The privatisation of education: what is York getting INTO?

[More to follow, but here’s an uncensored version of an article I wrote for York Vision]

You’ll be hard pressed to find much about it online. Or in any emails from the university. Or any consultation with lecturers and students. York’s proposed ‘joint venture’ with INTO University Partnerships – a for-profit company which focuses on recruiting and teaching international students – has largely gone under the radar – in all likelihood, deliberately.

I came across the plans not through the university or YUSU, but through a UCU lecturer’s union briefing chucked on a few tables in Vanbrugh.

The plans are to half-privatise the recruitment and English language-teaching of international students by 2015, to an INTO-run building on Hes East near Goodricke. It appears they’ve already started the outsourcing process, with closed-door talks apparently being underway for half a year. According to my source, the UCU only found out through a ‘by-the-way’ comment during an unrelated VC presentation late last year.

Although the full plans aren’t completely clear yet – due to a notable lack of information and transparency – it looks likely that the uni will emulate other universities that have bunked up with INTO in the past. Almost all of which seem to have ended in disaster.

Let’s look at the partnerships at UEA, Exeter and Newcastle universities. According to Freedom of Information Requests, in the best case scenarios, four or five in every ten international students ‘recruited’ failed to progress onto one of the university’s courses. That opens up the risk of huge financial losses for the university.

The joint venture at Queen’s Belfast lost over £1.5 million in 2009/10, and was still losing £630k two years down the line. At Manchester College, the whole venture was called off in 2009 following £1.4m losses.

It was a similar story for City University – £2.5m losses in 2009/10. That’s nearly 300 students’ £9k fees down the pan.

INTO promised profits but actually wreaked financial chaos. Does the university really want to take such an enormous gamble with students’ money?

Where profits are sought and achieved however, the means are risky. In a bid to fill international student numbers paying sky-high fees at Exeter, the quality of those recruited was said – by management – to be ‘lower than those recruited by the university’. What can the university do about it? Locked into a long-term joint venture, not a lot. Moreover, the university – not INTO – sponsor students’ visas, meaning if INTO messes up, it’s the university that gets hit.

Moreover, new workers’ pay and conditions are likely to be affected. With no union recognition or public service ethos, INTO could put non-transferred staff on zero-hours contracts, lay off workers, and strip back hard-fought conditions. Even the company’s chair said ‘rates of pay are probably worse’. Their contracts say you can be sacked for actions which are ‘likely to prejudice the interests of the Company whether or not such conduct occurs in the course of your employment’. What could that mean? Speaking out against malpractice and mistreatment? Pushing for better working standards? It’s vague enough to be very dangerous indeed. The situation looks frightening for our Centre for English Language Teaching and its extremely (and rightfully) worried staff.

Finally, a company part-owned by a private equity firm is likely to want to expand its involvement with the university in the future. Will we even know the extent of its involvement? After all, it will be allowed to trade under ‘University of York’ branding.

Students and staff should – like 96% at Queen’s University, 94% at Goldsmiths and 90% at Essex – reject this whole dodgy scheme and keep services in-house. Many universities have indeed done so. Now that the lid is blown on the bid, York should follow suit.


Aaron Porter chased through streets of Manchester

Students responded today to NUS president Aaron Porter’s careerism, u-turning and anemic leadership during the student movement by chasing him through the streets of Manchester today during the TUC/NUS demo against youth unemployment and the rise in fees.

Apparently several hundred protesters from Leeds and other areas broke away from the main demonstration to prevent the widely-deemed traitorous NUS leader from speaking. Porter then took ‘refuge’ in a student union building. His unpopularity is growing at a similar rate to Clegg’s it seems.

The further education NUS executive member who went on to replace his speech was egged off. When the people you are elected to represent despise you, you know your time is up. This year’s NUS conference is going to be very interesting indeed.

The report comes from the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts, which helped organise the demonstration in London today which reportedly saw 10,000 people protest against the attacks on education.

