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Campaign for the Public University
Actualizado: fai 22 horas 29 min
by Adriano Mérola Marotta
When the University of Sussex indefinitely suspended five studentsin 2013 for taking part in an occupation of its conference centre, the public backlash could not have been predicted. A 10,000-strong petition galvanised the university community and attracted the attention of world leading human right lawyers who offered to represent the ‘Sussex Five’ pro bono.
The suspensions were dropped but ‘cautions’ against the students remained. This week the Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education (OIA) ruled that the university had been wrong, forcing it to compensate the students and formally apologise.Adriano Mérola Marotta was one of those students.
Vice-chancellors like Sussex’s Michael Farthing rarely disclose their true intentions when they suspend and discipline students for protesting. In the case of the suspension of the Sussex Five, the senior management team hid behind fallacious claims that we posed a threat to the well-being of staff and students. When the community came to our defence and threatened strikes and occupations, the university quickly buckled under pressure. For the un-elected and un-accountable managers of the neoliberal university, the effect of fear is more important than consistency or notional principles of justice.
The intended effect of our suspensions was for fear and insecurity to undermine the resolve of future protestors – sending a message to striking staff and their supportive students. That message was clear:“If you speak up, we will lash out with everything we have.”
It was not the first time the vice-chancellor had followed this route. In 2010, following a large and determined movement in opposition to cuts and funding restructuring, the Sussex Six were victimised as the ‘leaders’ of the movement. Then, as now, the community came to their defence and they were eventually reinstated. The vice-chancellor has little aversion or regard for criminalising dissent.
In more recent years, the senior management team was again faced with a powerful and heterogeneous movement opposed to the top-down neoliberalisation of the university. Striking at the envisaged ‘heads’ of the movement, the university hoped to decapitate and conquer the burgeoning coalition. Like the Lernaean Hydra, every decapitated head was replaced by multiple new ones. The power of determined students and workers showed that repression does not weaken their resolve. In fact the movement’s response was stronger and more confident than ever before.
When the OIA announced that Sussex had singled us out without justification and had unreasonably suspended us, we knew we had emerged victorious. Our defence has been vindicated, and the university’s actions admonished. Our victory ought to be celebrated, because all victories of justice warrant celebration. It has been proven beyond reasonable doubt that we never posed a threat to students or staff, and that we in no way undermined the university’s health and safety policy. The OIA found the university to have unreasonably prolonged the disciplinary process through the apparent ‘lowering’ of the charges brought against us. The last point, in our opinion, was done in order to remove our right to legal representation.
Yet, if one reads the university’s statement on the ruling, there is no mention of our victory. Similarly, the OIA’s findings fail to acknowledge the issue of why we were singled out, why the university prolonged the process and why they went to such extravagant lengths to find us guilty. The OIA ignored this element because the response is political and independent adjudicators ‘don’t do politics’.
Moments of – and movements in – struggle are not defined by the actions of individuals or their ‘leaders’ but by the collective community itself. We were never the leaders of the anti-privatisation movement at Sussex. The only leaders of that movement were the masses of affected staff and the rest of the community which supported them. The people who worked endlessly to strengthen the resistance to the privatisation of 235 jobs and the people who rallied to our defence when we were victimised are the true leaders of the movement.
As the government continues the onslaught of privatisation in education and senior managers construct the university in a neoliberal image, our collective movements are needed more than ever. Rather than looking at ‘leaders’ or elected representatives for resistance and change, we need to look at ourselves and our colleagues for change. Although I may write articles calling for Michael Farthing’s resignation, this will never come from my actions alone.
Whilst students on Warwick campus battle the presence of heavy-handed police, the only response possible is that of solidarity and escalation. When students continue the much-needed fight for free, high-quality and public education on 31 January in cities across the country, the only response should be unity and confidence. When political parties make grandiose promises during the general election, the only response is to continue fighting and continue believing in a different world and challenging power. Cuts will come from whoever wins in May. The free education we are fighting for will not be won at the ballot box.
A truly democratic society requires an empowered and democratic citizenry. The changes we want to see will not come from idolised leaders but from the strength of ourselves and our colleagues. Now is the time to force the neoliberal vice-chancellors to resign and reclaim the possibility of free, accessible, high-quality and public education for all. They won’t give up without a fight, but we know better than to be scared of their reprisals.
