The Sussex University Front Line And Other Stories

Rounding up a few of this weeks
“Campaign Against Fees & Cuts” action.

Sussex Occupation Sussex University Update (18th March)
Newcastle University Aberdeen
Westminster   Westminster Update
Leeds University Leeds Update
University Of East Anglia Kings
Kings College London Update What We Say
Links & acknowledgements What We Say Update

The Sussex Occupation
On March 3rd fictions about hostage-taking led to an unprecedented police deployment at Sussex University. This resulted in two arrests and the imposition of a high court injunction criminalising “occupational protest.” Shortly afterwards six students were suspended on political grounds.  

The occupation has organised a programme of meetings, discussion, films and other events, designed to strengthen opposition to the cuts. The Student Union has called an EGM to discuss and vote on the motion: “This union has no confidence in the Vice-Chancellor.” Further details below.

 Since taking office, the Vice Chancellor, Michael Farthing has disbanded several key departments, including the renowned Linguistics Department — a move condemned by Noam Chomsky as “a serious blow to the intellectual life of the university.”

Sussex University Students Union
Motion of No Confidence in the Vice Chancellors Executive Group (VCEG)This Union notes:
The proposals by management to make 115 redundancies, close Unisex, privatize the crèche, dismantle the student advice services and cut the student union block grant.
University management’s unwillingness to consider the alternative proposals presented by the lecturers union (UCU) as well as various Schools.The Equality Impact Assessments required by law were insufficient and contained no data
The creation of a fictitious hostage situation during the Sussex House occupation (03.03.10) in order to justify the use of riot police on   suspension of 6 students on political grounds following the protest.
With the largest turnout in a UCU ballot, the campus lecturers’ union voted overwhelmingly in favour of strike action (76% in favour with an 80% turnout)This Union believes:
If allowed to go through, the proposals will have hugely detrimental effects on education and student experience at Sussex
The injunction issued against all staff and students for the purposes of preventing peaceful protest is a human rights violation.The six suspended students have been scapegoated for the actions of the wider student community, and more specifically, the Stop the Cuts campaign. Cuts to USSU’s block grant will not allow the union to provide adequate services and representation for the student body The VCEG have been the architects and administrators of the above actions, and should resign with immediate effect.This Union resolves:
That it has no confidence in the Vice Chancellor’s Executive Group at Sussex UniversityProposer – Richa Kaul Padte
Seconder – Claire Laker-Mansfield

The UCU (lecturers’ union) are set to strike on Thursday 18th, after a 76% majority voted in favour of industrial action. The UCU Sussex branch president, Paul Cecil, said: “Industrial action is an absolute last resort, but the university’s unwillingness to enter into meaningful negotiations has forced our hand. The bottom line is that serious job losses will impact massively on the quality of education and services here at Sussex”.

 USSU President Tom Wills said: “We are right behind Sussex staff. We understand that strike action may be the key to winning this battle and we will do everything we can to support it. We will hold university management responsible for disruption to our education resulting from the strike – but more over we will hold management responsible for the devastation that will be wrought on our education if they succeed in pushing through their cuts proposals.”

 On Friday, an open letter signed by students and SU officers urged University employees earning over 70,000 per annum to take a “voluntary 10% pay cut, in order to help protect the welfare of all staff and students at the University”. http://www.youtube.com/user/sussexnot4sale
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hl9k0pfHJ0I Who occupied Sussex House?
 An Update:-  At the EGM 18th March, over 1000 students voted overwhelmingly “No Confidence” in the Vice Chancellor and the Senior Management. A great blow to the management’s legitimacy.

For the last four nights students, staff and supporters have been occupying the ARTS A2 Lecture theatre in defiance of a High Court Injunction. Around five hundred students are occupying the theater in support of the Sussex Six, still not fully reinstated, and in support of workers facing compulsory redundancy. The protest demands the University reverses its plans to make redundant 115 teaching staff and make 8million pounds of cuts over the next two years.

