cancelled a trip to Oxford because of fear of student demos. This government has no mandate or legitimacy, we should keep them out of every city, until they stop.
For questions e-mail

righttowork.wm@googlemail.com
http://www.righttowork.org.uk/

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Reply to Redbrick misinformation

I was at the protests in London on the 10th of November and I saw what happened first hand. I’m writing this article to draw attention to two points that are either misrepresented or completely missed in the Redbrick article as well as the vast majority of the media coverage. I hope that Redbrick will be brave enough to print an article from a differing point of view.  NB (I thought that Sam Langtree’s editorial was well written and accurate, it is the news coverage rather than the comment I have issue with).
It wasn’t just the anarchists
 The media coverage tends to portray the majority of students as good naturedly coming out for their democratic right to protest and a “show of student solidarity”. The reality is that the march had a decidedly lacklustre, bored and pessimistic feeling.  The majority of people who I heard and talked to, showed little hope that the protest would achieve anything and many expressed a desire to resort to more radical action.  A point that is often missed is that there were at least a thousand people in the square outside Millbank and many more on the street beyond. Though not all of them took part in the occupation the vast majority cheered when the protesters broke in through the windows and the vast majority joined in with the chants of “Tory scum” and “shame on you”. Despite what Aaron Porter or Boris Johnson says, I see no evidence that the students who weren’t present (“the majority”) would feel any different. That they weren’t there doesn’t mean they disagree. The media often makes the erroneous connection of masked face=anarchist (“with the masked face of anarchists” in redbrick).  In reality I saw the anarchist contingent on the march before the occupation and there was at the very most 30 of them. 
What did they expect?
Redbrick describes the protesters entrance to the building with this sentenceRising to shouts of ‘Tory scum’ the individuals pushed back police lines with a scuffle and entered the building, as shattered glass lay beneath their feet”.  This is the only description and papers over many of the important details. The “occupation” began when students on the march pointed to the Millbank Tower and starting chanting ‘shame on you’ this led four or five misguided students to run in to the branch of pizza express that happened to be next door. A more sizable group then proceeded to occupy the reception of Deloitte much to the bemusement and derision of the employees inside. Finally a group of about two hundred walked through the open door and in to the reception. This initial occupation was very good natured, no one was hurt and nothing resembling violence took place.  Then a group of about thirty police officers and ten riot police arrived and blocked the entrance to the building, stopping anyone getting in or out. Over a long period of time the crowd both inside and outside grew steadily more and more radical and angry, culminating in the windows being smashed and the police being completely surrounded. When a march protesting Tory cuts goes past a completely unsecured Tory headquarters people will inevitably go in. And when thirty police try to keep five hundred people at bay it will inevitably lead to escalating anger tension and violence.  I have been on five marches in my life and no matter how peaceful they were there has always been an enormous police presence. I have never experienced a protest without police lining the route. This time I did not see a single police officer until they arrived at Millbank.
Conclusions
I have two main conclusions to draw from this: Firstly the violence was caused by a lack of organisation by both sides.  The majority of the media portrayed the ‘violence’ as the work of a ‘minority’ who came to the protest to cause havoc. In reality it was a process of cumulative radicalization as the crowds on each side of the glass slowly: egged each other on to reunify and realised that they could smash the windows without police retaliation. A properly organized Met could have stopped the windows being smashed with a decent police presence, instead they put the small amount of police in danger and allowed the situation to come to a head (I have nothing but praise for those police officers who stood their ground and didn’t lose their cool under very difficult circumstances. Had they lashed out the consequences could have been very unpleasant.) Properly organized protesters could have peacefully occupied and held Millbank. Taking the “high ground” of non violence and forcing any brutality on the police.
      Secondly I am forced to conclude that either both the Conservative Party and the Met are staggeringly incompetent, or that they deliberately encoraged violence on the part of students in order to discredit the protest.  Several newspapers noted that large sections of the Tory staff had been evacuated from the building and yet nothing I have yet read mentions that they left the front doors open. I also find it hard to understand how it took the Met almost four hours to assemble an adequate police presence when on every other protest they seem to assemble a small army. It is quite possible that these sets of facts are perfectly reconcilable without resorting to conspiracy but I personally can see no possible way. It is unbelievable really that the media are not forcing the Met and the Government to answer these questions.  The Government must not be allowed to use the media’s false narrative to justify a repressive and violent stance towards protests.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Reply to Vice-Chancellor Professor David Eastwood

This short article will address the main points made by Vice-Chancellor Professor David Eastwood in his email to University of Birmingham students on October 11th 2010, in which he explained his endorsement of Lord Browne’s Independent Review into Higher Education Funding and Student Finance (Browne Review). This article will respond to Professor Eastwood’s claims that the Browne Review is socially progressive, guarantees quality higher education, and is the ‘only alternative’.

