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April 30, 2009
by Mark Carrigan
At last term’s EGM debating whether the Union should support the Gaza Sit-In, a group of students tried to close the meeting using procedural motions; when their calls were rejected, they walked out in protest, complaining loudly that the meeting had no democratic mandate given the vast swathes of the student population who weren’t present. There were 350 people in the meeting. While this was in itself a victory for Union democracy, the fact is unavoidable that this group constituted a small percentage of the student population. Acknowledging this is not necessarily an attack on the legitimacy of the outcome but it does highlight a whole series of questions about the views and understandings of the thousands of students who weren’t there. Who are they? What do they think? What do they agree on? What do they disagree on? Why do they think what they think?
Some would argue that they represent a silent majority, uninterested in the moral and political concerns that motivate student campaigners and that they deserve to have their interests represented over-and-above those of a minority of activists. While we would dispute this picture of widespread disinterest and apathy, the fact remains that neither case can be made with any degree of certainty. What does the ‘average’ Warwick student think about the political campaigns that go on at the university? Do they think that the Students’ Union represents a legitimate vehicle for social engagement or do they see the proper role of the Students’ Union as safeguarding the interests of students as consumers who pay fees to the university, guarding their pathway through education and into the world or work? Or, perhaps more likely, are their views more nuanced and complex than is commonly suggested? The only way to answer these question is to go out and talk to Warwick students – lots of them – and that’s why we’re proposing a research project, due to start this summer and run throughout the 09/10 academic year. We hope that what we find will contribute to a serious and factually informed debate about student politics and the role of the university in an era of ever-increasing economic and social uncertainty.
If you think this sounds interesting and would like to find out more or get involved in carrying it out then e-mail: email@example.com. Carrying this out on a large enough scale to produce substantive and representative results depends on there being enough people involved in the project. Everyone can take part, regardless of what subject you study. It’s a chance to learn new skills (e.g. interviewing, analysis, research design) that will look good on postgraduate applications and to be part of something that will help create a better understanding of Warwick students, as well as pointing to wider trends in the relationship between students and political engagement.
January 23, 2009
by Jess Raw, Sarah Reader and Barnaby Pace
“Despite this year’s Students’ Union’s leadership exhibiting a substantive aversion and antagonism towards campaigning groups, there has been considerable success for those that are directly and intimately involved in a range of campaigns. From environmental demonstrations against E.ON, through actions against the arms trade, to the passing of Union policy refusing sponsorship from oil companies, the commitment of activists should not go unheeded, not least because of their importance for ongoing campaigning and future achievements.”
Here are some examples of the successes and ongoing campaigns of activists at Warwick.
Fighting back against the arms dealers
Last term Weapons out of Warwick continued their campaign against the presence of arms companies at University Recruitment Events. The group crashed a Rolls Royce recruitment presentation on the 18th of November hosted by the MORSE society, which, having been informed of the company’s activities, including Rolls Royce’s business in Burma and arms deals to Israel, Indonesia, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Zimbabwe has decided never to host the company’s events again.
Weapons out of Warwick also took action at the Warwick Engineering Careers Fair on the 4th of November. Among the 13 Arms companies attending BAE Systems, Northrop Grumman, Thales, MBDA, and DSTL were targetted. Students appeared inside the fair where protesting had been prohibited wearing t-shirts detailing the activities of the arms companies that their recruitment material was unlikely to include. The campaigners were able to stay inside the fair for nearly 15 minutes before being asked to leave by Warwick security. Apparently informing students about the customers of and current criminal investigations into such companies cannot be allowed inside an event meant to inform students about their potential future employers. Outside the fair students took part in a die-in to symbolise the victims of the arms companies recruiting inside.
Weapons out of Warwick campaigns for the introduction of ethics policies regarding arms companies recruiting on campus, military and arms trade funded research and ethical investment policies at Warwick University.
For further information see www.weaponsoutofwarwick.wordpress.com or “Weapons out of Warwick” on facebook.
