Delhi University’s women students struggle for the democratisation of campus and self-determination

Concerned Residents of University Hostel of Women (UHW)

Since January of this year, students of Delhi University’s (DU) largest postgraduate women’s hostel, University Hostel of Women (UHW) have been involved in a militant struggle involving several fundamental democratic demands. One of their particular demands carries larger significance on the issue of democracy in the university campuses. This demand pertains to the right of the students to decide the contours of their student union constitution. As constituents of the union, the students have been contesting the fact that their hostel authorities have imposed a union constitution which the students’ have not ratified themselves. They have contested the union constitution on the grounds that it allows the authorities’ extensive control on the students’ union, thereby overriding the chances of a strong and independent students’ union coming into power.

In the process they have also questioned the enforcement of Lyngdoh recommendations in the hostel. After scrutinizing the Lyngdoh recommendations as well as Supreme Court judgments on the implementation of these recommendations, the students believe that they amount to a breach of the fundamental right to form an association [Article 19(1) a and c, Constitution of India]. According to the Constitution of India [Part III], the state can only infringe upon fundamental rights in certain exceptional and concrete conditions, none of which exist in the context of the hostel. Following from the specifications mentioned in the Constitution of India, the students have reached the conclusion that Supreme Court judgments are being unnecessarily taken out of context so as to curb democratic aspirations, independence of student unions as well as the power of resistance.

Apart from the issue of the union constitution, the women students have also been raising the demand to change age-old, conservative rules of the hostel. Currently, the residents cannot step out of the hostel after 8pm. Ironically, such a rule is enforced to ensure the safety of the women students. However, the same authorities persistently fail to curb the filthy and offensive rally taken out by men hostellers on the day of Holi. Under the University’s Ordinance XV-D, such an act by the men hostellers outside the women’s hostel amounts to sexual harassment.

As of now the students have been told that new rules are being brought into force across women’s hostels. However, in the high powered committee constituted by DU to formalize such common rules, no women students were called for discussion. One can only expect that in such an exclusive meeting, the DU authorities have come up with a series of rules which are not pro-students.

Lastly, in the bid to stem the tide of rampant victimization by the authorities, the women students have escalated their struggle, and taken their struggle outside the walls of their hostel. They have been protesting against the unwillingness of the authorities to see the campaign as a collective struggle, and, to subsequently, pick out individuals whom they can victimize. On the 16th of March, they also protested outside the Vice Chancellor’s office. Now they are in the process of involving and uniting students of other women’s hostels of DU.


14th Jan: First Notification of the Hostel Union elections for 2011-12.

20th Jan: Clarification Notification put up by authorities specifying that residents with 5 memos or more cannot stand for elections.

20th Jan: First Meeting of residents on the issue of the election criteria specified by the authorities. Decision taken by residents to draft a memorandum & collect signatures in support of reverting back to the election criteria that prevailed earlier in UHW.

22nd Jan: Second Meeting of residents. Drafted memorandum is discussed, and additional points added in response to the Constitution put up by the authorities on 22nd Jan. Residents express concern on how: (i) this hostel union constitution was amended by the authorities without gathering the consent of the residents through a GBM; and (ii) that a change in the election criteria was arbitrarily introduced without ratifying it first in a GBM which had a proper quorum, i.e. a sizeable number of hostel residents present and voting.

23rd Jan: A delegation of 5 residents submits the memorandum to the hostel authorities. The memorandum carried 193 signatures of hostel residents. Authorities decide to go ahead with the election on a provisional basis, and give verbal assurance that the residents’ objections will be forwarded to DU’s legal advisor.

25th Jan: Third Meeting of students to discuss next course of action as well as other pressing concerns as strict implementation of hostel rules. More than half the residents attend the meeting and resolve to put up posters on Republic Day expressing their dissent, as well as sit on protest on 27th January, 2012. An organizing committee is constituted to manage the preparations for Saraswati Puja as the residents resolve not to involve the outgoing union members whose tenures have lapsed and who no longer reside in the hostel.

26th Jan: In response to the posters some of the hostel authorities make aggressive speeches after the flag hoisting. Angered residents assemble in the badminton court in large numbers, and decide to again approach the hostel authorities on the issue of hostel elections, the union constitution imposed by them, and the need for the authorities to attend a meeting addressing concerns of the residents with respect to hostel rules, etc. The authorities agree to: (i) postpone elections till the issue of the election criteria is resolved; (ii) forward the residents’ written objections as well as the constitution drafted by residents, to the Legal Advisor; and (iii) meet ALL the residents together via a meeting within a week.

27th Jan: Drafting Committee chosen by the residents starts drafting the hostel union constitution keeping the democratic interests of the residents in mind. The committee also drafts the constitution in a manner which allows for a strong and independent union to be elected into office.

31st Jan: The authorities put up a notice withdrawing certain elections criteria previously announced, but continue to uphold the Constitution that was introduced by them without gathering the consent of UHW residents.

1st Feb: Residents in large numbers attend the Meeting called to ratify the Constitution drafted by the Drafting Committee. In the Meeting residents also voice the need to amend certain hostel rules. In the process of this discussion it was decided that further suggestions and feedback should be collected.

3rd Feb: The Constitution drafted and ratified by residents is submitted to the hostel authorities. 221 signatures, which constitutes an Absolute Majority of the present hostel population, are collected in support of the Constitution. In the covering letter the residents request for a speedy response, i.e. a response within one week.

6th-10th Feb: A survey to collect the residents’ opinions on hostel rules is circulated in all the blocks. Nearly 160 residents fill out the survey. Almost all the residents opt for some kind of change in hostel rules.

13th Feb: Due to the delayed response of the authorities, and lack of any communication from them, another Meeting of the residents is called. All those present and voting agree to boycott dinner on 14th February.

14th Feb: After collecting more signatures of the residents in support of the boycott call, the memorandum intimating the authorities of the boycott is submitted to avoid wastage of food. Almost half of the hostel residents agree to boycott dinner on 14th. Rather than being concerned about the condition of the residents boycotting dinner, the authorities spent the whole day individually intimidating those who support the boycott call. The students were compelled to write application saying they withdraw from the boycott. Even after submitting such applications, many such students continued to boycott dinner. This clearly reflects the moral victory of the residents.