¡Hasta la Victoria!
Co-posted with Novara Media
Dutch colleagues, Willem Halffman* and Hans Radder*, criticise the occupation of the University by a ‘wolf-like’ management who no longer administer it in relation to its intrinsic values, but according to market and bureaucratic principles. Meanwhile, academics act like docile sheep, cooperating with each new initiative while writing criticisms and making appeals, but to little avail against relentless claims that there is no alternative. For Halffman and Radders, there is an alternative. But it isn’t a reassertion of the traditional university values and a return to an ‘ivory tower’ of the past. The alternative to the management occupied university is the public university aimed at the common good: Workers of all universities: unite!
*Willem Halffman is a lecturer at the Radboud University’s Institute for Science, Innovation and Society in Nijmegen and has been working temporarily at various Dutch universities for the past twenty years. Until recently he was the coordinator of the National Research School for Science Technology and Modern Culture. He published, among other things, on scientific policy advice and on the role of knowledge in environmental policy (see halffman.net for details).
*Hans Radder is professor emeritus in philosophy of science and technology at the Faculty of Philosophy of VU University Amsterdam. He edited the volume The commodification of academic research. Science and the modern university (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2010), and is co-editor (with Alfred Nordmann and Gregor Schiemann) of Science transformed?Debating claims of an epochal break (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2011).
The publication of the REF 2014 results and the trumpeting of ‘excellence’ and rank order position by the ‘winners’ should not be allowed to over-ride what is being lost in the reduction of scholarship and research to audit-able ‘outputs’ and ‘impacts’. Derek Sayer has written powerfully about its weaknesses as a ‘peer review’ system of evaluation, which is the means by which it claims legitimacy and invokes a collegiality it serves to undermine. For those who believe metricisation may be the answer, Ben Martin, Paul Nightingale and Ismael Rafols of the Science Policy Research Unit at University of Sussex provide a careful evaluation and dismantling of its promise in their submission to the HEFCE Independent Review of the Role of Metrics in Research Assessment. For his part, John Holmwood shows how metricisation is entering into the determination of University research strategies and the performance review of individual academics to deepen the deleterious effects identified by Sayer.
Time for the pips to squeak out!
After three years of £9000 tuition fees and income-contingent loans, the evidence is now showing that the Coalition’s neo-liberal experiment has failed: the cuts and subsequent attempts to bring market efficiency into higher education in England will cost the government more then the system it sought to replace. On top of this, the evidence concerning for-profit providers in the US points to inefficiencies, declining quality and huge student dropout rates.
Furthermore, the ideology of ‘no alternatives’ will not stand: in Germany strong student, union and political collaboration has overturned similar attempts to turn higher education into a market, and now all federal states have abolished tuition fees and re-established higher education as a public good, free for all (including international students).
The Failure of the ‘Great University Gamble’
The issue of the cost of loans that will be written off will become central to the debate in 2015 – the ‘gamble‘ of the reforms was that even after an estimated 30% of all loans are written off (after 30 years), the government would save £1billion for the reduction of the deficit. However, recent estimations, 3 years on, have revised this figure to 45%, ‘all but nullifying any savings to the public purse’. London Economics have predicted that if the write-off exceeds 48.6% then the cost of the reforms will exceed the cost of the system it replaced.
The government has already successfully sold off the pre-1998 mortgage style loans, accepting a loss of £140 million overall through subsidies paid to third parties (subsidiaries and consortiums of NatWest, Nationwide Building Society and Deutsche Bank AG). These subsidies were necessary in order to make the loans attractive to private interests – the whole problem centres on the management of risk. The government are prepared to lose money in order to get rid of the risk posed by loans.
However the government has so far failed to ‘sell’ the risk of the post-1998 income-contingent loans, despite many attempts to do so. According to Andrew McGettigan, there may be a fundamental flaw in the plans to sell off the ICR loans: a lack of history and datasets mean that investors are unable to price them with any confidence; any discount or subsidy to make the loan book attractive to investors would be so large (the loan book is growing by £10 billion a year) that it would no longer represent ‘value for money’ for the tax payer. Plus any attempt to sell just the low-risk loans (doctors or Oxbridge graduates perhaps) would leave the government with the majority of non-repayment risk, thus defeating the object of the sale.