The University Senate voted to re-instate the Sussex 6, and to organise an independent investigation into the events surrounding the calling of the police on the 3rd of March. The only members of the Senate who voted against these motions were the unelected senior management.

With regard to the proposed cuts, management agreed to extend the consultation period until June 7th. The Senators mentioned amongst their concerns the significant lobbying from MPs and councillors and the strength of the students’ response on campus.  If the VP doesn’t comply with the senate’s decission, he will be breaking the law.

The campaign in support of the Sussex Six has been entirely successful. Surrey United Anti-Capitalists salute the  Sussex students. Today 18th, 50 people joined the picket lines at the front of the University as lecturers and campus workers in the UCU closed down the campus with strike action against compulsory redundancies.

Union President Tom Wills captured the mood when he told BBC Breakfast News, “This isn’t just about Higher Education, it’s about the fact they have given billions to the bankers, and now they are asking working people and students to pay with a massive programme of public sector cuts.”
Letter from USSU to all students urging support for the UCU strike. https://suacs.files.wordpress.com/2010/03/sussex-student-union-letter.doc

Newcastle
Newcastle University’s Free Education Network will be holding a rally against cuts 18th March, as a shot across management’s bows. The University is rumoured to be planning in secret a raft of cuts across its departments. The rally will be joined trade unionists and student activists.

Aberdeen
On Wednesday March 17th students at the University of Aberdeen held a demonstration in defence of education on campus. It followed the collection of over 1500 signatures on a petition demanding that the University management give assurances that departmental budgets at the University will not be cut. The students complained that theses cuts come as the Principle, Duncan Rice is receiving a 17% salary increase.  
Update: March 18th, The students returned today and occupied the University’s management offices for a twenty-four hour occupation. They ended their successful occupation when the Vice Chancellor agreed to a meeting with the campaign regarding the cuts.

Westminster
Last month, a mass meeting of students, lecturers and staff at Westminster University voted ‘no confidence’ in their Vice-Chancellor. This was their response to 10% budget cuts across the University with 190 academic and 90 administrative job losses. It follows the recent closure of the ceramics department and nursery. Management salaries have gone up an average of 25% over the last year.

On March 1st, 250 students and staff, against the cuts, stormed the governors’ meeting and took over the Vice Chancellor’s office. They occupied the University’s main management and administration rooms for three days. The students challenged the Vice-Chancellor Geoff Petts and the board of governors to explain why the management is pushing through cuts- while the university was carrying out a $61 million refurbishment of buildings and had made a several million pound surplus the previous year. Although his answers were typical management double-speak, he had no answer.

The protesters had the full support and backing of the UCU, but Westminster Students Union distanced itself from the occupation. It tried to play the impartial mediator between the University and the “No Cuts At Westminster” campaigners. The SU said on its web site: “We fully support the aims of the campaign but do not believe the occupation is the right course of action. The Students’ Union is doing its utmost to maintain constructive conversations with the protestors and the University”. We at SUACS find the Student Union’s attitude cowardly and distasteful in the face of such devastating cuts.

The students sent a letter to the Vice Chancellor, Geoffrey Petts demanding no compulsory redundancies; -all documents pertaining to the university’s finances be made freely available to the unions (UCU, Unison, Student Union) -and a guarantee that no staff or students involved in the demonstrations would face repercussions. The letter warned the Vice Chancellor that actions would continue now and in the future unless he concedes to the demands. 17th March a rally was held at the Marylebone Campus with representatives from the UCU.
Update: March 18th. Around two hundred students and staff held a rally outside the Cavendish campus.
Westminster is currently in the front line in terms of cuts. Around 300 jobs will go by the end of July. The UCU and Unison are balloting and will hopefully be taking strike action over April and May, including over the exam period.