16th Feb: A secret poll is held during dinner time by the residents to ask the residents whether they want to carry on with the protest or not. Residents in full strength supported the continuance of the campaign. The polling is intervened by the Warden trying to take pictures and intimidate the girls. Then, around 9.30 pm Asst.Proctor Mr. Kasim walks in with the Warden and the Resident tutor. He invites the residents to talk. A discussion takes place where he is intimated of all the issues of the campaign and the individual victimization of the residents who had signed the memorandum for boycotting dinner on the 14th. He invites a few residents to the Proctor’s Office the next day, to talk to the Proctor, with their memorandums. The residents were unable to understand the reason for the intervention of Proctor’s Office as it was not a law and order situation, yet they agreed.

17th Feb: A delegation of residents goes to submit the memorandum at around 1.30 pm. They are called again by the Asst. Proctor at around 3.30 pm to talk. They talk to him in detail about the issues covered in the memorandum. The Proctor was not available and so the residents were not able to meet her then. At around 4.35 pm the Proctor herself called the residents to meet her at the Proctor’s Office. The residents went and started to brief her about the issues, but the Proctor was in a haste to leave for a meeting at 5.00 pm and left this meeting mid-way. Thus no conclusion was reached on this day. Bu the Proctor’s Office did assure that individual victimization of the resident will certainly stop.

18th Feb: Despite the given assurance that no victimization will take place, the Warden called up the parents of a number of students. In this conversation the picture painted was such that the residents were portrayed as ruckus makers. The residents of the hostel come from different sections of the society and such a false picture may be taken apprehensively by some households.

20th Feb: Since the authorities did not stand by their own words and the victimization continued, the residents agreed to hold a Mass Meeting outside the Vice-Chancellor’s office on the 21st February. In the evening of the 20th, the Provost comes to the hostel and called for a meeting with all the residents immediately. The only conclusion that could be reached was that the authorities gave it in writing that a managing committee Meeting will be held between 8th March and 15th March to resolve the issue. In return, the residents gave in writing that they will not hold the protest outside the VC’s office because they were assured that no victimization shall take place and that the meeting would be held within the given dates. The residents mentioned that they reserve the right to intimate the Vice Chancellor about the situation in the Hostel.

29th Feb to 12th March: Despite the assurance that no resident would be asked to explain her stand on the campaign, Maya John, a C-block resident is given letter after letter, asking her to explain her stand and to give clarifications for different allegations put on her.

13th March: Without informing the residents, the promised Managing Committee Meeting is held on this date in a very hushed up manner without any student’s representative, without the knowledge of the residents. This meeting continued for an hour and no notice was put up about the results of the meeting.

Contact: Maya John (91-9350272637)

What kind of education for what kind of society?

Raju J Das

It seems that in India many good students, after completing their 10th grade, are spending most of their time in private coaching classes and attending colleges/universities only for the practicals. This they do to prepare themselves for entrance exams for engineering and medical seats. Even if they do attend colleges/universities full-time, their main aim is to sit for these entrance exams. Several questions come to one’s mind in this context.

1. How can someone learn theory from one set of ‘teachers’ in coaching classes, and learn about the practical matter (lab work) from certified college/university teachers?

2. What is all this craze about getting into medical and engineering colleges? What does a student who goes to these places almost straight after higher secondary (or what is called high school diploma in North America) really know about society and nature? His/her time is mainly spent on a limited goal: being able to answer expected questions in entrance exams aimed at screening students? Much of the time is perhaps spent on memorizing a lot of information without an opportunity to critically assess and assimilate this. Isn’t there something to be said for a well-rounded post-high school university education before one goes for specializations?

3. Is it not the case that many of the so-called medical and engineering colleges may be ill-equipped to teach the relevant subjects? Parents pay a huge amount of money for a seat for their children. And a lot of people – investors – of course make a lot of money out of this business.

4. What is the outcome of this system? In a country of a billion plus, how many doctors do we produce who actually invent new ways of curing illness, as opposed to writing prescriptions on the basis of knowledge produced mainly in the western countries? Similarly, how many thousands of engineers do we manufacture who produce knowledge about new ways of making things? More importantly, how many scientists – in biological or natural sciences – do we produce who produce new ways of understanding nature and body? Is this craze for professional-technical education promoting an overall scientific culture, a culture that encourages people to be rational and find empirically verifiable reasons for events around them?

5. Under the British system, we were producing clerks. Now, are we not producing a different kind of ‘clerks’ or assistants – sophisticated semi-coolies, tech coolies and the like out of the population that goes into so-called professional institutions? It is interesting that what many of our engineers do (e.g., reading/processing credit card statements transmitted from the West – that is, keeping records), they do not really need sophisticated engineering skills acquired from colleges? Or, is it that the kind of education they receive makes them suitable for only this kind of semi-skilled, techno-coolie jobs, and nothing better?

6. Why is it that a vast majority of good students want to be either an engineer or a doctor? Arguably, the aim of education, real education, is self-development (changing ourselves, our ways of thinking) and social development, i.e. contributing to society and towards a reproduction of natural systems that are sustainable (I am not denying that education, in the current form of society, helps one get a job so one can pay one’s bills). Now, is being an engineer or a doctor (and in the ways in which people become engineers and doctors) necessarily the main way of achieving real education?

7. I do not deny the importance of forces of technology and medicine at all, but are the major problems of human society the ones which can be solved through the actions of engineers and doctors who mainly keep on recycling old knowledge? What about a human rights or labour lawyer who fights for the rights of our peasants, workers, poorer people, and so on? What about a professor who aims at changing the collective self-consciousness of a society, who aims at making us rethink the directions in which a society is moving? What about a professional who can organize and manage the cooperatives of poor women or workers’ coops? What about a scientist who finds out new ways in which nature works, and new and sustainable ways in which nature can be suitably ‘modified’ in the interest of the humanity? What about someone who can organize poor masses in new ways to independently fight for their rights and change the fundamental nature and goal of our society, nationally and internationally? What about artists and story tellers who can feel the pulse of a society and represent it in beautiful ways for us to enjoy and learn from? What about the role of socially conscious journalists who consistently and courageously lay bare (quasi-)criminal conduct and corruption of our economic and political elites? And so on?