Taking on TopShop, Coventry
On the 4th of December, a group of Warwick students took on TopShop in Coventry with a Christmas-themed action, which coincided with People and Planet’s national day of action against the company as part of its ‘Redress Fashion’ campaign. All around the country students carried out demonstrations to try and get the Arcadia group, which owns TopShop as well as other high street retailers such as Dorothy Perkins and Miss Selfridge, to join the Ethical Trading Initiative after it was revealed in 2007 that clothes sold by TopShop were made using sweat-shop conditions. (http://women.timesonline.co.uk/tol/life_and_style/women/fashion/article2241665.ece)
Whilst some students clandestinely distributed tags highlighting the unethical practices TopShop engages with (which cunningly looked like TopShop’s own price tags), three activists walked around the store wearing subvertised T-shirts with incriminating facts about TopShop written on the back. These students were quickly asked to leave, but once outside, joined in with the rest of the demonstration creating good photo opportunities. Everyone, including a couple of activists clad in Santa hats and tinsel, helped to collect signatures for a petition written in the form of a Christmas letter on a ten metre scroll. This will then be sent to Philip Green, CEO of the Arcadia group, calling on him to make a change to the conditions in which TopShop clothes are produced.
The police were eventually called and, along with the Community Support police, created a commotion by temporarily stopping people from going into TopShop and standing by the doors for the duration of the action. However aside from telling the campaigners to remove the ‘washing line’ that had been set up with cardboard clothes emblazoned with slogans like ‘TopShop is Pants’, there was nothing they could do to stop them.
National Climate March
A number of campaigners headed down to London on the train for the Stop Climate Chaos Coalition-organised national march on Saturday December 6th. Protestors gathered at Grosvenor Square braving the cold to join the 10,000-strong crowd, including many music-making groups and rowdy chanters marching to Parliament Square. The demonstration was part of a Global Day of Action in which around 70 countries were involved, each demanding meaningful action on climate from world leaders and their representatives at the Poznan Climate Talks. We were met at the end by a range of speakers, some better than others. Amongst them were Green Party MEP Caroline Lucas; campaigner against Heathrow expansion and Labour MP, John Dunnell; Kirsty Wright from the World Development Movement; and Biofuelwatch’s Almuth Ernsting. Speakers called on the government to 1) scrap plans for a 3rd runway at Heathrow, 2) say ‘no’ to the “new-generation” coal-fired power stations, 3) reject the expansion of agrofuels and 4) spark a renewable energy revolution to create thousands of green jobs with a Green New Deal. Those participants still standing after all this found themselves at an after-march party at the Synergy Centre in Camberwell making the most of the live acts, drinks, dancing and entertainment. Media coverage of the march that weekend was predictably disappointing.
Many of the most important environment campaigns at Warwick can appear unglamorous, require continuous pressure and often take months and even years to achieve success, with little credit awarded the people who have tireless worked on them. Examples of such campaign successes from last term:
Reduction in Emissions Targets
The university has brought its greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets in line with those of the UK government and agreed to cut them 25% by 2020 and 80% by 2050. Obviously a lot needs to be done to ensure that the university achieves this alongside its plans to massively increase the size of campus and the number of students enrolled here.
Printer Header Paper
The printer header paper has finally been ditched in all of the printer centres on campus. The campaign to put a stop to this ridiculous daily waste of paper has been fought tirelessly for the last 2 years by Go Greeners through rallies to University House, petitions and meeting after meeting with university big dogs. Continued pressure has paid off, however, and environment campaigners celebrated as 1st December dawned and it became clear that students could indeed cope without having their printer credits displayed on an A4 sheet of office paper each time they printed a document from a university computer.