This is why the recent suggestion by David Willetts, now ex-Universities Minister, that universities should be able to underwrite, or effectively buy, their own students’ loans is not a serious solution to the growing problem of un-paid loans for the economy. It would only be the richest universities that could afford the risk, and this would still leave the risk generated by the majority of loans from students attending other universities.
Breaking the Apathy: New Reasons for Anger and Hope
The success of the German Free Education Movement suggests the overall strategy for opposition to the reforms: a successful public movement must involve all parties working together: academics, higher education workers, unions and politicians. According to Howard Hotson, it was democracy that defeated tuition fees in Germany: ‘In Hesse, students protested en masse, a citizens’ initiative collected 70,000 signatures, and the ruling Christian Democratic Union party, fighting for re-election in 2008, reversed course in order to retain power’. An Alliance Against Tuition Fees was formed from 200 organisations, including students’ unions, trade unions and political parties, who pushed for a referendum and got a petition signed by 1.35 million voters.
We need a strong public movement to push Labour into promising more than merely a reduction in fees. Reducing them to £6000 pounds does nothing to solve the problem, it only exacerbates the situation (immediately undermining the ability of non-elite universities to compete now they have committed to £9000 fees). The £3000 difference is almost all loss for the government anyway, and yes this would reduce the burden on students, but Labour have no intention of reversing marketisation – Labour were the ones who introduced top-up fees in the first place – and they would still go ahead with the sale of the loan book. In the German case, due to growing public support for the protest movement, the Christian Democratic Party reversed course completely on the issue of tuition fees in order to get re-elected in 2008.
In the short term, the government might change the interest rates of the loans without consultation, increasing them to ‘market rates’. In addition, the income threshold for repayments can also be changed for existing loans, below the current level of £21,000, as has been proposed by a number of Think Tanks, such as Demos. They can do this because of a clause that appears in the Student Loans: A Guide to Terms and Conditions, which states that ‘you must agree to repay your loan in line with the regulations that apply at the time the repayments are due and as they are amended. The regulations may be replaced by later regulations’ (my emphasis). This would immediately generate more income from repayments, but the government shouldn’t be able to do this.
Current and ex-students need to be made aware that the government has the power to change the interest rates on existing loans without consultation. As McGettigan rightly says, ‘Borrowers should not face such a potential liability. Especially when we recall that student loans can be sold to third parties without consultation and without consent.’ This is one specific and controversial issue that academics, for example, can focus consciousness-raising and critique around, thus showing solidarity with students.
In the long-term, the government might attempt to abolish the write-offs of unpaid loans altogether, on the basis that it is ‘unfortunately’ unsustainable. As McGettigan warns, the real plan all along could have been to ‘sell a generous loan scheme to the public, Coalition partners and Parliament, only to make it far less generous when its lack of viability becomes apparent. In this way a scheme that would not have got approval in one go is achieved in two bounds’. This last point is correct and should give us hope (that there is a limit) – there is no way that the Coalition would have got a tuition fee system based on uncapped maximums and private loans, basically the US system, through parliament back in 2011.
The Long Revolution: Higher Education as a Market or a Public Good?
In 2012 Senator Tom Harkin released a report on an in-depth two-year investigation into 30 for-profit US universities (institutions that have shareholders who are able to extract profits from the institution, as opposed to private charitable institutions that cannot distribute profits in this way), which found that large numbers of students fail to gain any credentials, there is a 64% average drop-out rate at such institutions and there is often a relatively little amount of money spent on instruction – 22.4% on marketing and advertising, 19.4% on profit distributions and only 17.7% on instruction.
Furthermore, when we critically examine the statistics that go into the world rankings of university systems, the US higher education system was worse value for money in 2011 (just before the Coalition reforms) than the UK grant-funded system. According to Howard Hotson, the fact that the US regularly has more universities in the top world rankings is misleading – the US is much larger than the UK, and proportionally the UK universities in the top rankings are larger than their US counterparts. If we divide the number of top universities for each country by its population, the US drops to 14th place. If we then divide the number of universities by each country’s GDP (Gross Domestic Product), the US stays at 14th. Worse than that, if we divide the number of universities by total spending on higher education for each country, the US drops to 16th out of 20. Using the same calculations, UK higher education rises to 3rd place overall. Even better, when we look at the value for public spending, the UK offers 50% better value than its nearest competitor.