8. What is the implication of a society over-emphasizing so-called professional education? Is it not true that in part because of the sort of financial as well as ideological-political emphasis on technical-professional education that we see, other kinds of education (including in basic sciences; social sciences) are neglected, and that to the extent that many students go for this latter kind of education, they go there, perhaps, just to pass time, to remain a part of the army of unemployed and under-employed in a manner which can be seen by society as a little meaningful and dignified?

9. The moot question is: why is this kind of education being promoted? We must understand the nature of the forces (read: commercial and state-bureaucratic interests) that drive the kind of education (rush for engineering and medical seats, and the argument can be extended to other ‘professions’ such as business management) which we want to give our children, which we want to promote. In more direct ways: to what extent is our obsession with the so-called professional education driven by the fact that investors make money by selling professional education as a commodity and by the fact that this kind of education is making India (and other similar countries) a cheap low-wage platform of global capitalism, both for its own business people and international business? To what extent are our bureaucrats and politicians benefiting from this business directly because they also invest in this? And how does the state benefit from this kind of education system, a system which reproduces a cheap skilled labour force through the system of private profit-making such that the state no longer has to provide affordable education? To what extent is the kind of technical-professional education-for-profit we are promoting creating a compradore educated elite, which acts as a conduit through which the country (the nation of workers and poor peasants) is subordinated to international business and imperialist states?

10. Therefore, and ironically, is it not the case that: the kind of mind-numbing education we are promoting is stopping us – or discouraging us – from asking this kind of questions that challenge the nature of education and therefore the nature of society we live in?

Raju J Das teaches at York University, Toronto.



Do we support of the Department becoming a Police State?

Do we support the presence of Bouncers in Faculty meetings?

Do we voice our dissent?

Silence in the face of Totalitarianism is equal to Support for Totalitarianism.

Is this who we want to be?
An apathetic and apolitical body of students?
Do we care?

Take time to look beyond busy exam schedules at the big picture,
Recognise the value of having an academic space which allows faculty and students to express opinions.


hello all,

its time we put an end to this long silence.
what are we doing? what exactly are we doing? an MA? running desperately towards a degree? with as much speed as possible?

the only thing that can really get us into gear is exams! i wished we could do better than that. else, we could do much better in the apathetic corporate sector and science colleges we so critique for their “apoliticalness”. are we, the literature students, who theorise and tear authors and critics apart, better just because we STUDY lit.? for we dont seem to be any more political than the table in my room.

facebook is the platform for our protests. upcoming exams, bad syllabi, lack of chairs in classrooms and unsatisfactory IA – all of it goes on facebook. and of course, we expect our techie teachers to take the hint and sort our problems for us. we, helpless souls are limited to our computer mouses. thats as far as we move our fingers. the only time we draft petitions are when we want exams to be postponed, even when it is a perfectly comfortable date sheet. that’s as far we theory people can delve in practice. of course, we expect some of the practioners to see our protests on face book and demonstrate it physically for us.

and surely we do not waste our time organising seminars or attending the ones which were painstakingly fought for by the “over-enthu” and apparently not-so-studious few for their own fun.

why would the messy MA admission process bother us once we are done with it?

why will the semester system issue for UG level bother us, for we are Post Graduate students!

why should it matter if the dept is in a state of chaos, for we will get going soon enough. and if there are those who want to stay here, its their problem.

and if our teachers and mentors who have helped us through so many different things, why should we feel grateful? after all, its their job?
NO. its not their “job” to deal with our questions outside the class. its not their “job” to push for a better IA mechanism or organise a students seminar, or listen to our personal problems, as a lot of them do.
but we do ‘like’ and ‘comment’ on their plight on FB. and surely, as students, busy preparing for our exams (which probably cant happen if these teachers were not there), we cant be expected to do more! poor, helplessly busy us.

we cant speak for ourselves, we cant speak for anyone else. and of course we are students of English Literature who specialize in being articulate, in making coherent theoretical arguments and speaking for the rights of the “mute” subaltern. well, charity begins at home. start speaking for the rights of the environment you are a part of, even if provisionally.

can we please, for once, get over ourselves, our petty goals, our exam phobias and take responsibility for our political positions. for, inaction and silence does not mean NEUTRAL GROUND. it is very much a position. it is very much a choice!

can we, for once, try to take our grudges beyond our comfortable computer tables and fb groups and actually step out to express the beliefs and critiques we so well write down to get a 60%?

can we for once think of a future beyond exams? we are not half as messed up as we will be in the time to come, if we keep shirking from our political responsibilities, if we are not willing to interfere in the course things take in our work/study places, if we are self-obsessed enough to allow the flow of things to drown us.

we have actually read very little, and perhaps understood even less. for if we had understood, we wouldnt have been in the pitiable shape that we are, letting ourselves down as we have.

So. Do we meet? When?

Higher Education Cuts, Students Protests and Media Misrepresentation

Bulent Gokay
Farzana Shain

At the end of 2010, tens of thousands of university students have demonstrated in central London and all over university campuses in the UK, against the coalition government’s proposals to raise tuition fees up to 9,000 pounds. Government and Media coverage of the protests has focussed primarily on two factors – the violence of a minority of protestors and the apparent ‘privileged’ profile of a few student protestors. ‘Rich rioting students’ was just one of the headlines describing the demonstrations. A panellist on BBC’s Question Time described protestors as ‘just a bunch of middle class students’. Michael Gove, the Education Minister, defending the planned increase in tuition fees posed the question: ‘Is it fair to ask a miner to subsidise the education of someone who can go and become a millionaire?’ The irony of this analogy can surely not be lost on those who remember how brutally Gove’s Conservative Party, in its previous incarnation, destroyed the heart of British working class mining communities.

Courtesy: LATimes

One of the most passionate, but misguided, commentaries on the recent student protests comes from Julie Burchill (the Independent, 16 December), who made a plea to the public to ‘spare us these pampered protesters who riot in defence of their privilege’. Focusing on one student, Charlie Gilmour, who has been singled out by almost all the British media because of his connection to a famous rock star, Burchill vents her anger at so called ‘middle class’ protestors at the same time as dismissing university education as a wasteful time of ‘boozing and bullshitting funded by the taxes of people who had the actual gumption to remove themselves from the playpen of education and get a job as soon as legally possible’. She goes on to suggest that for many working class youth, university education has made little difference to their prospects of getting a job.

