On 22 January, student activists will demonstrate in London to support the campaign by outsourced workers in the University of London, to oppose police repression and to oppose the threatened closure of the University of London Union.
The following day, students will take action in solidarity with the national Higher Education workers’ pay dispute, and on 29 January a meeting in Birmingham will discuss and plan the next steps for student struggle.
Class struggle in the higher education sector is symbolised by the vast pay rises handed to university Vice Chancellors (VCs) this year. VCs at the top unis received an average 8% pay rise, taking the salary of, for example, Birmingham University’s David Eastwood up to £400,000.
This generation of university management, in the style of the private sector CEOs they imitate, even award themselves huge bonuses when they have demonstrably failed: at the University of East London, three senior staff members took a special farewell bonus package totalling £600,000 following the collapse of UEL’s overseas campus and its international examinations company.
Typically with backgrounds in management rather than teaching or research, they define success as competitiveness (grabbing money and erecting prestigious monuments) and toughness (abusing staff and students).
Far below them, their staff are burdened with a below-inflation pay increase of 1%, and outsourced workers, the people who cook and clean, live in misery, often working two or three jobs.
When bosses’ authority is challenged, their response is brutal. In 2009, SOAS organised the mass deportation of a group of unionised migrant cleaners. In 2012 and in 2013, Birmingham University management used campus security as hired goons to break up student occupations, and sought blanket injunctions banning protests on campus which were criticised by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.
At the University of London, police were repeatedly called to intimidate student protests in support of staff — culminating in the arrest of organisers of student demonstrations and a police riot in December which saw more than 40 students arrested and dozens of others brutalised when the occupation of Senate House was broken.
Against this model of big-business education, the student and labour movement needs to counterpose a democratically-controlled, free, public education, in which neither police nor border guards nor management swindlers play a role.