Even though immediate action must centre around tuition fees, if we want free, public higher education in the UK, we must keep our eyes on both the government’s deeper marketisation agenda (which both the Coalition and Labour agree on) and work towards a economically viable and popular alternative. The evidence from the US (that the market doesn’t work) and Germany (that reforms can be over-turned) are powerful case studies in the ideological battle, a battle which academics need to get stuck into.
As McGettigan points out ‘the complexity of the schemes…is notorious: many politicians and commentators do not understand the system [let alone] academics, students and parents’.There are many critics who decry the loss of higher education as a public good, but I don’t think we have ever achieved this lofty ambition. Higher education in the UK has largely remained a positional good, which are ‘goods which act as a status symbols, signalling their owners’ high relative standing within society’. If we want higher education to be a public good, publicly funded and accessible to all, we need to make it that way.
The Chancellor’s Autumn Statement has served as a reminder of the wider politics of austerity and its beneficiaries in the form of tax cuts and those at its detriment experiencing wage freezes and cuts in services and benefits. It was also a reminder of how the reforms to higher education and the introduction of full fees is part of the same political programme. This point was not lost on the students who protested on Wed 3rd December. The sensitivity of universities to such protest is in inverse proportion to their willingness to debate the changing idea of the university. Increasingly, universities have sought to criminalise protest on campus while employing marketing techniques to protect their brand. The actions of police on the University of Warwick campus on Wednesday 3 December are symptomatic and cannot be allowed to pass without comment. A letter from current Warwick faculty and students is posted below. (If you wish to add your name, please do so using the comment boxes below.)
We are writing to express our serious concern at the incidents which occurred on Wednesday 3rd December in Senate House when 25 Warwick University students, staging a sit-in to protest against university tuition fees, were subject to what appears to be excessive police action.
As you are aware, a video, which was subsequently posted on YouTube, showed footage of students being grabbed and pushed and having their hair pulled, followed by CS spray being used at very close range. Also in the footage, a taser gun can be seen and heard, and there have been subsequent reports that it may have been discharged against one student. Three students were arrested.
According to reporting in the Coventry Telegraph, the police were called by university officials to attend the protest after a claim that a protester had attacked a member of staff. There is nothing in the video or other reporting to suggest that there was an imminent threat at the time of the police action, and their behaviour appears disproportionate and unacceptable. ACPO guidelines, for example, state that CS spray ‘should not be used at a distance of less than one metre unless the nature of the risk to the officer is such that this cannot be avoided’ – it is not at all clear from the video footage and reporting that there was such a risk. The students state that they had been sitting in a circle discussing free education and the university community and that they had not been informed that the police had been called and nor did the police, on arrival, tell them why they were there.
We call on the university to publically affirm its commitment to democratic values and the rights of students and staff to protest peacefully against policies and practices with which there is disagreement. The university is our common space and we protest in the strongest terms against the violations that were allowed to take place here today.