Courtesy: LATimes

Burchill is right to question the success of government-sponsored schemes such as widening participation which critics argue has done little to equalise educational outcomes. All the research suggests that while working class students are more likely to attend university than they did 10 years ago the class gap has not necessarily diminished. Working class students are more likely to attend newer universities, to be part-time students and to study for more vocational subjects. But to dismiss university education for the masses as completely irrelevant is surely wrong. Burchill is also wrong to dismiss the current protests as entirely middle class-led. The fact that some students from middle and upper class families join the student protest does not make the whole student protest an action of the privileged few in defence of their privileges. University students, whatever social class their parents are from, historically tend to act together as ‘students’, and for most part for progressive causes as in the case of the 1968 student protests. At first in 1968 too, the governments and media also sought to portray the student protests as work of radical students and small groups of middle class troublemakers.

The protests over the last few weeks have seen large numbers of working class students (some of them school students) protesting because it is they who have the most to lose from the proposed public spending cuts. Further, to get so hung up on the notion of a so-called middle class-led protest serves to support Gove’s and the coalition government’s attempts to create an ideological standpoint, presumably on the side of the ordinary working people, from which position to launch a wholesale attack on all the social and economic achievements of the previous generations, like the universal child benefit, housing benefit, disability benefits and similar other measures.

The current representation of the protestors as middle class serves a deeply ideological and manipulative function of deflecting attention away from the stark realities of the public cuts and their real causes. Many people who oppose the cuts simultaneously accept the argument that there is no alternative but to sacrifice education and other public services in order to save the economy. Further, a large section of the British public and media appear to have accepted the line presented by the government that the total package of cuts worth £128 billion by 2015-16 was ‘unavoidable’ because of previous administration’s careless spending, and almost self-made huge deficits. Until the financial crash of 2008, however, the Labour governments had succeeded in keeping national debt below the 40 percent of GDP target that they set themselves. In 2006/07, public sector net debt was 36.0 percent of the GDP. In 2008, it rose rapidly primarily because of ‘financial interventions’ to bailout of Northern Rock, RBS and other banks, because of lower tax receipts, and because of higher spending on unemployment benefits, all caused by the global recession. The current deficit was caused primarily by the recession not by previous administration’s pre-crash careless spending. It currently stands as 63.7 percent of National GDP, and was projected to peak at 74.9 percent in 2014-15.

Massive cuts to the NHS, local government, and education budgets are not the inevitable solution to national debt. During the Second World War, the UK national debt reached much higher figures of up to 150 percent of the GDP. It is not uncommon for countries to borrow more during the time of serious national and international crises, like wars, or economic upheavals like the one currently affecting the world, and to pay back the debt over a period of time once the economy starts to grow again. In this sense, budget deficits can be an effective way to deal with shocks such as wars, financial crashes and deep recessions. If anything, the problem of low economic activity is the real, and more urgent, issue than the fiscal stability.

Courtesy: LATimes

David Cameron’s ‘Big Society’ programme offers an ideological justification for the massive public spending cuts which are about much more than just deficit reduction. The pretence of ‘there is no alternative’ offers a means for the Conservative project to radically transform the state and to transfer more services and money from the public to the private sector. If the real intention was to take the British economy out of the crisis, then such massive cuts would not be the answer. There are alternatives: we need to find a fair and sustainable path out of crisis. Budget deficits will more or less automatically heal with the economic recovery. Trying to cut the deficit quickly, in the midst of a serious recession, will damage the economy and extend the crisis. The government instead should concentrate on growth and allow growth to reduce the deficit. Cuts will not reduce the deficit, investment will. Recently, the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) announced that it expects economic growth in 2011 to be much slower than previously predicted. A much weaker consumer spending, resulting from massive unemployment and lower wages in 2011, is described as the main reason for this. Cutting too far and too fast will mean more people out of work, fewer jobs in the economy, lower level of taxation from workers and businesses, and more people on unemployment benefit, which will cost the government more. The real challenge is to introduce constructive ways to restructure the national economy so that it can deliver strong and consistent growth.

The current crisis and the way some other parts of the world economy have been dealing with it successfully, and all social and cultural legacies of this turbulent process have highlighted, like never before, the crucial role of education. The financial and economic crisis has had a particularly strong impact on young people with low levels of education. Investments in education pay large and rising dividends for individuals, but also for economies. On average, a young person with a university degree will generate £77,000 more in income taxes and social contributions over his/her working life than someone with a high-school degree only. Even after taking the cost of university education into account, the net public return from an investment in tertiary education is £56 000 for a male, in generated income taxes and social contributions over his working life. Enhancing tertiary education attainment can therefore help governments increase their fiscal revenues, making it easier to boost their social spending, in areas like, for example education. As the global demand for jobs shifts up the skills ladder, it has become crucial for countries to develop policies that encourage the acquisition and efficient use of these skills to retain both high value jobs and highly skilled labour. Burchill is right to suggest that ‘clever working class youth of this country [have] been socially and spiritually ‘kettled’ – hemmed in, suffocated and stifled’ historically by ‘the privilege and entitlement’ of the likes of elite. But does the answer really lie in cutting away higher education for working class students altogether?

Britain’s total investment in higher education, even before the current cuts of the Coalition government, was 1.3 percent of the GDP which is behind the OECD average of 1.5 percent. Despite the student numbers rising by approximately 25 percent in the last 15 years, the UK has slipped from third to fifteenth position in numbers graduating among industrial countries because investment in higher education has risen much rapidly elsewhere. Within Europe, the UK is already falling behind France, Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Portugal and Netherlands, among others. Other Western governments, most notably the United States and Germany, have viewed the global financial and economic crisis as a sign not to retrench but to invest in their higher education systems as a necessary part of investing in the skills that will be needed for recovery in near future. In the UK, however, it was education that was first in line for cuts in spending: the cutting of the Future Jobs Fund, the cancellation of school building and refurbishment, the abolition of the Education Maintenance Allowance, and now funding cuts in university teaching budgets, fewer university places and a massive increase in university tuition fees. All these draconian measures will ensure that talented people from working class backgrounds will not achieve their full potential. The poorer you are the more scared you are by the prospect of tens of thousands of pounds of debt. It seems this is exactly what the Coalition government wants- to keep education for the rich and privileged. And this is what tens of thousands of students are protesting against. If we want British economy to recover and take its place in a much more competitive world, if we want Britain to be ‘open for business’, we should make higher education available for everyone, regardless of their social class. The more skilled people we have, the more likely companies will be willing to invest in the UK.

