Thursday, 19 August 2010

UWSU votes YES on a FREE EDUCATION policy ..

Okay, Westminster Students, here was part of my pitch ..

Why Our Education Policy should be for a FREE Education
Let’s get this straight: Free education is a political term referring to education that is funded through taxation rather than tuition fees.

Let’s now backtrack to 1996 the year when tuition fees were introduced (yes, just over a decade ago universities did not charge fees) at a fixed basis of £1000; the student resistance at the time was quite weak, according to student activists from back in the day. They believe that the introduction of fees could have been stopped with a little more FIGHT; today I believe we must advocate for a free education and the principles surrounding it but also FIGHT (like they should have then) to stop the ever increasing price and marketisation of education.
So, where are we at?

Just over a decade ago education was funded by general taxation, I see no reason at all why this cannot be today (Let’s remember the top 1000 richest in the country maximised their wealth by 77 billion this year alone. Not only that, but money can be saved in military and conflict spending; by nationalising organisations such as banks - we are the majority shareholder in RBS anyway - and using the profits to fund education and general welfare. This list goes on, and on).
In essence, problems in education came to blows when fees were introduced. All of a sudden education was seen as a commodity; not as a good in itself, for society, for the well being of the individual. It was seen as a ticket into the workplace, and although this is a true statement to an extent, it is problematic.

Top up fees were introduced and education really became something that could be bought (students felt/feel they have to go to university as it would be a barrier to entry on the job market if they didn’t) and today in 2010 we see HE priced at £3290 a year. However, when the Browne Review comes in the autumn it is almost inevitable (being an ex-chair of a corporate oil company BP an all) that he will suggest lifting the cap. Paving the way for universities to charge whatever they think their ‘breed’ of students can afford.
This will start to create a massive wedge in between the elitist institutions and the workers’ institutions. More vocational institutions. Fundamentally, they want a return to the pre-1992 polytechnic situation.

I believe we have to fight against this lift off the cap and against cuts in education too. They want to cut our funding by 25 per cent whilst hiking prices two, three or even four fold. You do the math!

So, I plead that our policy be for a FREE education, open and accessible to all who want it. It should not be a ticket which is deterministic only to job entry (also, university isn’t for everyone). The key element here is choice and the ideology that education is a BASIC HUMAN RIGHT.

However, I understand that to jump from a scenario where the cap is quite possibly about to be lifted to a free education is a massive one. Nevertheless, I believe we must fight against rising fees and against the reactionary graduate tax (see below) in the meantime, but always persist and advocate for a free education and all the reasons encompassed within that.
Jade Baker, VP Education

Friday, 6 August 2010

Sign Up: Students' School of ECS Cutbacks Declaration..

Dear ECS Students,

You may be aware that the university has very recently undergone a controversial and unnecessarily demoralising “restructuring” process, whereby 48 ECS staff members have been laid-off by precarious voluntary or compulsory redundancies.

An ECS/ UCU member stated at the end of June on “ECS staff would not wish our worst enemy to go through the agony of waiting to receive an email for an interview that does not arrive, or the wait for some months now to find out whether we have a job after July. It goes without saying; therefore, that ECS staff sincerely hope that no other school will have to experience our predicament.”

Equally infuriating, management from the School of ECS have not, until recently, liaised with the students about the possible effects of this, or even asked them for their opinions on the cutbacks.
The effects of this negligent restructure is already taking its toll and impeding students’ studies.
To take an anecdotal example, last February, second year students were given a Final Project Supervisor Sheet (listing area specialties) and were told if they wanted to up their grades: a) endeavour to find work experience and b) initiate and start researching/ carrying out their Final Projects. They were asked to hand in the sheets by June 10th but the climate of sporadic redundancies prohibited many lecturers from knowing whether they’d still be at Westminster come September to supervise on any projects; and so, effectively, students and staff were both left in the lurch. This hinders students from achieving the best possible outcome from denying prompt research and creates a culture of fright and uncertainty for tutors who fear for their job security. Concurrently, this leads to a focus for lecturers on whether they’ll be able to pay next month’s mortgage rather than concentrating on next month’s student assessments. This is NOT fair and is an indictment on university management.

As many students refused to hand in the sheet until they knew their chosen supervisor would be staying put, the university quite rightly agreed to put back the date to the July 8th.
However, today, August 5th and students have still not been notified on who will be here next year and what modules will be affected.

This only hits the tip of the iceberg with regards to the current and likely problems the School of ECS and most importantly, its students, will face come next term. The foreseeable are larger class sizes; less one on one tutorial and class time with tutors; marking taking measurably longer to come back; pre-advertised modules being dropped; tutors which do not specialise in relevant and important specific areas; overworked and miserable lecturers. It seems ludicrous to cut staff back by a third but to keep student intake at the same level. If any of the above become actualities this could well fall within the remit of ‘failure to deliver’ what was promised by the university in the module handbook for example, and is a suable offence.
What’s more, the Students’ Union met with the Deputy of ECS, Stephen Winters, over two weeks ago and he promised to have the list of remaining supervisors shipped out to students. As stated above, this has NOT happened.