In his email to the Birmingham student body, Professor David Eastwood argued that the Browne Review offers affordable, flexible university education, especially to those who are less well off. However, Lord Browne’s proposal to raise maintenance grants for poor students by just £350, as well as increasing the income students have to earn before starting their repayments from £15,000 to £21,000 a year, does little to offset the massively regressive nature of the rest of the review. Interest rates on student loans are rising from basically zero (equivalent or less than the rate of inflation) to 2.2% above the rate of inflation, higher than the typical mortgage rate. While students from wealthier families will be able to instantly pay off this debt, avoiding any negative effects from the increased interest rate, students who earn over £21,000 but not enough to quickly repay their loans will face continually mounting debts for 30 years following their degrees. Ian Cowie, personal finance editor for The Telegraph, wrote that students who achieve average earnings following their degrees “will not only start their working lives burdened with bigger loans than their parents took out to buy their first homes – but may well end them with even bigger debts.”

Furthermore, a Sutton Trust report (major research institution promoting educational equality) in 2008 highlighted the fact that about 60% of students from poor backgrounds who had decided not to go to university, had been ‘much’ or ‘very much’ influenced by the prospect of mounting debt. This research was carried out in the context of a tuition fee cap of £3,290 with zero real interest. With the proposed tripling of this cap, as well as the increase in interest rates mentioned above, it is hard to see how this will have a ‘progressive’ effect on students from less well off backgrounds, and will instead likely make high-cost university courses “off limits for youngsters from non-privileged homes”, as the Sutton Trust argued in October.

In Professor Eastwood’s email he also writes that student choice will increase under Lord Browne’s proposals, as well as a guarantee of information and teaching quality for all students. It is hard to see how he came to these conclusions considering that the Browne Review has recommended cutting university teaching grants by up to 80% – with only ‘strategically important courses’ (medicine, science and technology etc.) continuing to receive state funding. Arts, humanities and social science courses would suffer a 100% cut in government funding and would have to radically reform the way they are funded, in order to continue to provide quality of service. While Lord Browne has proposed a levy on universities that charge more than £6,000 (in order to deter the institution of excessively high fees), the Institute of Fiscal Studies has concluded that due to the slashing of university grants, universities will have to charge at least £7,000 in order to make up this lack of government funding. Courses that are not deemed ‘strategically important’ will, therefore, be far more expensive than the courses that continue to receive state funding. In fact, The Economist reported at the beginning of November that should these changes be implemented, England will be one of the most expensive countries in the developed world to study. The social effects of this funding proposal could well be that students who do choose to go into the much more expensive social sciences and humanities, will be discouraged from going into lower-earning, socially beneficial careers (such as social workers). Social workers on average earn between £21,000 and £31,000 a year, meaning that they will have to repay these massive loans at a rate of 9% of their income (and possibly the full interest rates – 2.2% above the rate of inflation) – the same as people who go into careers which earn over £100,000 a year. This displays a dangerous disregard for a low-paying but essential sector of our society. The chief executive of the British Academy (the UK’s national academy for Humanities and Social Sciences), Dr. Robin Jackson, has said that this move will “damage academic excellence and quality of life”. Considering the immediate effects to education and the probable long-term social effects, it is difficult to argue that this is an exaggeration.

Professor Eastwood concludes his email by stressing that public expenditure cuts to higher education, alongside a large increase in tuition fees, is “the best way, and perhaps the only way” to maintain the quality of our universities, and to follow the example set by the United States’ superior universities. His reference to the US system is interesting, as implementation of the Browne Review will indeed likely lead Britain down a similar path. Since the 1980s, state funding of US universities has declined, with tuition fees rising much higher than the rate of inflation in order to make up for this. In this time, among developed nations, the US went from being ranked second in terms of ‘percentage of the population with a university education’ to being ranked fifth. Furthermore, the gap has widened between poor and wealthy students in terms of university enrollment. Among the top 146 US universities in 2006, 74% of students came from the wealthiest quarter of the population, while only 3% came from the poorest quarter. Instead of following this model, why couldn’t the UK choose to learn from the Scandinavian countries? These countries’ university performance consistently rank amongst the highest in research and development, access to university education, and social mobility, all at the same time as having zero tuition fees and some of the highest rates of public investment in higher education (see International Handbook of Higher Education – 2006). While Britain shouldn’t necessarily conform to the Scandinavian model, this example is meant to illustrate that there are definitely more, and better, alternatives than Professor Eastwood suggests with his bleak rhetoric about the “dire” future (British debt is actually lower than its historical average).

Contrary to Vice-Chancellor Professor David Eastwood’s conclusions, the Browne Review does not appear to offer the best path for Britain’s higher education system to follow. It is socially regressive, economically unwarranted, and overwhelmingly ideological. In light of this, Professor Eastwood’s view that popular student opposition to the review is a result of ignorance, on their behalf, to its true ‘progressive’ nature is insulting. The future of Britain’s universities under Lord Browne’s proposal, is one which is damaging to the vast majority of students and society as a whole, and because of this we should make it absolutely clear that our Vice-Chancellor is not representing the interests of his students when he supports this review.”

