Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.
Across the terrain of education and the university, a struggle is emerging. Sussex, Middlesex and Westminster universities have been occupied and at the University of Leeds the lecturers union UCU balloted to strike in response to £35 million in cuts.
It is important, though, not to see this as merely a struggle over cuts in funding or job losses, however devastating they will be. There is also a deeper critique beginning to materialise over the role and form that universities and higher education take. Criticisms are being voiced over the commodification of knowledge – the enclosure of research within exclusive and expensive institutions and publications, or behind electronic gateways such as Ingenta or ProQuest.
The squeeze on educational institutions is, like the crisis of capital, global. But so too is the emergent resistance. People from Chile to Austria, from Greece to the US, and from Japan to Puerto Rico are challenging the neoliberal model of the university, which produces ‘skilled’ workers who can be put to use for the reproduction of capital.
In the US, there have been some of the largest and most vibrant student mobilisations for years. California has seen students facing prohibitive hikes in fees and increasingly dire job prospects join forces with precariously employed academic and support staff to stage a wave of marches, strikes, teach-ins and occupations. On 4 March, there was a US-wide strike and day of action to defend education.
Here in Europe, the focus is on challenging the ‘Bologna Process’ aimed at the privatisation and standardisation of universities across the EU. Students and educators are proposing alternative processes of collective self-organised struggle, knowledge sharing and the liberation of education. To these ends there have been protests, counter-summits and occupations in hundreds of European cities, including Vienna, Paris, Prague, Barcelona, Rome, Turin and Bologna itself.
In the UK, 200 University of Westminster staff and students occupied the vice-chancellor’s office for three days in March. Protests and occupations have occurred at Sussex in the face of forceful attempts to suppress them by university management, including arrests and the use of riot police with dogs. Many other campuses are gearing up to take action against cuts.
Here at Leeds, vice-chancellor Michael Arthur announced £35 million cuts, branded the ‘Economies Exercise’. Leeds University Against Cuts (LUAC) and the Really Open University (ROU) formed to resist the plan and in early February, in a record ballot, UCU voted in favour of action.
While UCU was balloting its members, Leeds University Student Union started an anti-strike campaign, erroneously called ‘Education First’. In response ROU created a spoof union website, reallyopenunion.org, as well as a series of stickers encouraging strike action. LUAC ran stalls on campus, mobilised staff and students for demonstrations, and attempted to counter some of the scaremongering and disinformation that the ‘Education First’ campaign had spread.
Experiments in education
ROU was established to simultaneously resist cuts, critique the neoliberal model of education and engage in experiments in critical and participatory education. The aim is to break out of the insularity of the university and student politics. ROU asks ‘What can a university do?’ placing itself within an expansive politics of creativity and affirmation. It produces a newsletter, The Sausage Factory, and has organised several public meetings with participatory workshops, where participants are encouraged to create collective visions of what a ‘really open university’ would look like.
These attempts at resistance and the creation of alternative spaces share a common recognition of the systemic nature of the crises facing not just students, universities or the public sector in general, but the very commons on which life depends. There is a growing recognition that the same ‘logics’ that demand education serves the needs of markets are also those fuelling socio-ecological degradation, precipitating global financial crises and excluding the majority of the world’s population from participation in how the world is run.
While there have been important successes in these university battles, there have been setbacks too. Although UCU won an important victory in Leeds, it has not undermined the threat of cuts in general, with various departments, especially classics and biological sciences, still facing uncertain futures. Another challenge is that those taking action are facing punishment, with six students facing disciplinary action at Sussex.
If the resistance to the commodification of education and research is to be successful then it must be generalised beyond the walls of the university. If this happens then perhaps the spectre of university radicalism may once again come to haunt the academy.
Grace Blakeley investigates the curious case of Carillion: how the company’s slow decline and abrupt liquidation reveals the nature of modern capitalism.
The collapse of Carillion could be a watershed moment. Let's seize it to end economically disastrous outsourcing schemes. By Cat Hobbs.
Campaign groups highlight UK complicity in Saudi Arabia's human rights abuses.
Three founders of Momentum talk to Ashish Ghadiali about the two years that have transformed their lives and the fortunes of the British left.
Andrew Smith from Campaign Against the Arms Trade gives the run-down on one of the UK's most profitable - and most deadly - industries.
The real story behind the fire in Grande Synthe’s Linière refugee camp, Dunkirk. From 'Bordered Lives – How Europe fails refugees and migrants' by Hsiao-Hung Pai
Javier Pérez De La Cruz writes about the working class Berlin neighbourhood wrung dry by gentrifiers.
Across the world, thousands of protesters are taking on the planet’s biggest fossil fuel companies. We should support them – and if we can, we should join them. By Kara Moses
Students are suffering the effects of financial instability, stress, and slashed mental health services. Mark Crawford reports.
They're not defending free speech - they're just seeking to shore up their own power, writes Ilyas Nagdee
Jeremy Hunt is poised to flog the last of the NHS
Peter Roderick sounds the alarm on an 'attack on the fundamental principles of the NHS'.
Viva Siva, 1923-2018
A. Sivanandan, who died this week, was a hugely important figure in the politics of race and class. As part of our tributes, Red Pepper is republishing this 2009 profile of him by Arun Kundnani
Sivanandan: When memory forgets a giant
Daniel Renwick calls for the whole movement to discover and remember the vital work of A. Sivanandan, who died this week
A master-work of graphic satire
American Jewish cartoonist Eli Valley’s comic commentary on America, the US Jewish diaspora and Israel is nothing if not near the knuckle, Richard Kuper writes
Meet the frontline activists facing down the global mining industry
Activists are defending land, life and water from the global mining industry. Tatiana Garavito, Sebastian Ordoñez and Hannibal Rhoades investigate.
Transition or succession? Zimbabwe’s future looks uncertain
The fall of Mugabe doesn't necessarily spell freedom for the people of Zimbabwe, writes Farai Maguwu
Don’t let Corbyn’s opponents sneak onto the Labour NEC
Labour’s powerful governing body is being targeted by forces that still want to strangle Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, writes Alex Nunns