In early November, students from 110 college campuses across the United States rallied, protested and walked-out over rising student debt.
They demanded free education, debt cancellation, and a $15 per hour minimum wage for workers on their campuses. They pointed to Obama’s recent comments, that the $80 billion bill for the US prison system, would more than cover eliminating tuition fees and student debt for all public colleges and universities.
This month also marks five years since Millbank, when thousands of students marched on and occupied Conservative Party HQ, in protest of the tuition fee hike. These events, alongside the 10,000 strong demonstration in London on November 4th, set the stage for the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts (NCAFC) and students across the UK, as they prepare to step up their fight.
The NCAFC have called for a student strike, with the dates being set on the 1st and 2nd February 2016. Students are planning walk-outs, campus blockades, and pickets for the strike days, and will be demanding that the government overturns its plans laid out in its Green Paper, its plans to cut maintenance grants and Disabled Students Allowance, and the cuts to Further Education.
In preparation for this, NCAFC have called a UK-wide day of action for the 26 November. The day of action begins the process of mobilising students on campus for the strike, and lobbying their university and college managements to come out in opposition to the Green Paper.
The Green Paper threatens a huge attack on our Higher Education system, with its key policies including: the power to set fees to be handed over to government ministers, rather than through secondary legislation and a vote in parliament, laying the foundations for huge fee rises and ultimately uncapped fees. TEF The formal introduction and ramping up of the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF), which uses market-oriented metrics to measure staff. In practice, the TEF will be used to bully teaching staff, and justify course and department cuts and closures. Universities will be incentivised to abide by both the TEF and Research Excellence Frameworks (REF), by being offered the opportunity to have their tuition fee cap pegged to inflation. Both the TEF and REF will dramatically restrict academic freedom and the quality and scope of debate happening at our universities, as academics would be pressured to study subjects of interest to big business and free market ideologues.
The Green Paper also includes a number of different measures geared towards introducing new, fully-private institutions into the market whilst edging out publicly-funded universities, as well as vague threats of restricting the powers of students’ unions. Together, the Higher Education Green Paper and the cuts to grants and Further Education colleges comprise an all-out attack on education in the UK. As is typical under the Tory government, those targeted will be poor, working class students, and disabled people, with the changes making it even less likely that they will make it to university. So as students from South Africa to the United States are taking to the streets for free education, debt cancellation and workers’ rights, we should all be supporting students in their fight for the same things here in the UK, and helping them build for the strike on 1st and 2nd February.