Please help to create an alternative discourse on campus by asking your department to circulate this as an email to all their students.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

An Analysis of the Coalition Cuts Narrative: Cuts and Tuition Fees


Since the Government came in to power in May of this year, their PR teams have been working overtime to create a narrative that goes something like this:  They arrived in power to find a country on the brink of “bankruptcy” because the previous government had lived far “beyond its means”. In order to save the country from meltdown the government’s only course of action is a massive cut in spending.  These cuts, while difficult, will be “progressive”, “fair” and will “hit those with the broadest shoulders hardest”.  All sensible and knowledgeable commentators accept the fact that cuts are necessary, and that those who disagree are short sighted, irresponsible “deficit deniers”. The country will ultimately accept the short term pain of cuts safe in the knowledge of our bright future.

This story is very plausible, very persuasive and very wrong.  Despite what the coalition tells us Britain is in no danger of bankruptcy. Our national debt as a proportion of GDP is below that of France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the US and the interest demanded on government bonds is at a historic low. The government constantly uses the analogy of a household in debt to argue that the sooner we cut spending the better. The only problem is that the government is not a household. A far better analogy is that of an investor who borrows money at a rate of interest as long as he can invest it productively. There is a huge amount of productive investment that the government could make that would justify the 3% of GDP it currently spends on interest payments (vocational training, universities and science funding and green technology to name but a few). Ultimately the deficit will have to be reduced but the timescales and methods of reduction vary widely. Given time a growing economy and inflation naturally bring down a deficit. Even if you decide to bring it down over a shorter timeframe there is still a choice between raising taxes and cutting spending. The reason the government has chosen the path of austerity is not economic necessity but an ideological commitment to shrinking the state.  

The well respected and independent think-tank, the Institute of Fiscal Studies, declared that (despite the government’s claims) its October spending review would hit the poorest hardest. This is before you even factor in that the poor rely most heavily on public services and are most affected by unemployment. The two other groups that will be most seriously affected are women and the young. Around two thirds of public sector employees are women and many of the cuts to benefits will fall heavily on mothers. This means that women will be doubly squeezed by rising unemployment and falling benefits and that gender inequalities are likely to rise. Young people are, by far, the group most affected by unemployment with around 20% of 16-24 year olds out of work. The government is slashing benefits, cutting training programmes, cutting university places, education funding and increasing fees.  All this will create a lost generation who cannot afford university have no job prospects and realistically have no chance of getting out of their parents house. The government’s claim that we are all in this together is farcical when you consider that 76% of the cabinet are millionaires, 66% went to private school and 86% are male.

 The government regularly cites the letter of 35 leading business men to the Telegraph to show that the experts are on their side. However the motivation of these business men is questionable. For example one of the signatories (Ruby McGregor-Smith, chief executive of the outsourcing company MITIE) in his annual report states: “"The public sector faces the prospect of considerable pressure on expenditure in the coming years. We believe that this will create significant opportunities for the outsourcing market as contracts will tend to become larger and broader in scope”In reality almost all independent opinion criticises the government’s plans including: among others three Nobel laureate economists, Barack Obama, the chairman of the Federal Reserve and the chairman of the Federation of Small Business.  The most important falsehood in the government’s narrative however is that austerity will lead to a brighter future. Confidence, the supposed objective of the government’s austerity has collapsed as each cut was announced. Unemployment is set to increase and growth is decreasing. This means that benefits will rise and tax receipts will fall so the deficit may not even be cut by that great a margin. I can put it no better than the Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman: "The best guess is that Britain in 2011 will look like Britain in 1931, or the United States in 1937, or Japan in 1997. That is, premature fiscal austerity will lead to a renewed economic slump. As always, those who refuse to learn from the past are doomed to repeat it."

Students Shut down tax dodgers Vodafone, Twice!

 Friday night in town, it was mentioned that vodafone had been given by the new government a tax break. The original Private Eye exposé on the decision reports the sum to be in the region of £6 billion pounds, which is enough for free education for a year or enough to pay for the cuts to higher education 6 times over. One senior figure at the HMRC is quoted as calling the decision "an unbelievable cave in".

It was also mentioned that a group on twitter called uk-uncut, where encouraging people, to shut down Vodafone stores in protest on the next day, immediately we set to work on twitter and texts, saying “shut down Vodafone brum, meet by the bull in the bull ring look for the people with the white flowers”. For an action organized in less than 12 hours, it was a great success and Vodafone brum was shut down by 15 people and was one of 22 stores shut down across the country on the busiest shopping day of the week. The video of our action can be found here 

As I was leaving one of officers who had carried me out the store said to me, well I hope you have learned your lesson. I can honestly say I did, Sunday the 14th of November, we shut down Vodafone again but, this time we brought 42 students rather the 15, police and security could only watch as student power shut down the tax dodgers Vodafone for the second time.