The Defend LSBU! Defend our education! Campaign at London South Bank University (LSBU) had its origin sometime early this year.
A change in management at the university, coupled with the financial downturn, resulted in a change in industrial relations some months ago. During the first half of 2009, LSBU management fundamentally mutated the definition and philosophy of its ‘core business’ and its students became ‘customers’ in their eyes.
The new vice chancellor, Professor Martin Earwicker, issued a corporate plan based around a market-oriented vision of higher education. Two objectives set the tone of the document. First, it calls for students to be treated as customers, positioning the interaction between staff and students as an economic relationship. The second objective was to create an industry-driven offering, cost effective and in line with market demand - notably ‘non-viable’ courses would not be subsided. The writing was on the wall for LSBU as a provider of arts, social sciences or a wide portfolio of courses for its student base - approximately one-third of whom (excluding international students) come from Southwark Borough itself.
From mid-2009 onwards, a series of high-profile figures visited LSBU, which appeared to position LSBU in line with changes in the higher education (HE) sector. Lord Browne launched his review of the funding of higher education at LSBU; his report this autumn can be credited with creating the conditions for trebling of fees and decimation of higher education funding proposed by the coalition government. David Cameron and David Willetts (then Shadow Universities Minister) both visited prior to the general election. Vince Cable made his ill-fated graduate tax speech here in July.
We feel these visits positioned LSBU in the vanguard of the realignment of HE - and new universities in particular - towards a new industry dominated agenda. The ideal of universities as arenas of debate and ideological independence is a thing of the past, according to this agenda.
Early this year, LSBU announced 100 redundancies, which the vice chancellor attributed to the credit crunch. As part of its strategy, management declared we would be the first HE institution to devolve from the national pay bargaining structure. This has enabled the university to be able to pay whatever it likes to lecturers, and to open up a new salary market. Lower pay at institutions like ours could trigger similar institutions to follow suit, with the elite Russell Group universities maintaining higher rates of remuneration. Our teaching quality might then drop over time, and offer a significantly poorer offering to our students than those at red brick universities.
In response to these redundancies and changes to pay bargaining, the first major gathering of lecturers and students occurred when the LSBU branch of the Universities and Colleges Union (UCU) called a lobby outside Board of Governors meeting in April. This was a modest success, with a reasonable gathering of staff and students outside. This was this first demonstration at the university for years, but yet the mood among staff and students was less than confident.
As students we decided to form our own independent campaign, linking together with the onsite unions. ‘Defend LSBU! Defend our education!’ drew its membership from members of our campaigning minded societies.
Another LSBU Board of Governors’ meeting took place on 15 July 2010. The university had just announced the culling of the entire LLU+ unit - a centre of excellence for adult literacy, numeracy and ESOL, all of which are vital to giving people the opportunity to the go on to study at a widening participation university like ours. They are trying to cut 40 jobs in the unit. This time a much larger gathering of people arrived to protest against the closure - approximately 100 people. As staff and students attempted to enter the building to deliver a petition to save LLU+ , a tussle with security guards took place and the police were called. The action was rather short lived, but a well timed shift of the protestors to the back of the building caught the security off guard - we opened up the gate directly leading towards the part of the building where the meeting was taking place. This Board of Governors meeting was eventually called off because of the noise, and a delegate sent to meet us and hear our demands.
Over the summer months, a core of students held the campaign together and planned a student meeting for the beginning of the new semester. Students were brought together during a trip to
to be part of the Right to Work’s demonstration against the cuts outside the Tory Party conference at the end of September. Birmingham
When the emergency loans scheme for students and language centre were closed shortly into the new semester an emergency student meeting convened. After a well-organised action and student lobbying on campus, we delivered a petition of over 1000 student signatures to the university, demanding that Emergency Loans be reinstated and that the Language Centre be kept open. The mood on the day of delivery was such that students held up the traffic in
London Road by marching through the road. The university accepted the petition, but refused to respond to the campaign.
On the 10 November a magnificent student and lecturer block of over 80 people marched through the roads from Elephant and Castle over
Westminster Bridge and up Whitehall joining a demonstration of over 50,000 students across the . UK
A recent twist in the campaign, signalling an increasing hostility towards student activism on campus came when a Defend LSBU! Defend our Education! campaign meeting was shut down on campus by security. Students were told if they did not leave they would be removed by force. A motion opposing this undemocratic appears on our website: http://savesouthbank.wordpress.com/
The student and staff fight back goes on…
Defend LSBU! Defend our Education!