One of the most vital campaigns you can associate yourself with at Sussex is that of Education Not for Sale.
Last year saw Campus protests, the largest student rally in over 20 years and consistently packed mass meetings as students and staff rallied together to support each other and to make a stand against the changing face of Higher Education.
Those who are already active members of the community here will have undoubtedly heard of the ENS campaign, but this article aims to refresh the progress of ENS here at Sussex in your minds and re-engage the great support that was built up last year. Many of you will not only be new to Sussex (and a very warm welcome is extended to you) but also new to Higher Education, university life, and the wonderful world of student politics altogether.
I urge you; do not be intimidated by preconceptions of student politics, you don’t have to be embarking on a glittering political career to understand. Get involved with and shape what is happening around you. Keep your eyes open and your ears alert, make your voice heard and join in. If you have an opinion, then make it count. If you don’t know, get to know.
ENS is a national campaign ran by students throughout the country which aims to unite student movements against the privatisation of Higher Education. Set up in 2005 by ‘left wing anti capitalist students’ who ‘fight the rule of profit in our education system and are seeking to organise students alongside workers in a struggle to replace capitalism with a society based on collective ownership, social provision for need, ecological sustainability and consistent democracy.’
The Education Not for Sale website (www.free-education.org.uk) has plenty of information on the national campaign and if you look at the ‘Where we stand’ section the aims of the campaign are clearly laid out in the manifesto for the ‘Reclaim the Campus’ movement, as agreed at a meeting held in London in may 2008 where ENS representatives from all around the country debated and then agreed upon (or, at least tried to agree) what ENS should be campaigning for. These foreground and include; ‘Free, top-quality, secular and democratic education and public services at every level, funded by taxing the rich and business. The abolition of all fees and a living, non-means-tested grant for every student, in FE and HE’, and prioritising ‘Education not profit’ asking for ‘business out of our schools, colleges and universities. Institutions run democratically by students, education workers and communities and aimed at developing free human beings, not teaching factories run by bureaucrats to make a profit and produce compliant workers’.
Too many people simply disregard these ideals as unachievable; they might be labelled as wishy-washy or hippie-dippy. Is it really too much to ask for an anti-elitist, free higher education system throughout the UK? Democracy, free speech and academic freedom in HE should come as standard, not be the exception, a goal towards which we have to constantly struggle. If Scotland can do it, why can’t we? For heavens sake; if Cuba can do it, why can’t we?
It is not enough to bury your head in the sand and worry only about our own situation. We must unite now to protect HE systems and our institutions for generations that follow.
Many Universities have had campaigns relating to, or part of ENS. Sussex Education Not for Sale was launched at the Student Union AGM (Annual General Meeting – this year’s will be held on the 13th November – I’d put it in your diary if you give two hoots about what is going on – it is a vital chance to listen to proposals and have your vote counted). Focusing in on what is happening at our very own university, members tirelessly fought to engage students with the cause. Although things didn’t look great at the end of last year – Senior Management teams are going ahead with restructuring the departments and the opposed Green paper reforms look set to be implemented – Sussex Education Not for Sale has been getting the attention it deserves, winning second place in the NUS Campaign of the Year.
The main focus of the campaign at Sussex is as follows. It is against the undemocratic reversal in the roles of the Senate and the Council. The Senate (which is made up of a representative proportion of the university i.e. staff, students, administration) used to be the body which held the most seniority – decisions could not be passed by the Council without being approved by the Senate – however this is no longest the case as it has been supplanted by the Council (largely made up of ‘outside appointees’ i.e. not specifically academically minded business people, qualified in management, who might be swayed by economic and bureaucratic factors as opposed to the opinions of those who work, study and indeed live at Sussex).
The campaign has fought against the ‘top-down’ restructuring of the entire departmental system, which is likely to result in a cut in funding to many areas and could ultimately shape the outcome and quality of your degree. A small survey conducted last year showed the concerns facing staff and some of their comment provide uncomfortable viewing. Full results are posted on the web site below. Sussex ENS also supports worker’s rights (sign the online petition now to pledge your support against pay cuts and the unfair treatment of SocCul and Hums Associate Tutors @ sussexnot4sale.org.uk – which is host to a whole realm of useful information and an in-depth account of the campaign, as well as access to papers which facilitate these changes; have a look for yourself and make your own mind up.) and other issues, for an example the proposed lifting of the capping on Fees in 2009 which will surely promote elitist attitudes in HE by allowing universities to continue to raise the costs of degrees, isolating working class students more than they already are.
I would advise any student or member of staff that hasn’t already been to a Sussex Not for Sale meeting to do so, at the earliest opportunity and really think about the future of Higher Education. We are the ones who can make a difference. Apathy, like yawning, is contagious, and dangerous. (Apathy that is, not yawning; although I did pull a muscle in my neck whilst yawning once, which could be seen as a danger…anyhow I digress). If you believe in an equal right to education and want to keep our systems functioning as effectively as possible then get involved, stop making excuses and lend a hand.