No strategy for free education

On his talk on 'Education in the neoliberal world', Rob Owen of the SWP gave a good description of the changing nature of university education over the last 20-30 years. He was, however, somewhat optimistic in his assessment of the resistance on campuses, and how Student Respect had "won" the recent NUS demonstration to its slogans and ideas. In reality, the NUS demo was characterised by a lack of militancy and was little more than a nice day out for the NUS bureaucracy.

One student raised fears that calling for free education would scare people off because it would mean higher taxes. An SWP comrade quite rightly said we should have no reservations about saying 'Tax the rich' in order to counter this. This was rather embarrassing for comrade Owen, though, because, as I pointed out in my intervention, Student Respect has actually rejected 'Tax the rich' as a slogan for fighting elections.

I also highlighted how Respect should be calling for student grants based on need: ie, at least £250 per week. This was greeted by enthusiastic nods from comrade Owen, and nobody actually spoke against it - although, of course, in such workshops people talk about anything and nods of agreement signify nothing.

Despite his emphasis on student "anger", Rob made no proposals for mobilising this beyond a vague call for "action on campuses" - although he did say the "time isn't right" to call for occupations. Although he correctly criticised the NUS bureaucracy for simply organising a demonstration once a year to disguise their lack of a fighting strategy, I was unable to detect much by way of strategy in his own words.

Ben Lewis