This is a short commentary on the development of the London Met/UKBA situation written by Workers’ Liberty Student, Vice-President of the Liverpool Guild of Students 2011-12 and NCAFC National Committee member Bob Sutton. It has been produced in order to provoke discussion about how to best resist the deportations that seem likely to result from what has happened at London Metropolitan University. It is not a finished blueprint for a campaign, but an attempt to raise important questions, suggestions and contribute to the debate.
This has been produced ahead of this weekend’s National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts activist training event at the School of Oriental and African Studies where student anti-cuts activists from across the country will be discussing issues across Higher Education. Due to the emergency situation at London Met a good chunk of the agenda – at 11.00 today and 10.30 tomorrow, has been given over to talk about it.
It has also been circulated widely amongst other activists in order to share ideas. If people in London are in a position to get to SOAS this weekend (nearest tube Russell Square) to contribute, they would be welcome.
Some preliminary thoughts on London Met
Myself and ULU President Daniel Cooper, along with other activists from the NCAFC, were at the silent protest outside Downing Street on Thursday morning.
While it is clearly important that there was a quick and visible response to the news from the night before, and the placards which sought to expose the hypocrisy of the government’s trumpeting of the Olympics, as an example of how Britain was a place which welcomed the world, were good, there was also cause for concern.
The demo had been called after a night in which the Executive of the London Met Students’ Union had been up half the night responding to individual students’ worried calls an emails, at a meeting at ten that morning between LMSU and the National Union of Students.
LMSU were reportedly warned against any action which might risk ‘external’ activists ‘hijacking’ the campaign – echoing the line the NUS leadership had taken since LM’s status had been suspended and permanent termination was looming.
It is probably worth saying at this point, that Workers’ Liberty, and many others across the student and workers’ movements are almost certainly amongst the kind of people the national leadership are referring to: Socialists, anti-racists, anti-deportation campaigners and class-struggle activists who would see the attack on London Metropolitan’s international students as part of the governments wider attack on black and migrant people, and any idea of public education.
If the NUS are worried about people not wanting to limit the campaign to lobbying and appealing to the idea that international students are ‘good immigrants’ who work hard and make shedloads of money for the British economy – they are right. We are for the right of everyone to come and stay here; to work, to study, to seek a better life or escape persecution. Those who come here to learn should not have to face being subject to surveillance or charged exorbitant fees.
From speaking to the LM students, it transpired that the University had sent out no formal correspondence to them. However, when they had tried to contact, University administration had told them they could not register. All they offered was help in finding alternatives studying at other universities – in effect washing their hands of them.
As it stands, students will be left isolated as individuals seeking to find themselves an alternative university [albeit with some help from whatever the provided assistance ends up looking like]. I had thought that there would be many who would simply not find places elsewhere, although I may be wrong about this – other Unis may well be prepared to sign up more cash-cows!
Even if the London Met ‘refugees’ do find places elsewhere, that will still mean a university has had to expel its entire non-EU student body and faces near or total collapse: students lives massively disrupted and those staff and students left behind almost certainly facing further course cuts, closures and job losses.
There is the further issue that, for many international students, their funding from their home countries is dependant on their studies not being interrupted or falling below a consistent level of high grades. Again this is something it would be good to get a better picture of, but it may well be the case that sponsors will not pay for tuition fees at a different university – let alone any increased living costs.
How to build a campaign?
There was a demonstration yesterday morning. I don’t have a clear picture of how it went. What is certainly the case is that after the demonstration on Thursday, NUS international Officer —– held a meeting with the LMSU President and one of the Vice-Presidents which NUS International Committee member Arianna Tassinari and, for that matter, anyone else who’d been at the demonstration, was excluded.
The single most important factor that will determine whether we win or not, will be that the students affected, the some 2,600 International students at London Met, are able to discuss openly and frankly amongst each other and their supporters about how the campaign is run. I don’t know yet how LMSU plan to get these people, or at least as many as possible, in one room at one time to have that discussion, but it needs to happen quickly. It needs to be run by the students themselves rather than decided in small meetings of the sabbatical team and the NUS officers and staff.
Something which I also think is massively important is that as many students as possible are on campus when term starts. Universities often make cuts, redundancies and other unpopular decisions during the summer in the hope that no-one will a) notice or b) be able to do anything about it. One of the reasons they will have done this now is that students are on their own spread across the world and separated from the ‘home’ students, students from other universities, staff and all the people who might be able to stop this from happening if they stood together. Everyone has the legal right to remain in the UK until the end of October when the 60-day period after the removal of trusted status (29/9). As many people as possible should be in and around the campus as much as possible, building links and building the campaign to stop the deportations before that point.
What do we want?
Again, the demands of the campaign will need to be something that develops by those who are fighting. But there are a few things which I think are important or worth thinking about:
Obviously, the central thing we want is for the UKBA reverse its decision to terminate trusted status and grant all London Met students the right to be here. One thing which I think might be worth bearing in mind, is whether to call such a thing an ‘Amnesty’. Amnesty suggests a one-off, an exception. I don’t think everyone who has used the term has meant it in this way, but I think we need to talk about in a way which does not cut against the fact that we think everyone should be allowed to stay here.
London Metropolitan University
The fact that London Met management has so easily abrogated any responsibility towards its students is disgusting. They should still be treated as London Met students. It is the University that has taken the decision to deny students access to their lectures, the library etc. Obviously they have said that they have no choice and that they will not be legally allowed to register these ‘illegal’ students officially. But it is their choice to police these things, to fail to do anything to try and get around it, and to tell people there is no point coming back to London. Any self-respecting educator would see it as their job to defend their students rather than accept without a fight. The idea that it was by being ‘too lax’ on foreign students which got them into this mess, and that the way to get out of it is by being even more draconian is absolutely perverse. Immigration laws in Britain have been getting more and more repressive for over 20 years. The way to stop them is not to bend over backwards for them!
The UCU – the lecturers Trade Union, has long-standing policy that academics should refuse to comply with the registering of attendance which. In recent years many Universities, including London Met, have installed hi-tech electronic scanners which take control of monitoring out of the hands of ordinary staff and therefore much more difficult to oppose. Despite this, we should have a serious discussion about how lecturers can best help get students back into lecture theatres – to talk to their classmates as much as to continue their studies.
I have already talked about how crap a solution getting students into other universities is. However I don’t think that means we should not necessarily demand other unis, or Universities UK, the organisation of all University heads, commit unconditionally to taking on all London Met students. The reason this could be important is that it gives people around the country a focus in campaigning at their own institutions. How we do this without accepting the pulling of the plug on London Met is something to be thrashed out.
A demonstration that is widely publicised and encourages the local community, staff, students from other campuses and other activists is essential to maintain the momentum and the widespread outrage this has caused. If people do not here about a campaign they can get involved in they will assume it is dead.
This should be used to get people into a meeting to build the campaign.
Dan Cooper is keen to build a meeting at ULU around resisting immigration controls – this has been an issue at London Universities for some time. At SOAS, where we are meeting this weekend, in 2009 the UKBA in collaboration with the University management and the cleaning agency ISS stormed the building with riot police and deported several cleaning workers. There was an occupation of the Vice-Chancellors office. At points in London there have been powerful anti-deportation campaigns which have had some success at stopping removals and we need to discuss those lessons. There isn’t a date pinned down yet but we should have one soon.
Bob Sutton 1/9/12