Leeds University
On 1st March, the anti-cuts campaign joined UCU members for a demonstration against cuts. The demonstration highlighted that the University was set to cut 35 million pounds off the budget- roughly 10% per school. This is despite making a profit of £11 million last year, having £80 million in reserves and engaging in massive building works across campus. The UCU has passed a motion of no confidence in the Vice-Chancellor, and is already in dispute with the university. The cuts will mean up to 700 job losses.

The students and staff demanded to know why there was is a £20 million pounds error in financial forecasting within the university’s budget, as reported in the press. The demonstrators also criticised the NUS for not organising a campaign. Leeds UCU is due to hold a strike on Thursday 18th and is due to hold an EGM on the 16th, to consider further strike action on 20th and 21st April. 

The UCU has forced Lord Mandelson, in his capacity as Lord President of the Council, to put the
University’s cost cutting plans on hold. A formal challenge accuses the university of bypassing the body responsible for its academic mission, the senate, breaking the University’s charter and key statutes. http://www.leeds.ac.uk/aut/200910/alternative%20vision.pdf

The ‘Education First’ campaign, set up earlier this month, urged Leeds students to send an automated email to their departmental staff in a bid to avert a possible campus-wide strike. The Student Union sent automated emails to students for them to fire off to their tutors asking them not to strike. The results of a UCU ballot over industrial action are about to be released. The Leeds UCU claimed it has won the strike because all its demands have been met. However their demands were only that the cuts be brought in slower. The 600 redundancies shall be fulfilled by not filling vacancies. And voluntary redundancy is still a possibility. Up to 70 immediate compulsory redundancies have been agreed, postponed till 2011.  These are massive cuts the union leadership is conceding. 
Update:  Today’s planned strike was called off after the UCU (lecturers union) had their demands met by university management. While the concessions relate to the process of consultation and review, rather than guarantees to protect jobs and education, it remains a significant victory in the struggle against the bosses’ devastating £35m cuts.
Leeds Anti Cuts Campaign pdf

University Of East Anglia

At the University of East Anglia a well-attended protest on March 3rd was accompanied by a heavy police presence disgracefully called in by the university management. The Vice Chancellor was alarmed by the occupation that had started two days ago in Westminster- and was worried because the protest coincided with a University open-day.Two days before the protest the Senior Management team sent the anti-cuts campaign a letter offering direct talks and consultation on the implementation of the cuts, which the letter claimed was being imposed on the University from without.  

Kings
There was a well attended teach-in held at Kings College London, last week, organized by the No Cuts at Kings campaign and the UCU. (lecturers’ union). It was noted that restricting all managerial salaries at Kings to £100,000, about four times the national average wage, would save £9 million, while the proposed cuts  would  see the back of 10% of staff and the closure of at least one department. This is a familiar story for many universities. The humanities Department is also set to lose another 22 teaching staff. The UCU are currently voting in a strike ballot.

Update: 19th March. The first demonstration was a great start to the No Cuts campaign. Over 100 students gathered outside the Strand building to show their opposition to the cuts plan being imposed by King’s College Principal Rick Trainor. Over the summer 30 people were made redundant and the College Council took the decision to close the Engineering Department. The management intends to make another 10 percent of cuts across all departments at KCL and has already put in place a voluntary redundancy scheme to encourage staff to leave. Demonstration: Saturday March 20th. 12 noon outside Strand. http://nocutsatkings.blogspot.com/

What We Say
Peter Mandelson has announced a reduction of £449million in overall higher education spending this year. He claims the treasury needs to claw money back from public services after the bank bailout and the recession. – But hang on. Apparently the banks were given a trillion pounds of our money. £449million is only .05% of what the banks received in state subsidy. Is the government really prepared to trash a generation in-order to raise a tiny proportion of National Debt. The debt is the result of thirty years false accounting and fictitious capital. That’s fraud to you and me. There’s people driving down my High Street with smug grins on their faces, clothed and jeweled in our taxes, pensions and education. We really have got to end this system – And it’s so easily done.