I had to give a rather dramatic reading of a politically themed creative writing piece today so couldn’t make the London demo, but solidarity with all those who turned out. If 10-15 thousand can demonstrate during the exam period then March the 26th is going to be huge.

Hundreds of students chase Aaron Porter through Manchester — National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts.

Regressive and divisive: the ‘Importance of Teaching’ white-paper

The ‘Importance of Teaching’ white paper is progressing through Parliament in the rushed fashion that is being applied to all the coalition’s current bills. And it’s dangerous.

The proposals within the white paper lay out plans for the deregulation of schools deemed ‘failing’ – that is, schools which don’t achieve 35% A*-Cs or 60% Level 4s in Year 6. The plans are an attempt to copy the system in Finland – while ignoring the fact that Finland suffers from very little social inequality. Instead these plans are aimed at cutting off schools in deprived areas from local authorities, and by extending the US-style system of league tables, will only add to the stigma that schools in poor areas currently have, while ignoring the social problems of poverty, lack of decent housing and unemployment that cause performance to lag in these schools.

The bill comes at a time when 87% of secondary school students are receiving a per-capita cut, as well as 60% of primary school pupils. Young people are faced with a government that is making the nation’s children pay for a crisis that capitalists caused. And while tax dodgers are paying only 8% on their income in tax havens, working-class parents are paying double that. The rise in VAT isn’t going to make life any easier for children in  low-income families either.

Which leads us to ask – why did the Lib Dems drop their election pledge for a mansion tax? Such a move would be not only immensely popular, but could go to increasing funding on education, thereby protecting our young people’s futures. But no. Instead the government is intent on scrapping EMA and cutting teaching budgets for universities by 80%.

The real term cuts to education will be made worse by the loosening of the admission code for schools that choose – or are forced – to become academies. It will result in an end to education as a right, not a privilege, and along with universities, some ‘state’ schools could become segregated enclaves of the well-off.

Recent research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation found that 3.7 million children live in poverty. Doesn’t sound much like a the society of a ‘developed’ nation does it? The total number of people living in poverty in the UK is an estimated 13 million, or over a fifth of the population.

The last thing the government should be doing right now is breaking off underfunded schools from elected local authorities. We need a movement that fights for all students – whether they are five or 25. Despite what the government says, the academies bill is not a step forward. It’s a huge step backward into a system which penalises poor students in underfunded schools for not getting straight-As. The scrapping of the EMA, the tripling of tuition fees and the ‘Importance of Teaching’ white paper must all be fought on the streets and in Parliament. And Ed “I-was-doing-something-else-at-the-time” Miliband needs to be at the front of the struggle. As much as I like him, John McDonnell can’t be our only Labour spokesperson in the House of Commons…

(Happy 100 days of leadership by the way, Ed).



Should students welcome today’s fees annoucement?

The universities minister David Willetts suggested today that poorer students could have their fees covered for the first year of university by the government. The announcement was immediately denounced by the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts as ‘appeasement politics’. Education activists maintain that the proposals still base university opportunity on parental wealth. Ed Miliband calls the bill an ‘assault on social mobility’ and strongly opposes the government’s plans.

While these criticisms are valid, I think the move should be partially welcomed. It is a concession that has only happened in the light of the recent student protests. But it is only that – a concession – and the fees package should be rejected by all those who campaign for free, universal education. The ability for universities to effectively set the rates of fees on courses, up to £9,000, creates a market in HE, forcing the notion of profit into education, and opening up the possibility of departments, universities and whole courses being abandoned merely because of competition or low take-up.

One problem that hasn’t yet been fully explored is that of antipathy. With the present £3k cap, everyone pays the same amount. And while this is not preferable to free education, it does establish a sense of unity and cohesion between students. With variable fees, antipathy could grow between those on lower incomes who may not have to pay for their first year (under today’s announcement) and those paying the highest rate. Thus the level of social division and inequality actually increases.

Universality is what makes public institutions, such as the NHS, last – shared identity, common interest. The rise in fees and the subsequent privatisation of higher education removes this fundamental premise and could be incredibly disruptive for students who currently share classes with people from all economic backgrounds.

