Solidarity statement with occupations around the UK

Students at the University of London Senate House occupation are currently facing unacceptable aggression whilst being forcibly removed from the premises. Three Sussex University students have been suspended for taking part in the occupation of Bramber House; University of Birmingham students are facing court action over occupations; University of Sheffield management took court action to prevent further occupations after students occupied on Monday night.

We at the University of Edinburgh stand in full solidarity with all students facing victimisation over action against the privatisation and marketisation of education and for supporting staff campaigns for fair pay in the higher education sector.

Continued attacks on students for fighting for their rights will not silence us. Just this week we have seen ten universities go into occupation over cuts to staff pay, the privatisation of the student loan book, and huge pay inequalities within institutional structures. More action is sure to follow. Scare tactics by university management did not work in the past, and will not work in the present.

The University are worried because when students take action properly they can actually win. We’ll be continuing to fight for decent pay and conditions for University staff, for a democratically accountable students union and control of our universities by students and staff. The university management will fight back with extreme violence, but they have no legitimacy and they know it.

We are united against cuts, inequalities and continued attacks on the least fortunate in order to fund excessive pay packets for senior management. We will not give up the fight and we urge those around the country who are courageously standing up to inequality and oppression to stand strong and never give up.

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Out From The Occupation & Off To The Pickets

The University of Edinburgh occupation which began at 9.30am on Monday 2nd December was always planned to end on the morning of Tuesday 3rd December. We, the occupiers, are calling an end to the occupation in order to leave the building and join the strike. We occupied in solidarity with workers who are facing real-terms pay cuts of 13%, and are now joining them on picket lines to continue expressing the same solidarity.

We will continue to fight for our demands, and we hope that next time you will join us. This is the start of a wave of actions on our campus to fight for the rights of our staff and against the marketisation of our University. We stand in solidarity with the Universities of Sussex, Birmingham, Sheffield, Exeter, Goldsmiths and Ulster, who have also occupied over the same issues.

We call for all concerned about the future of education to join us at an organising meeting on Saturday 7th December, 3pm at the entrance to Potterow.

Please email fairpayinhe@riseup.net for any further information.

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A Message of Support For Our Occupation From A Member of Staff…

“I support the occupation of the Finance Director’s Office and thank those involved for standing in solidarity with staff members. As a current tutor, I see the enormous amount of work that goes into preparing tutorials, marking essays, and providing basic support to students, much of which is unpaid and unacknowledged, but necessary and expected of us. We work alongside administrative staff who have to deal with us difficult academics and increasingly demanding students who are encouraged to get their money’s worth from the university. All of us work in university buildings that are cleaned and maintained by staff who get paid less per hour than I do, and almost £200,000 less per year than the university Vice-Chancellor. And yes, all our work is necessary to the running of this university and in the pursuit of that every elusive excellent student experience. Our work is, however, very unequally acknowledged. All our work is valuable, but the current differences in pay do not reflect this. We must stand together to demand a fairer deal for all university staff, and make sure the university listens to the demands of those striking again.”

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Statement from University of Edinburgh Occupation

We are students occupying the University of Edinburgh’s Finance Director’s office and have been in occupation since around 9.30am this morning (December 2nd). We stand in solidarity with university staff and demand that the University of Edinburgh:

 

  • Uses its weight and influence to argue for real-terms increases in university staff pay

  • Reduces the pay ratio between the lowest paid and highest paid staff in the university to 1:10

  • Commits not to sanction participants of the occupation

 

These demands come at a time when university staff are striking over a real-terms pay cut of 13% over the last five years. Members of Unison, the University and College Union, Unite and the Educational Institute of Scotland are protesting against a proposed 1 per cent increase in wages, which they say amounts to a 13 per cent pay cut in real terms since October 2008. Unite National Officer for Education Mike McCartney called the one per cent pay offer “completely unacceptable”, stating that the cumulative operating surplus in the higher education sector was now over £1 billion. The University of Edinburgh has boasted that over the last four years its staff costs have continued to decline as a proportion of total expenditure and are now 53.75%; essentially bragging about the real-terms pay cuts that staff have faced. At the same time as workers struggle to afford the day-to-day costs of living, the University of Edinburgh Principal earns a £285,000 salary, including pension contributions, a free house and a free chauffeur car. The pay ratio between the highest- and lowest-paid staff at the University of Edinburgh as of 2012 was 18.51:1 (source). This occupation is part of a process of escalation that is the culmination of democratic discussion, deliberation and debate. We are occupying in solidarity with the fact that university staff are being forced out on strike for a second time this term after management throughout the country refuse to heed their cause.