Further to that, he also reassured us that he would send out a declaration to all students promising the quality of their education will not drop over the upcoming year. This has also NOT happened.

We understand that the university’s line is essentially these cuts have been implemented to act as a buffer when the upcoming cuts to education in 2011, from the Higher Education Funding Council and this ConDem government, take effect.

However, we believe that there are many other ways the university could have made savings (as well as consulting students beforehand): like taking a salary cut over the top layers of management who between 2008-2009, hired four new deans and two executive governors, who got paid between £100,00 and £129,000 per year. Not only by cutting the ridiculously high salaries of the ever increasing layers of management, but also, the astronomical amounts of money which must have been spent or rebranding the university and consultancies. Further to that, the university has dusted itself off of many vital lecturing staff but has enough weight in its pocket to hire a new PR team, who will be starting in September. The list goes on.


· We demand that the list of remaining lecturers be released!
· We demand that a statement ensuring the quality of education will not fall is constructed!
· We demand that remaining and dropped modules be brought to our attention!

Please Sign.

* Alex Keable - Crouch
* Panagiotis Zavatzki
* Zbigniew Chmielewski (Mobile and Wireless Computing)
* Flaminia Giambalvo (Alumni)
* Amy Wilkes
* Ali Abbas
* Matthew Banham
* Mahad Mohamud (French & Arabic)
* Davinderpal Singh Rehal
* Natasha McGechan (Vice President activities, UWSU)
* Kamilla Koncz (English Literature)
* Seyed Ali Hosseini (Software Engineering)
* Rakesh Vishwanath
* Goochie Shack
* Queenie TC Wong
* Laurence Oliphant

Jade Lori Baker
VP Education, UWSU

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Letter from a concerned ECS student ..

I have been with the University of Westminster for 7 years, as a part time mature student, studying Electronic Engineering.
I have witnessed the development of the Cavendish campus electronics, software and IT departments, including investments in large new laboratories and computer rooms, all essential for students as these rooms are normally at maximum capacity all through the year(and it is increasingly difficult to find a quiet place to work or a free computer terminal).
Classes have generally become larger and noisier throughout my time at Cavendish campus, in the last 4 years or so.
I have also been working part time as a support worker for disabled students of the university, taking notes and helping in the library with their studies. Therefore I have been present in many lectures outside the Electronics department and Cavendish campus, where I study, and I have witnessed the same problems with class numbers elsewhere.
I am certain that any departmental reduction in staff numbers, without a corresponding reduction in student numbers, will damage the quality of education that has apparently been a long tradition at the university (my father was a student at the Regent street campus, previously the Regent Street Polytechnic, during his architecture degree in the 1970's; he speaks highly of the previous institution as it once stood).
Furthermore, in regards to Cavendish campus, it is illogical and redundant to make cuts to the ECS department staff, after such significant investment in the resources of laboratories and computers. Quite the opposite should be in order. Expansion of the discipline and its academic rigor! If students are failing the courses it is because of the high level that they demand. Electronics, engineering and the sciences are not intended to be "easy" degrees to obtain. It is actually the opposite as I have discovered! (what else?)If the university board decides to make its drastic cuts, I fear that they will play a part in the downfall of the UK's role in Electronics and Computer Science.
We should not forget the likes of the first computer scientist, Charles Babbage, and the great British computing engineers, mathematicians & inventors that followed him, such as the great Paul Dirac who developed Quantum Mechanics, and whom have all contributed to developing the most important technologies of the 20th century, helping to bring about the digital age that the world is now experiencing. Standing against these cuts is to stand for the institutions and practices that make the UK a place of academic excellence, steeped in the history of human achievement. We as the British people do not want to lose that legacy and privileged position in the world.

A J Golland, BEng Electronic Engineering,

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Guinea Pigs? Electronics and Computer Science

Whilst you students have been off gallivanting over the globe, getting up to all sorts of hazy summer mischief and most probably not giving your studies more than a momentary thought, BIG changes have swung into effect at Westminster.

It should come as no surprise to you, if you've been keeping up with Fight Cuts, that a third of Electronics and Computer Science School staff have been whittled out through an intensely demoralising voluntary redundancy period. Not to mention the 15 compulsories. So, that's a grand total of 48 less lecturers and guess what: student intake for next year is remaining the same.

This comes after a "restructuring" initiative from management whereby HSCS (Harrow School of Computer Science) has been upheaved and moved to Westminster's Cavendish Site.