Bulent Gokay is a Professor of International Relations, Keele University and Farzana Shain is a Senior Lecturer, Keele University

Public Expenditure: the Affordability Fallacy

John Weeks

Implicit almost all discussion of public expenditure and revenue, most virulently in the debate over deficit reduction, is the fallacy of public affordability. This fallacy is manifested, for example, in the argument in the United Kingdom that if university education is available to a large portion of the population, the public sector cannot afford to deliver it without substantial fees, even less to provide support grants to all students.

Because “the public sector cannot afford” to provide university education, it is necessary to ration the public contribution on the basis of need (income or means testing). The same argument is applied in very major area of social expenditure: with an ageing population, “the public sector cannot afford” to pay more than a safety net pension; cannot afford to provide all the drugs and care needed by that ageing population, and so on.

“Affordability” arguments are fallacious. The fallacy is obvious once one considers it from the level of society as a whole. Consider the example of funding of university education. Only a tiny minority of people would argue that primary education should be a matter for individual families to decide and wholly fund themselves. This near-consensus results from the conviction that children have a right to be educated, and that a democratic society requires an educated and informed public. These convictions, not finances, determine the provision of primary education by the public sector: for everyone, regardless of income or status, and if some wish to contract for private education, they may do so. The social consensus on public provision of secondary education is equally broad (for everyone), but number of years provided varies (lower in Britain than most developed countries). Only a few on the far right wing would argue that the pubic sector “cannot afford” to provide primary and secondary education for all, though in practice many right of centre attempt to minimize the expenditure and therefore the quality of provision.

The same principle applies to university education: what is the appropriate coverage and to what level? Here there is no consensus, and those who believe that people have no right to higher education avoid taking that potentially damning position by seeking cover under the affordability argument: “I wish we could provide everyone with a university education, but we cannot afford it. In any case, people gain personally from higher education, so they should pay for it themselves to the extent that they can. The public sector can only afford to help the poor, and if you are poor and clever you will find funding.”

This line of argument is the most superficial mendacity, and would apply equally to primary and secondary education (see my previous comment). The true essence of the affordability of higher education argument is, “People have no right to higher education. If they want it, let them pay for it. If you are poor and clever you might go to university. If you are dumb and rich you certainly will.”

When there is a social consensus that people have a right to a university education if they want one, then reducing public expenditure and raising fees does not save society money. There are two affects: 1) for those with high incomes it shifts expenditure from the public sector to households, and 2) for those on low incomes it reduces provision. It “saves public money” in the same sense that not filling potholes is a financial gain.

Most pernicious is the application of the affordability fallacy to pensions and health. Two core values of democratic societies are that children have a right to education and the old have a right to live their final years in decent conditions with dignity. Given this consensus on the elderly, discussing financial affordability is grotesque. The question is, in light of a country’s economic development and productive resources, what level of decency can and should society provide to everyone past a certain age? Once the level is decided, it merely remains to decide the institutional mechanism by which it will be funded. Considerable empirical evidence indicates that provision of pensions through the public sector has the lowest resource cost. This is primarily because unlike private insurers, the public sector need charge no risk premium. Its revenue is guaranteed, and the growth of that revenue is determined by the growth of the economy as a whole.

Even more obvious is the fallacy of the affordability argument for health care. It is an appalling manifestation of the power of capital in US society that there seems to be no consensus that everyone has a right to be healthy, a principle Franklin Roosevelt included in his “Economic Bill of Rights” speech in January 1944, that every American had “the right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health”. In almost every other developed country this principle is accepted. When it is accepted, as with education and pensions, the issue is not financial affordability, nor is it coverage (everyone qualifies). The only issue is the level of society’s obligation to itself on health care.

The affordability argument perpetuates a profoundly anti-social and anti-democratic fallacy. Whoever makes it asserts (as Margaret Thatcher did) that there is no society and no obligation to fellow human beings beyond an absolute minimum that the residual of social decency forces upon even the most reactionary Thatcherite or Reaganite. Reducing that residual of social decency is the project of the affordability fallacy. Existence is viewed as a collection of isolated individuals, for whom one has no concern, even if, or especially if, for those whose lives are rendered nasty, brutish and short.

Videos: Dismantling Democracy in the University (March 4, 2010)

Following is the video of a seminar organised by Correspondence and Kudos, the Literary Society of Hindu College (University of Delhi) on 4th March, 2010 with the aim of initiating a discussion on radical student and university politics.

View playlist on YouTube

‘The popular must redistribute the classic’: An interview with Prasanta Chakravarty

Paramita Ghosh talks to Prasanta Chakravarty, who teaches in the Department of English, University of Delhi, on the current state and dynamic of the Indian publishing industry, contemporary fiction and the culture of reading.

Paramita Ghosh (PG): Your project Humanities Underground is an attempt to rescue the Humanities from the skill-oriented courses that university education is slowly turning into. One would have thought this is more rampant in professional courses like management and so forth. But we see publishing, which is supposed to promote literature, is also going the same way with the birth of categories like chick-lit, books to be read in the metro, page-turners to be gobbled at the airport-lounge. How does one explain this attack or shift in emphasis in the arts/humanities/publishing?

Prasanta Chakravarty (PC): First of all, Humanities Underground is a collective umbrella and much will depend on the enthusiasm of a large number of people who are in their own little ways being affected by this onslaught on the varied and nuanced world. It is also about nurturing a critical, oppositional edge that humanities provide. But we are not trying to rescue anything. No one can and should get in that kind of a saviour mode. It is an online forum for sharing ideas at this point, a venture to see whether there is enough interest in facing the variegated and uncertain world that we live in. The initial signs are quite encouraging. We are receiving a collective surge of questions and commentaries and from different parts of the country and the world too. Debates are happening. Our aim is modest at this stage: to create a space where interested people can share ideas and imagination and work out strategies in order to take on the rapid watering down of reading habits and writing styles, without being self-congratulatory.