 

Enourmous pay inequalities are just one symptom of the increasing commercialisation and marketisation of higher education throughout the United Kingdom. Massive tuition fee rises have been pushed through to turn education from a public good to a private asset (figures show that the new system of loans is more expensive). Critical thinking, open mindedness and the necessity of knowledge to democratic deliberation are being destroyed as students are increasingly forced to see higher education as a financial investment. This leaves many prospective students simply unable to afford the costs of attending university, which now includes the prospect of graduating with over £36,000 in tuition fees debt alone. Not content with this, the government has also privatised the student loan book – which means private companies are now in charge of student debt and will be able to take measures such as changing interest rates at will, adding to the complete financial uncertainty facing young people today. Inequality of access to education undermines the principle of education as a public good and only serves the interests of those already in positions of power. This situation is further exacerbated by the lack of democracy in universities and society which allows managers and politicians to impose changes from above. We need a truly democratic system which allows people to deliberate collectively and direct their own lives, rather than suffer the decisions made behind closed doors for the benefit of those in power.

 

Whilst the university reneges on its duty to provide a social and societal good through its refusal to support students and workers, it at the same time investing huge amounts of money in companies contributing to social unrest and destruction of the climate. The University of Edinburgh has around £30 million in investments in fossil fuel companies, which includes £4.5 million invested in Shell alone, a company responsible for human rights atrocities as well as destructive environmental processes. University investments send a clear statement about what the university as an institution supports – and investing in fossil fuel companies and the arms trade delegitimises any claim that the institution makes to support projects which contribute to sustainability and the social good.

 

It is clear that in all aspects of its financial priorities, the University is on a track towards destruction and inequality rather than education and social progress. This is why we have chosen to occupy the office of the Finance Director, and support the staff who are striking on the 3rd.

 

In solidarity,

Edinburgh University Occupation.

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Edinburgh students stage sit-in in support of striking staff

Around 40 students at the University of Edinburgh have stormed the office of the University’s finance director in support of striking staff, and are currently holding a sit-in protest.

Lecturers and support staff in universities across the UK are in an industrial dispute with employers over a pay offer that they claim represents a real-terms cut of 13% over five years and will be walking out tomorrow (Tuesday).

Kirsty Haigh, Edinburgh University Students’ Association’s Vice-President and one of the students currently in the occupation, explained why they were there. “Edinburgh University – and the university sector generally – has plenty of money. We see this every day with millions going on vanity projects and senior managers pay. We are calling on the University to see sense and give staff the pay they deserve.”

“University staff have had a real term pay cut of 13% and this is not acceptable. While the Principal earns £227,000, staff have been forced out on strike to demand the wage they deserve. We demand that the University listens to the trade unions and increases staff pay.”

 Last week, the Students’ Association sent a letter to all staff “actively encouraging them to take strike action”. The letter stated that “in the short term this will indeed affect our education, but the long term benefits are significantly vaster. It is critical that students and staff struggle collectively.”

Tomorrow’s strikes follow an earlier day of walk-outs on the 31st of October, which saw the National Union of Students and Students’ Associations across Scotland coming out to show support for their staff, resisting what they said were attempts by management to ‘divide and rule’.

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Useful resources on higher education reform

The world of higher education is complex and at times tough to penetrate. The effects of the marketisation of education are proving to be disastrous for the sector, for students, for academics, and will ultimately prove devastating for wider society.

To help you gain an insight into how these changes are being enacted the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts (NCAFC) have compiled a useful list of resources. If you have any recommendations for additions then please do comment below.

Books:

The Assault on Universities, ed. Des Freedman & Michael Bailey (Pluto Press, October 2011)

Blogs:

WonkHE - the home of higher education wonks

Exquisite Life

Critical Education, by Andrew Mcgettigan

HE Planning Blog, by Andrew Fisher

Registrarism, by Paul Greatrix

Documents:

HE White Paper and Technical Consultation, Department of Business and Innovative Skills

Alternative White Paper: In Defence of Public Higher Education

Developing future university structures: new funding and legal models, Universities UK

Higher Education in an Age of Austerity, Policy Exchange

An Insider’s Guide to Finance and Accounting in Higher Education, JNCHES

Websites:

Campaign for the Public University

Research Fortnight

UCU: Fighting the White Paper

HE Reform 2012-13, BIS and HEFCE

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Guest Post: What is The Value of Higher Education?

On the 20th of September, The Edinburgh University Anti-Cuts Coalition held a public meeting to discuss the nature of the attacks on International students and how they relate to the ongoing attacks on students more broadly. Below is the text of a speech given by a lecturer at the university, Dr. Tom Watson.

