UCU calls for close working between students and staff in fight for investment and social justice

26 April 2017 | last updated: 2 May 2017

UCU has called for closer working between students and staff as the sector fights against marketisation, casual contracts and higher fees.

In a speech to the National Union of Students' (NUS) annual conference in Brighton UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: 'At a time when some sector bodies have waved the white flag to government and their disastrous plans for higher education, it is NUS that UCU looks to as our allies in the fight against marketisation, casualisation and higher fees'.

Describing the current political climate as 'dangerous times', Sally called on the sector to unite in its fight for investment and social justice, saying: 'We have to use the platform of this general election to remake our argument once again for investment in education, for social justice and against racism.'

On Brexit she said: 'We can see it in the way that EU nationals, including tens of thousands working and studying in UK universities, are held to ransom while Theresa May's government attempts to cobble together a negotiating strategy for Brexit. It is time to pause and think who we are. We generate billions of pounds for the economy and we have a profoundly positive impact on society. Yet our government, if it considers the sector at all, seems to view us as a nuisance or a haven for potential terrorists.'

Calling on the need to fight against the current political climate she said: 'What is happening requires a response. A response which emphasises our solidarity, our community, with each other and social movements around the world. We have a duty to be part of the alternative voice, defending hard won rights from control of the womb, to the workplace - protecting free speech, rejecting the politics of hate. We will need unity within our unions and between us, and a belief that we can bring about change. We must support each other, keep standing up for what we believe in and never, ever give up fighting for what is right.'


NUS SPEECH - 25 APRIL 2017

 

I come here today to renew the bond between UCU and NUS.

 

Vice-chancellors and principals come and go.

Ministers and even prime ministers move on.

Even general secretaries don't last for ever.

But the relationship between our students and staff endures.

 

And that is because we are both prepared to fight for what is right.

 

At a time when sector bodies have waved the white flag to government and their disastrous plans for higher education, it is to NUS that UCU looks as our allies in the fight against marketisation, casualisation and higher fees.

 

Now, if our discussions have a little more urgency than normal this is no surprise.

 

We are living in interesting times.

 

An age when expertise is a dirty word.

An age when people who lie - as the Brexit campaign did - to gain advantage are lauded for their cunning.

And an age - of course - where someone to whom truth is an unacquainted stranger can be elected president of the United States.

 

And that election should give us all pause for thought.

 

His commentary on women's rights to choose.

His commentary of women in general

His repeated targeting of Muslim immigrants and those illegal immigrants within the US - the wall!

The rejection of climate change science

Encouragement of America first isolationism

An increase in arms funding

Deliberate attacks on the judiciary and the press

 

It is a toxic combination whose ripples are being felt in every global tide

 

General elections are taking place across Europe this year, with the French first out of the blocks.

 

I hope people across the mainstream can unite to defeat Le Pen and send a signal about what kind of Europe we want.

 

Teresa May has now of course called a general election for June, after promising that she wouldn't.

 

It's the kind of cynical opportunism that gives politics a bad name.

But there is no use complaining. 

 

We have to use the platform of this general election to remake our argument once again for investment in education, for social justice and against racism.

 

So we are in dangerous times.

 

The "strong man" - whether Trump, Putin or the sundry others - is on the march and democracy is under attack.

 

It was Primo Levi nearly 80 years ago who warned the world to beware of what he called "the would-be tyrant waiting in the wings, with 'beautiful words' on his lips".

And the snuffing out of intellectual life - the questioning of truth and knowledge - has always been key to the political plans of the strong man, of the would-be tyrant.

 

So the dangers in this situation are all too obvious - but what do we do about it.

 

First, recognise the threat.

 

The new politics despises diversity, deplores intellectualism and represents the biggest challenge to liberal democracy since the Second World War.

 

We can see this in Trump.

We can see it too in the way that EU nationals, including tens of thousands working and studying in UK universities, are held to ransom while Theresa May's government attempts to cobble together a negotiating strategy for Brexit.

 

It is time to pause and think who we are.

 

We generate billions of pounds for the economy and we have a profoundly positive impact on society.

 

Yet our government, if it considers the sector at all, seems to view us as a nuisance or a haven for potential terrorists.

 

We must push back on higher education, further education and adult education.

And we must do so in a way which sounds neither elitist nor protectionist but by relating its consequences to the loss of opportunities for the poorest in our community.

 

Because if experience from the US teaches us one thing, it is that it won't be kids from Eton and Harrow who get ripped off by new for-profit colleges, or by cut price apprenticeships.

 

Instead of being cowed by the Brexiters' clarion call of "take back control", progressives should make it their own.

 

And argue for an empowering state at the centre of a renewed vision.

 

It has happened before. 

Look at the expansion of education since the Second World War which saw my parents' - your grandparents' - generation take a massive leap forward.

 

Or the technical colleges that used to exist in every town where adults could get to learn.

 

Or the Open University.

 

So yes, let's take back control of the debate about what the state can do.

 

Let's argue that the state's job is to empower those who start with the dice loaded against them.

And finally, let's take back control of the argument about truth, expertise and reasoning.

 

The people I represent help people to speak English. 

They train teachers and doctors and nurses and architects. And philosophers and scientists.

 

The people you represent become those people, and some of you even come and join UCU.

 

We are the people who allow society to think.

 

My point is this.

What is happening requires a response.

A response which emphasises our solidarity, our community, with each other and social movements around the world.

 

We have a duty to be part of the alternative voice, defending hard won rights from control of the womb, to the workplace - protecting free speech, rejecting the politics of hate.

 

We will need unity within our unions and between us, and a belief that we can change.

 

And that's back to where I came in.

 

The solid bond between NUS and UCU is unbreakable.

 

We must support each other, keep standing up for what we believe in and never, ever give up fighting for what is right.

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