Prof Gurminder K Bhambra, Sociology
Dr Hannah Jones, Sociology
Prof Emma Mason, English and Comparative Literary Studies
Dr Goldie Osuri, Sociology
Dr John Narayan, Sociology
Dr Khursheed Wadia, Centre for Lifelong Learning
Dr Solange Mouthaan, Law School
Dr Jonathan Skinner, English and Comparative Literary Studies
Dr Claire Blencowe, Sociology
Dr Aditya Sarkar, History
Dr Maria do Mar Pereira, Sociology
Dr Cath Lambert, Sociology
Dr Michael Niblett, Centre for Caribbean Studies
Dr Chris Campbell, Centre for Caribbean Studies
Ruth Pearce, PhD candidate, Sociology
Dr Daniel Orrells, Classics
Dr Milija Gluhovic, Theatre Studies
Dr Mark Storey, English and Comparative Literary Studies
Dr Stephen Ross, English and Comparative Literary Studies
Dr Helen Wheatley, Film and Television Studies
Dr Jose Arroyo, Film and Television Studies
Juanita Elias, PaIS
Dr Nick Lawrence, English and Comparative Literary Studies
Lauren Tooker, PhD candidate, PaIS
Dr Lena Rethel, PaIS
Dr Jimmy Donaghey, WBS
Dr Zakia Shiraz, PaIS
Lisa Tilley PhD Candidate, PaIS
Dr Maurice Stierl, PaIS
Prof Shaun Breslin, PaIS
Prof Shirin Rai, PaIS
María Eugenia Giraudo PhD Candidate, PaIS
Ali Saqer PhD Candidate, PaIS
Coraline Goron PhD Candidate, PaIS
Bahadir Celiktemur PhD Candidate, PaIS
Tobias Pforr, PaIS
Dr Lynne Pettinger, Sociology
Sean McDaniel PhD Candidate, PaIS
Jack Copley PhD Candidate, PaIS
Matt Kranke PhD Candidate, PaIS
Dr Marijn Nieuwenhuis, PaIS
Dr Charlotte Heath-Kelly, IAS
Roberta Mulas PhD Candidate, PaIS
Davinia Hoggarth PhD Candidate, PaIS
Dženeta Karabegović PhD Candidate, PaIS
Nikita Shah PhD Candidate, PaIS
Tim Street PhD Candidate, PaIS
Ana Ines Salvi PhD Candidate, CAL
Dr Renske Doorenspleet, PaIS
Rachel Lewis PhD candidate, CAL
Dr David M. Webber, PaIS
Antonio Ribeiro Leite PhD Candidate, PaIS
Aya Nassar PhD Candidate, PaIS
Lorenzo Feltrin PhD Candidate, PaIS
David Yarrow PhD Candidate, PaIS
Dr Ronny Scholz, CAL
Martin Lammertsma, Assistant Registrar, Deputy Registrar Office
Thomas Greenaway, CAL
Dr Chris Clarke, PaIS
Dr Erzsebet Strausz, PaIS
Dr Richard Smith, CAL
Elisa Lopez Lucia PhD Candidate, PaIS
Javier Moreno Zacarés PhD Candidate, PaIS
Dr Julia Welland, PaIS
Dr Nathaniel Tkacz, CIM
Sam Hind PhD Candidate, CIM,
Ragnar Weilandt PhD Candidate PaIS
Te-Anne Robles, PaIS
Craig Gent, CIM
Kirsty Lohman, PhD candidate, Sociology
Prof Thomas Docherty, English and Comparative Literature
Dr Rashmi Varma, English and Comparative Literature
Prof Daniel Katz, English and Comparative Literature
Prof Neil Lazarus, English and Comparative Literature
Sam Burgum, PhD Candidate, Sociology
Dr Philip Kaisary, Law School
Jane Thakoordin, CLL
Prof Jackie Hodgson, Law School
Dr Sarah Hodges, History
Dr George Campbell Gosling, History
Dr Sam Adelman, Law
Lynn Wright, Academic Support Librarian
Prof Dennis Leech, Economics
Dr Charles Walton, History
Dr Celine Tan, Law
Prof Lorraine Talbot, Law
Paul Trimmer, Law
Anastasia Tataryn, Law
Prof Rebecca Earle, History
Dr Adam Slavny, Law
Dora Kostakopoulou, Law
Iyad Abou-Rabii , WMS
Jennifer Lander, Law
Katy Harsant, PhD candidate, Sociology
Dr Ben Richardson, PaIS
Dr Eileen John, Philosophy
Dr Illan rua Wall, Law
Benita Parry, Emeritus Professor
Dr Laura Schwartz, History
Dr. Myka Tucker-Abramson, English and Comparative Literary Studies
Carl Mallet, PhD candidate, Sociology
Dr Howard Chiang, History
Dr Jayan Nayar, Law
Dr Dwijen Rangnekar, Law
Dr Jonathan Davies, History
Warwick UCU Branch Committee
Dr Kimberley Brownlee, Law School
Prof Stuart Elden, PaIS
Nat Smiljanic, Law
Dr Paul Anderson, Law
Dr Graeme Macdonald, English and Comparative Literary Studies
Prof Upamanyu Pablo Mukherjee, English and Comparative Literary Studies