The shift you are referring to is interesting. Now I think this dichotomy between classical and popular is often fallacious. The idea of taste is often constructed. In that sense the emergence of the genre of novel itself in the 19th century was a popular venture, or the genre of ‘essay’, which started even earlier as a modest attempt to reflect and ruminate, is now solidly mainstream. So, in that sense this rush for chick-lit or graphic novels show an interesting shift and may become important markers of our times. But the point is about homogenisation. Young and old are often looking to merge in with the available, with the herd rather than look for possibilities. There indeed are publishers, often in regional literatures, who are still taking chances with the subtleties and criticality that literature, art and performance provide us. We have a generation of students who are not even bilingual though they routinely learn French or Sanskrit as a second language in school. What is this strange phenomenon? In Delhi University we are noticing with intrigue that some of our best students who receive astronomical grades in schools and colleges often cannot even write correct English, and notions of style have disappeared from the canvas all together. Humor, for instance, as an art, is a rare commodity. Something strange is happening which Humanities Underground is trying to fathom and explore.

PG: Writing and being a writer is such a glamorous profession these days. Why does everyone want to be a writer? Has the increase in number of publishing houses, the volume of publishing, the appearance of so many literary ‘forms’ contributed to the sense that everyone has a story to tell, everybody can tell stories? Why has this particular approach to ‘form’ become so important in literature now?

PC: There is this democratisation of writing in New India, which is great. This is not unlike the phenomenon that now our best cricketers and popular singers are coming from every region of the nation. Quizzards need not gruel in a Siddhartha Basu type format; KBC will and have replaced that kind of prime-time investment in the esoteric and variegated sense of trivia sharing. Literature likewise has become more user-friendly and accessible: from the potential authors’ standpoint as well as from the reader’s perspective. But this logic of massification, instead of democratisation and freeing literature from its shackles, is actually narrowing down possibilities. Shelf life has diminished and that is fine by the author and the publisher as long as they can fill it up with the next miraculous uproar. In actuality, forms are always changing, they evolve. The logic of this kind of assembly line plays safe and is often brilliantly finessed to homogenise forms. The argument is always democratic and making a quick buck for everyone, which is a formidable one to surpass. This is what we are witnessing in non-vernacular writing at this point. How many of us routinely read poetry or plays? The glamorous always stood out and reserved a maverick space at one point. That idea is being overturned by playing onto the logic of reaching out and by hammering accessibility.

PG: Do you see this phenomenon as a lack? Does it have to do with our culture of reading, which is changing or is India really turning into a nation of writers?

PC: Again, this is not a story of crisis. I would see it as a shift in sensibility as we, as a nation, accommodate to a more conservative and individualised time. I believe Indians still read a lot and a variety of things too. It is a truism that we are an extremely conscious people, politically and aesthetically. Good or hard-hitting artistic production will be appreciated at the end of the day. But that is not coming into focus because people who matter are actively interested in suppressing these factors. Some of our best minds are thus missing on the variety and depth and criticality that even contemporary literature provides. The popular always helps to redistribute the classic. The habit of being in touch with the enduring also means you are in touch with pulse of the everyday life. One is not opposed to the other.

PG: Has the thin dividing line between popular/commercial and ‘high’ fiction confused Indians? A couple of decades ago, for example, a James Hadley Chase pulp story and a Graham Greene novel would not have the same production value, imprint and publishing hype—as they now do if we draw equivalences in current writings. Chick-lit space is eating into, say the shelf space that could accommodate the likes of Amitav Ghosh or Rohinton Mistry. We are producing more of the Chetan Bhagats than Vikram Seths.

PC: Yes, it has perhaps. The confusion, as you call it, is deliberate and well worked out, as I said, but we cannot afford to be judgemental on the buyer and clamp down with the Seths and the Ghoshs of the world onto him. That will be an enormous exercise in misplaced condescension. And besides we all grew up on Hadley Chase and the likes! But we also read voraciously—all kinds of other stuff. That is the more difficult but sure-shot way of tackling the blundering homogeneity that we see in the marquee these days. The idea of choice is quite narrow, if seen closely. All conscious Indians must push each other to carry on with the habit of greedy reading. Old book stores and the newest one on the street are equally important institutions. Variety fosters thinking, and thinking, in turn, breeds criticality and opposition to our herd-instincts.

PG: If one is to push a bit further, one notices two kinds of writers that are getting rejected—those who obviously can’t write, but also those who can ( I am thinking of radical/avant-garde) have little scope to be noticed. I guess I am making this claim because I find it really hard to believe that in 25-30 years of mainstream English language and fiction publishing we have few exemplary writers, and even those whom we can’t really claim as ours often. Why do you think ‘serious literature’ is no longer coming out of our publishing houses? Is the logic that no one is interested in more reflective stuff valid? What do your students in Delhi University, for example, read outside of their course work?

PC: Yes, it is selective usage of the radical that the market prefers. Some writers are pegged as radical and hence their saleability. But I do not see much of avant garde writing in the modernist sense of the term in English langauge writing from India at least. Avant garde does not necessarily mean radical or let us say, such a kind of radicalism is much more bohemian (not busy and straightforwardly progressive) and experimental in form and style. I mean, G.V. Desani’s All about H. Hatter was truly avant garde. Not very often now in fiction we see that kind of devil-may-care approach, at least. You still see that, but in vernacular writings. Serious literature does come out of certain English press too but the problem is reverse: they are but too self-consciously serious. People who subscribe to them, missionaries of sorts, are likely to create a false dichotomy of the classic and the popular and wallow in their cocooned world.

True, many of my students do think in terms of course work but a large section of them in fact indulge in all kinds of readings too: from philosophy to history to various forms of contemporary literature. Writings from Latin America, parts of Asia and Africa are extremely popular with many of my students, which I see as a continuity of sorts with the earlier generation. There is a fair investment in Urdu and Hindi, which is wonderful. Some of them invest in translated works. Many participate in a variety of literary and analytical activities on the internet. But as I said, reading habits often need some kind of jumpstart from time to time; the milieu has to be fostered. That could be done possibly by sharing and exchanging ideas, by deepening debates.