Recycling in Campus Kitchens
A number of improvements were fortunately made to the recycling scheme in halls on campus last term. Warwick Accommodation has agreed to collect the full green bin bags from just outside students’ blocks of flats, rather than insisting that recycling be taken to the campus’ recycling points, which are few and far between. The introduction of recycling bins to student kitchens was a huge success and a great example of the power of continued pressure applied by campaigning groups, such as People and Planet’s Go Green, as well as former Students Union sabbatical teams. The scheme still has much room for improvement, including clear communication to students on how to use it properly. And then we just need a market for recyclates, of course…
March Against E.ON
On 28th November, members of People and Planet’s ‘Ditch Dirty Development’ campaign led a group of high-spirited protestors from the piazza to the UK headquarters of energy giant E.ON. Bolstered by E.ON’s recent withdrawal from graduate recruitment fairs but keen to up the pressure on the company planning to build the UK’s first new coal-fired power station in 30 years at Kingsnorth, we marched the short distance to Westwood Business Park. Drum beats, inspired chanting, leaflets and, no doubt, the police, attracted the attention of a number of Warwickers, many of whom joined us on the demonstration spreading the message: ‘E.ON: F.OFF’. Staff at E.ON’s offices witnessed visual, noisy and entertaining demonstrations outing plans for future “carbon capture and storage” as a dangerous farce and showing the emissions of the planned power station to be equal to those of the 30 least developed countries combined. The demonstration coincided with a joint call-out for 48 hours of action against E.ON and new coal on 28-29 November and we were joined by members of Leamington’s Action 21, Rising Tide and Birmingham’s Campaign Against Climate Change. As the government decision on E.ON’s Kingsnorth plans looms, now is the time for anti-coal protestors to make their presence felt.
Anti-Oil policies voted in by Union Council
Union Council passed new anti-oil policies at Union Council despite opposition from the Union sabbatical team. Councillors voted to ban Oil Company advertising and sponsorship from Union buildings, clubs, societies and events. The oil companies were banned due to their poor environmental and human rights records. The issue was fiercely contested with the vote among councillors tied and the casting vote from the Chair of Council passing the policy. Opponents of ban expressed their dislike for a policy which might cost the student union money during the financially difficult time while rebuilding the Union building; Student Union President Stuart “Tommo” Thomson branded those supporting the ban “irresponsible”. The ban on oil companies adds to the Students’ Union’s ethical policies banning Arms companies, Tobacco companies and McDonalds. Barnaby Pace, the councillor who proposed the policy said “This is a fantastic step forward towards making our Students’ Union a truly ethical institution, there is no place for companies with dreadful human rights and environmental records in our Students’ Union and we should not be promoting them.”
February 20, 2008
by Lorenzo Vidal-Folch Duch
We are constantly bombarded by the message of what a prestigious, “cutting-edge” and “successful” institution our university is. Warwick, the “business” university, is no longer a unique model, but at the vanguard of an expansive trend in higher education. The penetration of the neo-liberal free market logic into higher education however is affecting the very meaning and role of universities within wider society. A closer look at this model should bring some unease into our tranquil existence inside the “bubble”.
At the neo-liberal university, education is a commodity that needs to be bought and its price is rapidly escalating. Aside from increased tuition fees, raising the rate of interest on student loans is an idea that is also being considered1. Vice-chancellors have repeated their warnings that current top-up fees are not high enough, our own being in favour of removing any sort of cap. As if the prospects of £25,000 in debt was not off-putting enough. In England and Northern Ireland, where fees are up to £3,000 a year, enrolment is down 2% and 9% respectively. On the other hand there has been a 3% increase in Scotland, where student fees are lower and the government plans to scrap them altogether soon, and a 4% rise in Wales where fees for students have been outright rejected2. A Higher Education Funding Council report said teenagers in more affluent areas had a better than 50% chance of going to university, while the odds fall to 1 in 10 for those in the poorest neighbourhoods3.
In an extensive study, the Centre for Economic Performance at the London School of Economics (LSE) have compared the life chances of British children with those in other advanced countries. The results show that social mobility in Britain is much lower than in other countries in Europe and North America and is declining. The researchers concluded: ‘The strength of the relationship between educational attainment and family income, especially for access to higher education, is at the heart of Britain’s low mobility culture.” There is little doubt about who is being put-off. Public universities, under the neo-liberal model, help reinforce rather than alleviate class differences and are threatening the principle of meritocracy.