I want to talk about the language employed within the media and mainstream politics about higher education. It is difficult to talk about what universities are, let alone what universities are for, partly because they are numerous and diverse but also because they/we provide education in a very wide set of areas; we do research in a similarly wide set of areas; we provide professional training. I can and will talk about what I reckon universities are for but the initial point is that to include these heterogeneous activities under one model is restricting and the model that is chosen sets the parameters for debate. The particular model that has been chosen weights the policies in a particular direction. 

If we start off with the idea of ‘instrumental’ and ‘intrinsic’ goods of education, that is, valuing education for the things that it enables people to do (instrumental) and valuing education for things that are good in themselves (intrinsic). Currently, justifications for higher education only operate in the instrumental register, the recurring question is ‘what is that good for?’ And in fact it is narrower than that in that it is limited to instrumental good in solely economic terms. So we find defenders of higher education joining the argument within this frame and it pre-sets the most likely conclusion. This is not inherently an anti-higher education discourse but different disciplines are not working on a level playing field. It is easier for some areas of science to play the benefiting the economy card: pharmaceuticals, medicine, and armaments more than mathematics or theoretical physics. It is easier for business studies or engineering than history of art or divinity. I see, hear and read the efforts of my own field, history, to play the game. This used to be in terms of talking about ‘transferable skills’ but now it is about ‘outreach.’ It used to be that studying history was promoted as providing skills easily translated into entrepreneurship or commerce; now it is that teaching history has an economic payback in terms of ‘heritage’ and ‘tourism’. This is complete bollocks. Downton Abbey or Braveheart do more for heritage or tourism than a familiarity with the medieval crop systems of open fields. And in any case, surely, that argument would only justify teaching British history? Why should we teach the history of Japan? It would just benefit their tourism. The consequence of this part of the discourse is that it creates a presumed proof that some sciences and professional training deserve funding to a greater degree than other disciplines and that presumption comes through in the weighting of the budget – just look at the different buildings at this university: which are the bright, new and shiny buildings?

The second part of the discourse that needs interrogating is the straw-figure of ‘the taxpayer’: why should the taxpayer pay for this? The ‘taxpayer’ has clearly not been to university him or herself which seems odd given how far the percentage of the population with higher or further education experience has risen in the past twenty or thirty years. This ‘taxpayer’ also only ever evaluates things by their economic impact, presumably never having been sick, never having read a history book, gone to a museum or watched a movie. This mythical taxpayer plainly does not perceive any intrinsic good in education, only using the instrumental good of money. I am a taxpayer and I am not this ‘taxpayer’: I want to pay tax in order to fund a welfare state, a national health service and a public sector that concentrates on delivery rather than profit.

The last part of the discourse is the individual. Not only is the criterion for approval limited to economic growth, it is concentrated on the individual student. Go to university and get a well-paid job. Where there are jobs there can be some truth in that but also huge variety, partly reflective of what gets valued. You can go to university and become a lawyer or a financial consultant and make a few bob; you can go to university and become a social worker or an environmental activist and make a less impressive income. But that’s not what I want to focus on right now. The discourse talks about clients or, even worse, ‘consumers.’ The benefits of higher education on the individual and on the country are seen as economic. The rhetoric of a market in education as it is funded, designed and received, limits the perception of both the intrinsic but also the instrumental good of education. I want the discourse to be changed in two ways. I want it to think about, to talk about citizenship and society. To my mind, a large part of the instrumental good of higher education is that it enables people to critically engage, to operate with a hermeneutics of suspicion, that is, not just to lap up the ‘we’re all in this together’, the ‘benefit scroungers’ and the ‘worker’s rights will cripple the entrepreneurs’ rhetoric but to test these assertions. A fully-fledged democracy is one in which politicians and newspapers are not taken on trust, are held to be answerable to their electorate and their purchasers. Higher education can contribute to creating a society where it is harder to pull the wool over our eyes, where it is harder for the wealthy to use a recession to line their pockets while punishing the poor in terms of taxation and assaulting the welfare state. When we get to add the functioning of citizenry as a means of keeping politicians on their toes, if need be calling them to account and measuring the success of a society by the way it treats the poor and vulnerable, when we add those criteria to our assessment of evaluating higher education, we will have a more level playing field and a better set of budgetary priorities. We need to work against accepting the myth of free market economy as a solution and re-establish the idea of education as a source of social good. We need to create a discourse that values education as a contribution to an engaged and active citizenship.

- Tom Webster

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