The National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts is something of an oddity on the student left in Britain. Formed in 2010 by a coalition of socialists, anarchists and independent leftists, it struggles for “free, democratic education and universal grants, funded by the taxation of the rich and business”. NCAFC is distinguished from other student organisations by its consistent anticapitalism, commitment to using a diverse range of tactics – never limiting itself to just working within the formal structures of student politics such as student unions and the NUS and rigorous internal democracy.
NCAFC is also a pluralistic group, containing Labour members, Greens, various autonomists and anarchists, groups from various Trotskyist traditions, as well as many independent activists. During its seven year existence, NCAFC has taken a leading role in many student struggles, including the 2010/2011 campaigns against the trebling of tuition fees and Higher Education reforms and the free education demonstrations of 2014/15. NCAFC members are also involved in campaigns for ecology (such as the divestment campaigns that have taken place in various universities around the country) and campaigns in favour of free movement.
NCAFC’s winter conference took place last month at the University of Warwick. The two day event saw discussions and workshops on the first day and voting on motions, as well as the election of the ‘block of 14’ for the National Committee happening on the second. The major themes of the conference included the fight against the new Higher Education reforms and employing the tactic of building a boycott of the National Student Survey to do so. As well as discussing immediate strategic questions for fighting the further marketisation of education by the government, broader and further reaching topics such as our vision for a ‘National Education Service’, proposed by Jeremy Corbyn were explored.
Motions agreed by the conference included ones in defence of migrant’s rights and free movement, in support of campaigns against the HE reforms for of developing a vision for what a National Education Service would look like. A full list of motions passed can be found here.
The biggest task the student movement faces at the moment is the fight against the new Higher Education reforms, a key part of which is the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF), a model that will rank universities on a number of factors. One function of the TEF will be to rank universities on the basis of what the earnings of its graduates are, with higher ranking universities being eligible for better funding, and lower ranking institutions risking cuts. The National Student Survey (an annual survey given to final year students) will also influence scores within the proposed framework.
The implementation of the TEF will ultimately mean that teaching staff will be faced with longer hours, academic freedom will be limited, and we will be a step further towards the complete marketization of the higher education system. A more detailed explanation of what the TEF is and what it will do can be found here.
Last year, the NUS itself voted to organise an active boycott of the NSS, a policy that was passed with the help of NCAFC delegates and activists making the arguments for a boycott. A successful boycott of the survey will wreck the results, making it harder for the government to integrate them into its TEF metrics. This will give student organisations more leverage in talks with the government. For this reason, the NCAFC will be focusing most of its energies over the months ahead on promoting the boycott on campuses. When it comes to organising on-the-ground resistance to government policy, regardless of its policy decisions, the NUS is pretty useless in turning them into reality. So it often falls to militant grassroots groups such as NCAFC to do the legwork – this is a challenge we are prepared to meet.