The rising costs of higher education and the drive towards achieving “world class” status supposedly make escalating fees inevitable. Moreover, we are told that by recycling higher fees into more bursaries and grants for poorer students we can keep admission entry fair. This is an idea imported from American universities whose elitist character is undisputed. Once the money is in university coffers, the priority is unquestionably on making the university “world class” rather than fair. Historical and practical experience demonstrates that the amount of bursaries and grants are never enough to guarantee admission to be based solely on merit. As in American universities, if you are poor a combination of both extreme intelligence and luck will be a necessary requirement for admittance to any top class university, whilst the doors will be wide open for any mediocre rich student. If the costs of higher education are rising perhaps it’s because the UK lags behind competitor nations in terms of GDP that the government spends on higher education5. Surely it is not asking the government too much to increase spending and at least attempt to retain some meaning of the word “public” in public university.
If Scotland and Wales can do it, rising fees are not inevitable. But apparently this means giving up being a successful, innovative and prestigious institution. For a university to excel, it needs private money, a lot of it. Indeed, universities do need resources in order to finance research and improve facilities and teaching. Our understanding of what is successful however has been redefined into meaning profitable. As few would object, “over time, he who pays calls the shots6” and opening up the university to private investment has forced it to reshuffle its priorities. As early as 1970, the famous historian E.P. Thompson, before resigning as professor at Warwick, warned us in his book “Warwick University Ltd.” about the dangers of the “particular kind of subordinate relationship with industrial capitalism7” which was developing at the university. “Just as the great landed aristocracy of the eighteenth century exerted their power by manifold exercise of interest, influence and purchase, so the new lords seem to infiltrate the command-posts of our society, including our educational institutions, not through any transparent and democratic process, but quietly, in unnoticed ways.”
The logic of the market has directed university research priorities regardless of their desirability or social value. This logic has, for example, led the university to lend its intellectual prowess to the development of military projects. The university has received £5,284,072 to develop 46 military projects. The top 3 funders by number of projects are BAE Systems, EPSRC and Rolls Royce and the top 3 departments involved in these projects are the Engineering department, the Business School and the Physics department9. Instead of investing our time and intellect into developing renewable energy technology for example, our priorities are in refining the art of war and destruction. Why? Because it is profitable. The university must become “entrepreneurial,” not in the wider sense of promoting learning and innovation in scientific, artistic, and intellectual pursuits, but in the narrow sense of attracting private capital for its operating expenses. This puts pressure on any operating expenses unable to attract private capital, which become of little value in the university and deserve cuts rather than subsidy.
Any notion of the university as a public resource for all is being swept aside. The process of academic publishing is a poignant example. The current model is effectively based upon the private appropriation of public labour10. Whilst the overwhelming majority of the labour involved in the process of producing a journal article is given freely by academics employed by public institutions, commercial publishers reap most the financial benefits. The cost of subscribing to journals has rapidly increased over the years as major commercial journal publishers use their monopoly position to bring in supernormal profits11. This is translated to higher costs for public university libraries, a situation that has even been denounced by the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee12. This model has worsened the overall levels of access to journals for the general public, in deference to the principle that citizens should have the right to access the results of publicly funded research. The commodification of information is a further enclosure of the knowledge commons that had begun to be created by the mass public university.
The logic of the market has also influenced the conception of what it is to be a student, what areas of study are considered to be most important and what our role in society should be. This includes the turn to business and accounting courses as the “empirical core curriculum13” in the neo-liberal university. The Careers Fairs, almost solely based around commerce, finance and big business, is another example. The commercialization of education softens us up for the rigors of a globalised and highly competitive free-market. We are encouraged to think and behave as the rational economic man, we have “intellectual capital” which we have acquired via large amounts of debt. We must calculate the rate of return on our university investment, go for the high paid jobs and work hard. It is in the City where the real “value” is, not those lower paid “caring” jobs such as social workers or in NGOs. Teaching and learning is merely instrumental. Students need high marks and need to do well in exams and assessments. The teaching model is that of faculty experts as transmitters of knowledge to the passive student consumer. This narrow conception of the student stems from a performative drive that conceptualizes higher education in terms of the contribution it makes to the national economy in a context of increasing global economic competition14.
