By Rowan Rheingans, Newcastle Free Education Network
Newcastle University’s Free Education Network held a rally on 18 March to mark the day the government announced massive cuts across the public sector. The rally was addressed by trade unionists including a UCU Newcastle University rep and a PCS speaker to make the links with attacks on public services, as well as student speakers from the newly formed Free Education Network (a group of students and staff at the university who are collectively opposed to tuition fees, course cuts and job losses on campus).
On the 18th March, the Government announced cuts to higher education amounting to at least a £1 billion over three years/14% of annual spend. Universities across the country are feeling the burden of this already with job losses, department closures and even losses of whole campus sites. The Association of Colleges says current cuts put more than 7,000 jobs at risk nationally.
We have serious reason to believe that Newcastle, like Universities across the country, will be announcing cuts following its cut in funding which amounts to 4.7% in real terms. Rumors such as the closure of the philosophy department at Newcastle are made more worrying when University management are at present trying to push through changes to University statute 57 to make it quicker and easier to sack staff by removing their job security and academic freedom. The UCU completely opposes this move and sees it as groundwork for job losses – we as students should see any attack on lecturers job security as an attack on our education.
This is not a question of us tightening our belts while there’s an economic recession on. This economic crisis was caused by bankers and bosses, not students and workers. The government made billions of pounds available for the banks in financial support while massive bonuses continue for already wealthy bankers. On top of this, at a time when university staff are loosing their jobs due to cuts in funding, more than 80 university heads now ‘earn’ more than £200,000. Chris Brink, Newcastle University’s VC, earned £280,000 last academic year! Before there is any talk job losses on our campuses, senior management at all universities need to take a big pay cut.
But there is a fight back.
Victory following the threat of lecturer’s strike action at Leeds, and the recent wave of student occupations against cuts show that there is a national fightback which is gaining strength and momentum. Not far from Newcastle, staff at Northumberland College in Ashington will soon be balloting for strike action at the colleges plans to sack all teaching staff and reemploy some of them on lower pay. We will support them in this struggle. There have been student occupations of lecture theatres at Westminster, UCL, Sussex and Aberdeen Universities. The 6 students who were suspended for taking part in the Sussex occupation were reinstated following more direct action – exactly the sort of energy that is needed now more than ever by the student anti-cuts movement. The Sussex occupations are inspiring and show that intimidation tactics do not work if students and staff are united – senior management’s tactics only galvanized their campaign.
The Newcastle Free Education Network believes that Newcastle University, and all colleges, should be run in the interests of students and staff. Any attack on lecturers is an attack on students, and we need to fight these attacks together. We set up the Network to do that – we are working closely with UCU to oppose cuts, defend education and to prevent the university changing the statutes to make it quicker and easier to sack staff. We have made links with national campaigns and sent delegates to last months National Convention against Fees and Cuts and will continue to help build this movement. More than this we will link up with other civil services and public sector workers who are fighting attacks on transport services, schools and hospitals.
The cuts that were announced on the 18th March mean we as students and workers in the education and public sectors are being forced to pay for an economic crisis that we did not cause. This is an attack on a national scale – we must fight back, united, on a national scale and say:
– WE WILL NOT PAY FOR YOUR CRISIS
– OUR EDUCATION, OUR JOBS AND OUR SERVICES WILL NOT PAY FOR YOUR CRISIS
– NO CUTS, NO JOB LOSSES!
To find out more about Newcastle Free Education Network – contact firstname.lastname@example.org and check out the facebook group ‘Newcastle Free Education Network’.