The protest on the 9th will go ahead as planned. The coalition’s aim to increase fees and cut funding to HE should be resisted by all students, regardless of little sweeteners such as the one announced today.

Occupation Continues at Tremough

Students from Falmouth and Exeter are still occupying the Stannary at Tremough campus in Falmouth, after arriving yesterday and staying there through the night in protest against the planned rise in university fees and the imposition of scathing cuts to the public sector. Tents, banners and our list of demands have been put up around the area, and UCU and FXU reps have come along to discuss the plan of action with us. Workers have offered there support, with plenty of tea and biscuits going round. We are positive that we can get the university to publicly oppose the cuts, and also pressure the coalition to reverse its measures to slash the public sector and endanger the futures of our young people.

Pirate FM and BBC Cornwall have been covering the story, and we have received support from Plymouth Fight the Cuts, Right to Work, and the Plymouth TUC. By building up links with workers and other activists, we hope to create true sense of solidarity and a united movement against the coalition.

Occupation at Tremough Campus

I’m writing from Tremough Campus in Falmouth, which is currently being occupied by students from Exeter and Falmouth universities. Students started arriving at around 7pm and have taken over the Stannary. The mood is upbeat, with more students arriving as a result of ‘scouting’, i.e. grabbing recruits from around the campus. There is a small Truro College contingent but the majority are from Falmouth, and many here took part in the protests last week.

After the heavy snow of the past couple of days, this last minute feat in Facebook-organisation looks like it may be a success, and is apparently one of the only actions in Cornwall as part of Day X2, though thousands around the country have been demonstrating today in most cities about the rise in fees and the slash and burn policies of the coalition.

Currently the Stannary occupation is composed of a handful of students, but once the rest arrive decisions are going to be made regarding what the plan of action is going to be.

The Facebook group of the Falmouth and Exeter student campaign should be keeping you updated as the night goes by, with the occupation potentially going on until late tomorrow, with reports also going out to local media and the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts, Education Activist Network and other major groups in the student movement.

Live blog from the campus here

UCL and Plymouth Occupations Continue – Porter Endorses Campaign. Day X2 Not Far Away Now…

The NUS have over the past couple of weeks come under criticism for perceived lack of action after the 10th November demonstration. Many feel the NUS, and in particular its president, Aaron Porter, have been too slow to support the occupations of uni buildings across the country. This has weakened the campaign.  However, Aaron Porter has finally come out in his recognition of the legitimacy of occupations and walk-outs and spoken at the UCL occupation.

In his statement, Aaron Porter apologised for his ‘dithering over the past few days’ and admitted the NUS had been ‘spineless’ in its lack of support – an apology which was received warmly by students at UCL, and indeed in other universities and colleges.

Meanwhile, the University of Plymouth occupation also continues in the Roland Levinsky building. I give my full support and solidarity to these students and hope to visit them over the next week if the occupation continues. Trade unionists are being invited to speak and offer their practical support in terms of food, bedding and company. This truly is becoming a united movement.

Students in London are also uniting with rail workers and members of the RMT and TSSA unions, led by the respected comrade Bob Crow. Over 100 sites are being picketed, and students launched a campaign a couple of days ago in support of the workers’ industrial action against mass firings and the subsequent impact on passenger safety. The Facebook page of the campaign can be found by clicking here.

Sussex University students published their list of demands to the university heads yesterday, calling for the university to oppose the cuts and for solidarity between workers and young people fighting against forced austerity.

The Education Activist Network and NCAFC are working together in anticipation of the second Day of Action, dubbed Day X2. Students from Truro College, Green Party members, Labour activists, trade unionists and other pressure groups will be demonstrating as part of Day X2 in Truro, in opposition to the budget which aims to cut spending by over £110m. I am informed by councillors that Truro Council are unanimously against the cuts, regardless of party differences, and a large percentage of the Unitary Council oppose the budget. Our presence there at 8am on Tuesday may therefore be what is needed to successfully persuade councillors to reject the unfair budget and aim for a fairer and progressive alternative for Cornwall.