A few weeks ago our national President circulated a document called ‘Making the White Paper a reality’. Some of us have written a response. Over the next few days we want to collect as many signatories as possible. Please sign the statement by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org
The government’s Higher Education White Paper threatens our institutions with an unprecedented wave of privatisation modelled on the disastrous experience of the US for-profit sector.
In this context we read with dismay NUS’s strategy circular for the new term, ‘Making the White Paper A Reality’. Despite recognising “this system is going to be a disaster”, the document makes unnecessary concessions to the White Paper and fails to provide a credible strategy for how it can be beaten.
Instead, its focus is on lobbying for amendments – without providing any vision of how even these limited goals might be achieved.
The NUS strategy is defeatist, calling for a review of the impact of the White Paper following its implementation – as if this is a given – and asserting the need for student collaboration with the private sector.
Yet across the higher education sector there is growing opposition to the White paper – from the 20 000 people who have signed the ‘no confidence’ motion in David Willetts, to the Campaign for the Public University, to the UCU. In 2010 hundreds of thousands of school, FE and university students opposed fees increases – the White Paper is about making the new fees regime work.
All this offers an opportunity for a mass campaign against the government which can defeat the White Paper.
Liam Burns has rightly critiqued others in the past for creating a false dichotomy between protest and lobbying. Even in the terms of the very limited aims suggested in the NUS circular, the same mistake is repeated here.
It should be the role of the elected leadership to find creative ways to unite and encourage broad opposition, not to demobilise it. Crucial to this is naming what we are against. For these reasons, castigating calls for the scrapping of the White Paper as “ridiculous” and claiming this would not “mean anything” is self-defeating posturing.
The strategy outlined by NUS underestimates the scale of attack on public education and the breadth of opposition, and overestimates the power of the government. An alternative that strives for maximum possible unity across the sector is needed. A starting point should be the following:
* To fully support UCU’s initiatives against the White Paper.
* To call a national demonstration on the date of the first reading and to name the day and begin preparations now for a national demonstration in the Autumn term
* To encourage and support the ‘no-confidence in Willets’ motion.
* To organise, as a matter of urgency, a publicity campaign on the implications of the White Paper.