Not only has this caused massive upset for many students, who enrolled with the premise of studying at Harrow, but alarm now saturates the air as the new building, which is under construction as we speak, is scheduled to finish the day before enrollment! When these concerns were raised with a deputy staff member from ECS recently, his awkward reply was: "It simply has to be finished on time". Here's to hoping ..

In essence this ill-thought-out "restructure" will see pre-advertised modules dropped, larger class sizes, less tete a tete with tutors and what can only amount to a dying quality of education.

Let's be frank here, who gives two shits about being homed in a plush new building, without teachers (let's keep in mind how overworked the ones who have survived the chop will be) the whole 'education thang' goes to pot.

Worries have been aired by the lecturer's union, UCU, that the ECS debacle is a guinea pig test case for future cuts. They believe Westminster Business School is the segment management would like to dissect but unfortunately, due to high unionisation within the School, the university have picked an easier target for now.

Well, guess what Westminster, our students aren't defenseless guinea pigs! They have a voice and you can bet they'll be using it come September.

Already, students have been pouring into the Students' Union with complaints regarding the ECS cut backs and the implications of them.

There will be more information (and, of course, a campaign surrounding this) shortly..

In the meantime feel free to contact me regarding any of the above,

Jade Baker, VP Education

Say NO to a Graduate Tax .. and here's why, courtesy of the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts ..

1. We oppose the Lib Dem-Tory coalition government’s plans for a graduate tax. At the same time, this “exercise in rebranding” fees (as lecturers’ union UCU put it) is not the only or even the worst problem with Vince Cable’s plans, which amount to a massive extension of marketisation in our university system.

We demand an end to all fees, free education and living grants for all students; we want higher education to be run as a public service, funded by taxing the rich and business.
2. The graduate tax is rebranding because the existing system is already, as Cable has admitted, a form of graduate tax. Under his plans, students will still pay for university, and in fact pay more, with all the inevitable consequences in terms of access to higher education. A graduate tax is the Lib Dems’ way of squaring their promise to abolish fees with their enthusiastic participation in a right-wing Tory government committed to further marketising higher education.

The leaderships of the National Union of Students and the Labour Party are, unfortunately, in agreement with the government that students should pay for university. NUS in particularly has been utterly pathetic, falling over itself to welcome Cable’s proposals. The real question is why students should have to pay at all. We do not expect those who use the NHS to pay any kind of charge or tax, nor those who have children and use schools. The same goes for all kinds of other public services funded out of general taxation. The Tories and Lib Dems might like a world where people are charged for using hospitals or schools, but they don’t dare admit it. So why should university or college be any different?

Education is a good in itself, a public service which benefits individuals and society. It should not be seen as a ticket to a higher paid job, particularly since the great majority of those who graduate from university will not be high paid, if they are lucky enough to get a job at all. “User pays” is an extremely dangerous principle, a wedge pushed into the heart of the welfare state.
Of course, we will be told that the money for free education isn’t there. Yet this year, just the individuals on the Sunday Times “rich list” – that’s the 1,000 wealthiest people in the country – increased their wealth by £77 billion. So much for “all in it together”! Compare that to the £7 billion the scrapped Building Schools for the Future scheme costs, or the £8 billion it would cost to abolish all fees, not only for British students but international ones as well (the figure for home students only is £2.7 billion).

The idea that cuts and higher fees are necessary or unavoidable is simply nonsense. The reality is that this government of millionaires is seeking to make the vast majority of people – workers, the unemployed, pensioners, students – pay for the crisis the bankers created while the rich, after a little wobble, continue to rake it in.

We shouldn’t let them pull the wool over our eyes. We should demand that instead of making cuts the government scraps Trident, taxes the rich, takes over the wealth of the banks which we are subsidising as taxpayers anyway. The public is a majority shareholder in RBS. Why not use its profits rather than the scraped-together savings of working-class graduates to pay for education?

The choice is not universities vs schools or universities vs hospitals. It’s between the jobs and services we all need and the greed of big business and the super-rich.

3. At the same time, Vince Cable says he wants to see some two-year degrees, more students living at home, university closures/mergers – according to the Guardian, at least twenty universities will close in the next few years under his plans – and a big expansion of private universities. He wants to expand the marketised system which New Labour put in place, meaning a liberal education for an elite and low-quality, underfunded training to turn the rest of us into pliant workers for exploitation. Though NUS has failed to recognise it, this is the central thrust of his plans, and must be vigorously opposed.

4. Just as there will be strikes by public sector and other workers against the government’s plans for cuts, there will be mass student resistance, continuing the surge in occupations and direct action against cuts which began last year. NUS’s welcoming of a graduate tax suggests that it will be at best an unreliable leader for that resistance. The National Campaign Againt Fees and Cuts exists to coordinate the fight back, strengthen it and help it win.