Last week, Open University staff in Cambridge took to the streets in reaction to government plans to close down several regional centres. UCU (University and College Union) members from Manchester, Cambridge, Belfast, Edinburgh and Cardiff – to name but a few of the cities that will see strike action in the coming weeks – are embroiled in a series of coordinated walkouts, aiming to send Cameron’s government a clear message that they would not be accepting these cuts to the education system without putting up a fight.
The proposed cuts to the Open University could potentially leave 500 people without jobs nationwide, and have been met with resounding condemnation by the overwhelming majority of OU staff. UCU Open University Branch President, Pauline Collins explained ‘The closures are opposed by staff, students, former students and politicians. Our senate, which is the academic body of the university, rejected the plans as high risk and failing to support the mission of the university’ and the strike action in Cambridge is the first in a series of coordinated workouts aimed at articulating these grievances. The cuts to OU services is a direct result of the increasing bureaucratisation and growing managerialism within the education system, and the proposed ‘streamlining’ of the OU is being pushed fervently by managers within the University’s administrative body itself, in spite of unanimous protests from the University’s rank and file. Not only does it expose the bureaucracy’s undemocratic tendencies it also highlights managements growing detachment from the very people it is supposed to represent, its employees and pupils.
This attack on the Open University is unfortunately nothing new. Since 2010, with the election of the Tory led regime, the education sector – in particular higher education – has received blow, after blow, after blow. Under the watchful eye of historical revisionist Michael Gove – now continued by his successor Nicky Morgan – higher education has seen an unprecedented spike in tuition fees, pushing thousands of teens from poorer income households out of Universities, and leading the Financial Times to claim recently that ‘Britain has the most expensive public University fees’. The Tories argue that the changes to the education system are a necessary continuation of their economic policy – a direct product of the crisis of capitalism. Students and staff are made to pay for a crisis they did not cause. But the strangulation of the education system is also a political move aimed at further stratifying class divisions throughout the UK, by pushing working class and children from lower income earners out of schools and onto the dole queues. Education has become a luxury, one reserved for only the most affluent members of our society, and is no longer seen as a universal right.
The Open University was established by the Labour government in 1969 as a means of increasing the accessibility working people had to tertiary education. This latest move to close down many of the OU branches helps only to further alienate the working classes from the education system. University staff how have shown courage in standing up to the managers and the bureaucrats. They are entirely justified in their struggle. We must all show solidarity with the striking OU staff, and continue to show solidarity with all the employees of the education sector, who have been under continuous attack since the onset of the draconian austerity measures imposed on them by Tory rule and the global crisis of capitalism.
by Jack Ashworth, Manchester Marxists