The politicians and University managers would argue that education is about improving job prospects for graduates – and, like any professional service, that implies that the customer must pay accordingly. They argue Universities operate (or should operate) as free-market entities, on a global stage. Unless they effectively compete, Universities in other countries will draw all the talent away.

Yet these claims – which dominate and define the terms of debate are highly questionable. The claim regarding the competition of Universities for talent needs to be subject to critique. Since global league tables are based on assumptions that presuppose this free market model it is not surprising that they will by and large reflect that in their rankings – the more ‘competitive’ the University the higher it will rank. Furthermore, beyond the scientific disciplines, for instance in the humanities, the journal citation indexes are hegemonised by dull, US based publications which generally spew out predictable, boring research that simply aims to justify the status quo. Academic talent, as measured by publication in these journals, is a race to the mediocre middle – not based on based on novel thinking, or the ability to inspire students.

Studying for long periods of time is, perhaps, economically unproductive use of time – and it is exactly on that basis that we must claim it as a common good. Education is a good in itself; just as are the arts; just are most of the things we really value in life. The attempt by government to justify these things in the jargon of productivity, competition, social cohesion, or whatever, are fallacious and demoralising to the extreme once they become internalized in University culture.

These are the arguments that need to be made. But arguments are not enough. Politicians and University administrators no longer want to have an argument. For politicians liberalising tuition fees is simply what has to be done; the only problem is sneaking it past the electorate, or tarting it up with enough social democratic window dressing to make it palatable.

More than 80 university heads now ‘earn’ more than £200,000. Some have seen their salary double or even triple in ten years. In contrast, HE lecturers have received an average increase of 45.7 percent over the same period. So inflated are the highest salaries that a rationalisation of top incomes would free up large amounts of money.

This is why the Surrey United Anti-Capitalists (SUAC) unequivocally supports student occupations. We support the upcoming industrial action of the UCU and demand the right to free education. We hope the student and worker protests heralds the start of a real fight here in the UK, when the next government (Tory or Labour) will almost certainly push for caps to be lifted on tuition fees.

Activists around the country should use the inspiration they have ignited across the student movement and amongst campus workers to build a mass movement. After all, the money is there – it’s just been given to the bankers. Let’s demand it back.

Update: 18th March. The government’s HEFCE announced its proposed funding cuts today. The announcements do not provide a breakdown of what cuts will be implemented in each department, but do give an indication of the level of cuts faced by the universities. For example: Leeds funding is to be reduced by 0.5%; Westminster by 0.7%; And the UEA by 0.1%. Oxford’s has been increased by 1%; Essex has gone up 1.1%; and Leeds Met by 0.9%. These increases still represent funding cuts in real terms.

What these announcements teach us- is that University managements, for example in Sussex, Leeds and Westminster are using government cut backs of 1% as a smoke screen for closing departments and forcing through changes of 10% cuts and more. University management teams are using this opportunity to make huge cuts of their own, in-order to restructure their Universities and orientate them towards a financial competitiveness within a ‘free-market’ of education. The neoliberal transformation of universities is an internalisation of the logic of competition, so that universities, departments and individual academics are all pushed to treat each other as rivals in the struggle for resources.

 What will follow is a “liberalisation” of the fees structure – And whilst the top Universities will concentrate on attracting rich students from abroad. The majority of people in the UK will be excluded from an education. –Or at best, will take-on huge debts in exchange for a second rate, de-valued, second-class university education.    

When they say cut back – We say “String ‘Em Up”
The Universities will be receiving their funding letters from the treasury on 18th March. This letter is a public letter. Why not ask your VP for a copy.

Download Word File Here: Sussex University Front Line – Word File

Acknowledgements To:
Revolution Socialist Youth http://www.worldrevolution.org.uk/
“The Commune” http://thecommune.wordpress.com/

Links:
Guildford Against Fees And Cuts
http://www.facebook.com/home.php#!/pages/Guildford-Against-Fees-Cuts/167151436659040

Campaign Against Fees And Cuts
http://conventionagainstfeesandcuts.wordpress.com/

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