PG: There has been a similar publishing culture in the West—similar turbulence and shifts, one would think. But why is it that in India there is no space or culture for promotion of independent, parallel publishing like, say, Zubaan and Katha? The US does, for instance, have a publishing house like poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s City Lights, does it not?

PC: I am not an expert on publishing but there may be a variety of reasons. One, as always, it is really difficult to survive in India on a small publishing space even if you are idealistically motivated. In Kolkata, in the past few years, a wonderful independent publishing house has emerged: Gangchil. But they do not even have a temporary space to work on and distribution is a perennial headache. This is a pretty standard story all around the nation. City Lights has evolved over a period of time. It could have sputtered but for the brilliant editorial and marketing intervention of Nancy Peters in 1971. The point is independent publishing too must innovate and professionalise within its ideal and radical space. In India sometimes independent publishers have tried to come under a common umbrella for distribution and so forth. For instance, The Independent Publishers’ Group (IPG) is a partnership of 10 small/medium publishers and publisher-distributors based in Delhi that started a few years ago. Daanish, LeftWord, Samskriti, Social Science Press, The Book Review Literary Trust, The Little Magazine, Three Essays Collective, Tulika, Women Unlimited, Zubaan and Kali for Women comprise the IPG.

Often more upcoming mainstream houses like Yoda, Navayana or Seagull are also publishing interesting and tantalising stuff. Or sometimes motivated zeal make things happen, where financial worries could be handled in other ways: as the Writers Workshop experiment has successfully depicted.

The other side is readership. It is often difficult to build up a loyal and solid base of readers who would be interested in the forms of writings that independent press have often traditionally supported: poetry, pamphlets, non-fiction, plays and so forth. It takes time and energy for such a long haul. The investment is thankless. It is really a culture around the variegated that I return to, which one tries to develop and inculcate. Oppositional and critical publishing houses are fewer, as you say, but that space is more alive in the vernacular. It is possible to conceive such locales in the English speaking world too. I am hopeful.

The Student Loan Debt Abolition Movement in the US

George Caffentzis,

Debt has had a crushing impact on the lives of those who must take student loans to finance their university education in the US. For tuition fees that have been so notoriously high in private universities now are rising in public universities so quickly they are far out-pacing inflation. Student loan debt in the US has been much higher than in Europe (with the exception of Sweden), though recent developments there would indicate that this gap may soon no longer exist (Usher).

We should also take into account the fraudulent way in which the loans have been administered by the banks and the vindictiveness with which those who have been unable to pay back have been pursued by collection agents. The most frustrating aspect of student loan debt being the legally toothless position the debtor is in, because government policy has relentlessly vested all the bargaining power in the hands of the creditors.

But however agonizing the situation of the indebted, the debt is growing. As of September 2010 total student loan debt amounted to $850 billion, having just surpassed credit card debt by about $20 billion for the first time. And it is rising at a catastrophic rate, e.g., by 25% in 2009 to meet the rising cost of tuition and other college fees. Even the Great Recession has not put an end to this financial explosion. On the contrary, while credit card debt has leveled off, student borrowing has continued to grow to cover the rising costs of living as well as the tuition fees, especially by unemployed workers who are “going back to school” to get a “better,” or at least some, job in the future.

Logic, therefore, makes the remission and abolition of student loan debt a necessary demand for the university student movement, especially in an era when the need for “an educated work-force” has become an institutional axiom. However, student loan debt abolition (for instance) was not a focus or prominent issue in the student mobilization that peaked last spring, especially in California. This constitutes an impasse for the movement, since meeting after meeting it has become clear that refusing the blackmail of the debt and calling for abolition of tuition fees are pivotal to every form of struggle on our campuses. Students holding three jobs to repay (or avoid) loans or taking as many credits they can fit in their schedules to reduce the length and cost of schooling, can neither be active in campus protests against budget cuts and the commercialization of education nor can they engage in self-education and the creation of “knowledge commons.”

In this contribution to the Edu-factory network’s discussion of debt I think beyond this impasse, asking why an organized debt abolition movement does not exist in the US and what needs to be done to assist its formation.

A first consideration is that the very conditions that would call for mass student protest against indebtedness have so far contributed to preempt this possibility. Even before the time to pay back is upon them, the debt has profound disciplining effect on students, taylorizing their studies and undermining the sociality / and politicization that has traditionally been one of the main benefits of college life (Read).

An even more important consideration is the fact that student loans are constructed so that students do not pay them back while they are students. Student loans are time bombs, constructed to detonate when the debtor is away from the campus and the collectivity college provides is left behind. Once we recognize this we can also see that there is a hard-fought struggle around the student loan debt throughout the US, but (a) it operates in a non-communal, micro-social, serial way, mainly through default; (b) it is a struggle that involves subjects other than students, taking off precisely once students cease to be students, for only after they leave the campus do the debt collectors show up at their doorsteps. In other words, while the visible student movement has not so far made debt abolition its goal another movement with that goal has been growing to a large extent underground. One former student after another is rejecting loan payments through default, but they are not publicly announcing it. “For fiscal year 2008 the default rate increased to 7.2 percent, compared with 6.7 percent in 2007 and 5.2 percent in 2006” after a long period of decline from 1990, when it hit a peak of 22.4%, and 2003, when it hit a trough of 4.5%. (NB: These somewhat misleading statistics are calculated according to “cohort” years. For example, the 2007 cohort default rate is the proportion of federal loan borrowers who began loan repayments between October 2006 and September 2007, and who had defaulted on their loans by the end of September 2008. Therefore, they dramatically underestimate the true default rate) (Lederman).

As typical of “invisible” movements, statistics fail us in drawing its proportions. We have no estimate, for instance, of how many have been driven to suicide or how many have been forced to go into exile due to their student debts. Nor do we have a measure of the social impact of the growing de-legitimation of the student debt machine. We can only speculate about the consequences of disclosures concerning the collusion between the university administrations (especially in the case of “for profit” institutions) and the banks, now commonly acknowledged in the media as well as in congressional investigations. For sure, blogs and web-groups are forming to share experiences and voice anger about student loan companies like the biggest one, the Student Loan Marketing Association (nicknamed “Sallie Mae”). On Google alone, there are about 9,000 entries under the rubric “Sallie Mae Sucks,” and another 9,000 under “Fuck Sallie Mae.” Browsing through the chat rooms, with their harrowing stories of wrecked lives and mounting frustration against the operations of Sallie Mae, makes it clear that the potential for a debt abolition movement is high. So far, however, most attempts that have been made to give an organizational form to this anger have largely demanded the application of consumer protection norms to the management of the debt.