Students have been forced into a position that many academics regard as antithetical to academic excellence15. Knowledge should not be pursued just for profit, nor solely for its own sake in an “ivory tower” sense, but critically, taking into account issues of social justice and personal empowerment. The Brazilian pedagogue Paolo Freire believed that the key to education was to develop critical thinking. The goal was to achieve what he coined “conscientisation”, or a critical consciousness, which would help students to challenge domination, and the beliefs and practices that dominate. The concept of “excellence” at the neo-liberal university, far from developing a critical consciousness, is to train students in managing an unjust society. The slogans from the ’68 student revolts, “We work, but we produce nothing,” are as relevant now as they where then.
A successful neo-liberal university must be run “efficiently”, like a business. The consequences for labour relations are predictable. The lower the wage its workforce can bear, the larger the margin for the university, the higher the wage (including demands for job security, pensions, break-time and holidays) of its workforce, the more the university loses. This has meant the proliferation of part-time and flex/temp contracts. It has affected academic staff and teachers as well as those in administrative positions. In campuses nationwide precarity at work is common in gardening, cleaning and security as well as in food and drink outlets. Meanwhile, VC’s pay rises by far outstrip those of all other education workers; already thirty-three vice-chancellors earn more than the prime minister1. Increasingly unequal pay conditions, the casualization of work and the decrease of union bargaining power at the university have come hand in hand with the spread of the neo-liberal logic.
The issues above are discussed in an attempt to uncover the flaws in the neo-liberal university’s concept of excellence and success. If to be what they call “world class” we must sacrifice the principle of meritocracy, socially useful, creative and independent research, the knowledge commons, comfortable working conditions at the university and a critical consciousness, then I say it is not worth it.
Of course, by no means is this process complete; there is fortunately still a space for resistance and dissent. Already within the university and the student body, there are fronts openly challenging the neo-liberal model. Campaign Against the Arms Trade’s Study War No More campaign has been taken up by the People and Planet society at Warwick who along with the Student’s Union are also pressuring the university for an ethical investment policy. Protests and direct actions against arms companies in Careers Fairs last term were carried out by a coalition of groups ranging from Amnesty to Warwick Anarchists. Attempts are being made to organize an alternative career’s fair. The Student’s Union and the NUS have been active in the fight against increasing fees.
The ReInvention Centre is a resource for students to shake off their role as consumers and become producers of knowledge at the undergraduate level. The Education Workers Network of the Solidarity Federation aims to unite all workers in the education sector for better working conditions. The growth of the logic of the free-market and the neo-liberal model however is reflected in all public institutions, education and the university being only one example. Resistance to the devastating social effects of this logic requires engaging in a larger struggle, both locally and globally.
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Quote: “Our understanding of what is successful has been redefined to mean profitable.”
Journal of the American Institute of Planners 36 (4), 218-220
 Thompson, E.P. Warwick University Ltd. Penguin Books. Middlesex:1970 p.17
 Thompson, E.P. Warwick University Ltd. Penguin Books. Middlesex:1970 P.17
 Iain Pirie. The political economy of academic publication
 Iain Pirie. The political economy of academic publication
 Iain Pirie. The political economy of academic publication
 Michael Denning. Lineaments and Contradictions of the Neoliberal University System. Working Group on Globalization and Culture, Yale University.Working Paper for “Breaking Down the Ivory Tower: The University in the Creation of Another World,” World Social Forum, January 2005
 The Reinvention Centre for Undergraduate Research. Two-Year Evaluation booklet. July 2007. p.9
Reinvention Centre for Undergraduate Research. Two-Year Evaluation booklet. July 2007. P.13