Lecturers back strike action over fee rises and cuts in spending

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The Independent Online

Lecturers yesterday pledged support for a series of strikes and sit-ins at universities and colleges in protest at fee rises and public spending cuts.

Hundreds of staff in further and higher education have already been threatened with redundancy, delegates at the University and College Union conference in Harrogate were told.

In addition, courses are being cut – including those for immigrants wanting to learn English as a second language, at a time when ministers are insisting would-be migrants must speak English as a prerequisite for being allowed to stay in the UK.

Geraint Evans, of Bradford College, said managers there had estimated there would be a 50 per cent drop in students seeking to learn English as a result of budget cuts forcing up fees.

He told the conference: "Seventy per cent of those on the course are Asian women and they're coming from the poorest communities in Bradford. They are the group least likely to participate in education beyond the compulsory age.

"These students will not progress their English and they won't be able to progress on to further courses and so we'll have to look at cutting them as well."

He said two managers of Esol (English for speakers of other languages) courses at the college had already been told they were at risk of being made redundant.

Government cuts are expected to limit those entitled to free tuition to people settled in this country and on Jobseekers' and Employment Support allowances. Campaigners against the cuts want this provision extended to all those who cannot afford to pay for provision – including asylum-seekers.

In addition, the conference was told, 170 staff are threatened with redundancy at Newcastle College, while one in four face dismissal at Barnsley College as a result of the cuts.

Delegates unanimously supported a motion urging the union to back strike action and student occupations against job losses and course closures. Jane Hardy, from the University of Hertfordshire, said: "We have to build on the strikes and sit-ins that have already taken place."

One group of students, at Leeds Trinity College, had been sustaining a sit-in of college premises since last September, the conference heard.

John McDonnell, Labour MP for Hayes and Harlington and chair of the Campaign Group of socialist MPs, said in an address to the conference that if "another rich millionaire tosser in the House of Commons" told him "we're all in this together" he might have to resort to unparliamentary language in retaliation.

"More and more people are beginning to realise that it is only by showing our collective strength that we can protect our members, our services and our unions," he added.

"In two years, unless we act to prevent this, the welfare state will be a memory. We'll be living in a new dark age of inequality, insecurity and brutality where young people will suffer."

Ministers argue that the cuts are essential because of the legacy of debt the Coalition has been left by the previous Labour government.

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