What is an ROU?
However, lecturers and other UCU members cannot struggle against these cuts alone. It is the responsibility of all of us to help fight them. If implemented, the government's cuts programme will have a massively detrimental effect on higher education. Already many young people will not be able to enrol on degree programmes next year. These are people such as your friends and family. What education system awaits them after years of hard work at school? Likewise, what awaits those of us currently in the University system after graduation? With record levels of graduate unemployment and spiraling debt it is highly possible that we may end up in low-paid and highly precarious employment conditions.
In the run up to the UCU ballot, Leeds Student Union ran an anti-strike campaign, ironically enough called 'Education First', in which they encouraged students to harass lecturers with emails calling on them not to strike. The Student Union waged a propaganda war of disinformation about the potential affects of strike action on students.
The groups 'Leeds University Against Cuts' and the 'Really Open University' were created to resist the cuts and fight the Student Union's stance. Anti-cuts graffiti and stickers have emerged around campus, and the SU's anti-strike banner was de-faced in protest and subsequently removed.
The Really Open University is a group made up of students, non-students and lecturers that has been established in order to help fight these cuts but also aims at broadening the struggle around education to bring into question the economic model on which it is based.
Our struggle is not simply a defensive one. We do not wish to preserve the university as it is, an elite and insular institution that reproduces the inequalities in our current society. We must create a university which bases itself on entirely different values: we call this the ‘Really Open University’. How do we build this autonomy? Through the occupation of the spaces where we work, play and consume and the re appropriation of this time and space for our own ends.
The Vice-chancellor of Leeds University, Michael Arthur, recently warned against the struggle against cuts at Leeds University becoming “a battleground for the future of higher education in the UK”. We welcome Michael Arthur’s comments; this is not a battleground over education but against an economic system that puts profit before people. The cuts we are facing at the university are only one manifestation of a system that exploits daily life in the name of ‘profit’ – our ideas are not valued on their merit but on their ability to generate profit, our work is valued not on what we create but on how much we can sell it for in the marketplace.
The crisis the University of Leeds is facing, is linked to a wider higher education crisis across the world. In Europe and the US, movements have sprung up to defend and expand education, with over forty occupations in universities across Europe, as well as hard fought struggles on campuses in New York and California. This higher education crisis is linked to the wider financial crisis currently being felt around the world. At the root of these crises is the same problem: a system that prioritizes profit over people, competition over cooperation and collaboration.
The same system that demands compulsory redundancies as a ‘very last resort’ is responsible for the climate crisis and the impoverishment of the global population. Only at its most superficial level is this struggle over education; those who have had their morning coffee understand this as a broader struggle for a better world.
The university is only the battle ground – the reorganisation of our daily lives is the target.
Strike / Occupy / Transform!
On March 2nd we are hosting an event called 'What is a Really Open University?' where we encourage people to come along and help take part in a participatory process of creating one. Meet 5.30pm at the Parkinson Steps, Woodhouse Lane, Leeds.
The ROU produces a weekly newsletter, 'The Sausage Factory', which is available from our website. You can also sign up to the Twitter feeds and Facebook group. We have recently launched a new website, The Really Open Union, to run alongside our main one.