WE CAN’T JUST WAIT FOR FREE EDUCATION – NCAFC WINTER CONFERENCE

by Lewis Jarrad

On the 9th-10th December, the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts (NCAFC) put on its 2017 Winter Conference in Liverpool. Taking place less than a month after their national demonstration, which advocated for free education and universal living grants funded by taxing the rich, the conference was a chance for student activists across the UK to strategise and discuss where we can go next in the fight for a free and democratic education system. Campuses represented included Liverpool, Manchester, UCL, UAL, KCL, Warwick, Sheffield, Abertay, Oxford and Cambridge. As a first year UCL student who was involved in the national demo, I went along to learn more about NCAFC and how I could get more involved in the campaign.

The Saturday began with a panel discussing what we learnt from the demo and where we can go next. The speakers emphasised the importance of organising locally, encouraging students to take part in direct action both on and off campus. They pointed out that the recent Labour manifesto can be seen as a double edged sword for the student movement, bringing free education back into the zeitgeist but also downplaying the importance of fighting for it. We can’t just wait for Corbyn to gain power. We should be continuing to agitate to lay the groundwork for a fairer, more democratic, and free education system.

we should be aiming to challenge bigoted views through direct confrontation and debate

This lead on to workshops organised by NCAFC members, on topics ranging from democratising SUs to fighting fascism. Personally, I found them the most useful part of the weekend. The sessions I attended on local free education organising and on student media really got me thinking about how we can encourage direct action on my campus. There are many different student campaigns at UCL, but they are usually all run by the same few activists. By talking to students, directly and through independent student media, we can exploit the close links in these campaigns and hopefully create more of a left-wing culture on campus. As well as these, I also found the workshop on HE policy extremely informative. We learned about the harmful government frameworks currently in place (TEF, REF & KEF), the reforms being introduced in the Research and HE bill, and why the NSS boycott is such a vital tool for combating marketisation.

The day ended on a plenary looking at the history of NCAFC and the student movement, which was a nice way to reflect on where we’ve got to and why we continue to carry out direct action. Afterwards, a few of us went to FACT, demonstrating outside to show solidarity with Picturehouse workers striking for a living wage and union recognition.

The Sunday was mostly a day for electing the National Committee and debating motions, beginning with a discussion on free speech on campus. While perhaps the most heated debate at the conference, the general consensus of the group was later reflected in a motion passed stating that no platforming tactics should be used for fascists and organised groups that employ similar methods (e.g. some TERFs), but on the whole we should be aiming to challenge bigoted views through direct confrontation and debate. Some other motions I was pleased to see passed included those in support of trans liberation, Cut The Rent and workers campaigns, and one for planning an NUS intervention. One main criticism I have of NCAFC is that they seem to have shied away from supporting local activism, so seeing these pass alongside a motion directly calling for a more bottom-up approach reassured me that this will change in the future.

NCAFCconfprotest

NCAFC activists protest in solidarity with the Picturehouse workers’ strike during Winter conference. Credit: NCAFC

As a young person who has only been participating in grassroots activism since September, NCAFC have played an integral role in my political education so far. The national demonstration allowed people like me to connect with students and education workers from all across the country, preparing us to get organised on both the local and national level. Going to conference has had a similar effect on me, allowing me to learn from more experienced activists and get involved in the organisation’s democracy. Personally, I enjoyed the weekend a lot and recommend that anyone interested should come along to the summer conference next year! I’d never been to a political conference before, and while it was a little confusing and overwhelming at times, the atmosphere was really friendly and I gained a lot of insight into student politics which I will take back to my university.

If you are new to the student movement, I urge you to get involved. If your campus is not yet involved with NCAFC, why not become an affiliate, or start your own local group? The marketisation of higher education is perhaps the biggest threat facing us at the moment, having a direct impact on how universities treat both its students and workers. Organising through local activist groups and nationally through NCAFC’s meetings and conferences are key to fighting this.

To keep up to date with NCAFC or to become a member, visit their website at anticuts.com

Featured image credit: Simon Darwen


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