A well-known example is ( that systematically compiles testimonials on the subject, organized state-by-state, revealing in graphic detail the dread, disgust, and humiliation indebtedness generates. These testimonies also reveal why, despite their anger and despair, debtors hesitate to join in an open debt abolition movement. As the founder of, Alan Michael Collinge, points out that there are many obstacles to such course of action:

Even now, the barriers to inciting meaningful political action at the grassroots level are daunting, For one thing, facing large –often insurmountable– student debt is a highly personal matter. Many debtors are too embarrassed or humiliated even to tell their immediate family members and close friends about their situation, let alone join in a grassroots effort challenging the injustice of student lending laws.” (Collinge: 93)

The Kantian imperative that debts ought to be repaid cost what may is also weighing on the minds of the debtors despite the fact that the conditions imposed by student loans companies are often fraudulent and generally unfair. As mentioned, many of the developing student debtor organizations refuse to speak of “abolition.” What fuels their indignation is the arbitrariness and arrogance of the creditors’ management of the debt, not the debt itself. As the “content author” of the web-site writes:

Allow me to make one thing clear. This site is not for people who chose not to make their payments. Choosing not to pay a debt is one’s own fault. Sallie Mae, like many companies, makes mistakes. I don’t fault them for that. What matters is how they resolve the problems. They did a terrible job resolving the mistakes they made with my account, and I found out that I was far from being the only person suffering because of THEIR mistakes. I also found that they allegedly prey on borrowers, trapping people into paying 2 to 3 times (sometimes significantly more) what they borrowed. There is simply no excuse for it. (

The very choice of the term “Beef” in the title of the organization suggests a complaint or a private dispute, not a demand or a public arraignment., one of the most publicized student loan protest organizations, also rejects both individual or collective refusals to pay– witness what its founder writes of one of’s members, Robert, whose $35,000 debt became $155,000 through the ploys of the financial company which held his debt : “like most members, Robert absolutely agrees that he should pay what he owes, but he simply cannot deal with a debt of this magnitude” (Collinge: 19).

In other words, prominent anti-student loan debtors organizations re-affirm the principle of the student debt. They believe that the safeguards and regulatory oversight that apply to other consumer loans –mortgages, auto loans, and credit card charges–should be applied to student loans as well, which presently is not the case because of the repeated governmental actions taken to block this option.

*In 1998 Congress made the student loan “the only type of loan in US history non-dischargeable in bankruptcy” (Collinge: 14). This means that presently even after filing for bankruptcy and been reduced to the status of a pauper, a debtor is still deemed responsible for payment on student loans, cost what it may, perhaps even facing a charge of fraud and imprisonment, if some politicians have their ways.

*In 1998 all statutes of limitations for the collection of student loan debt were eliminated.

*Since the beginning of the federal student loan program in 1965, the freedom to change lenders in order to find better terms for a loan has been denied.

Once the commodity approach to education is accepted, the political strategy adopted becomes predictable. According to Collinge, “it is imperative that standard consumer protections be returned to student loans” (Collinge: 20). This means, for a start, that student loans should be made dischargeable in bankruptcy, should have a statute of limitations apply to them, and it should be possible to refinance them with other lenders. These are the demands put forward by since its formation in 2005, supported in varying degrees by a number of liberal politicians like Hillary Clinton, Ted Kennedy, Dick Durbin, and Congressmen George Miller and Danny Davis (see the Acknowledgements section of (Collinge: 151)).

Over the last five years this “consumer protections” strategy has produced significant legislative results addressing some of the grievances listed above. These include the passage of three major acts: The College Cost Reduction Act of 2007 (that halves the interest rate on federally subsidized loans and cuts lender subsidies and collection fees slightly), The Student Loan Sunshine Act of 2007 (that requires university officials to fully disclose any special arrangements between them and lending companies), and in 2010 the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act (SAFRA) (described below). For all these cautious legislative efforts however, and similar organizations have not achieved any of their major objectives. If we add the return to power, as Speaker of the House, of John Boehner, “by far the largest recipient of campaign contributions from student loan interests” (like Sallie Mae) and their most aggressive watchdog, we can conclude that the “consumer protection” approach to student debt has reached its limit. Indeed, when Boehner speaks of repealing the Health Care Bill (whose complete name is the “Health and Education Reconciliation Act”), he certainly alludes also to the education rider hidden in it, as much as to the parts of the bill dealing with health care.

What then are the prospects for the struggle against student loan indebtedness?

Clearly a premise for the rise of an openly organized student loan debt abolition movement is that the organized campus student movement and the student loan debtor movement off the campuses meet. Indeed, they need each other and will be in crisis as long as they remain separated. On the one side, the student movement activists cannot call for the liberation of education without confronting the debt peonage waiting for them and their fellows, and on the other, the student loan debtors movement must go beyond the limits of its stalemated “consumer protections” approach. The sense that a limit has been reached in this regard is indicated by the enormous interest generated in early 2009 by Robert Applebaum’s Keynesian proposal, “Cancel Student Loan Debt to Stimulate the Economy,” where he called for the government to forgive government student loans and pay back to banks and finance companies the outstanding private student loans (Applebaum).

The combination of an underground struggle involving millions of loan defaulters, intensified by mass unemployment and cuts in social spending, and the exodus of thousands of debtors fleeing the debt collectors hounding them, just as the campuses are becoming again places of mass, open agitation, has set the stage for a student loan debt abolition movement that Edu-factory network, for one, has been calling for.

It is the possibility of this encounter, I believe, that prompted Congress to pass SAFRA that was signed into law by President Obama on March 30, 2010. George Miller, the archetypal East San Francisco Bay liberal, surely had a sense of the political winds that were blowing when he introduced the bill into Congress in July 2009, just as the occupations at the UCAL campuses of Santa Cruz and Berkeley were being planned and a 32% tuition fee increase was being discussed by UCAL’s trustees. But he was certainly looking as well at the rates of defaulting loans and what they expressed in political terms, for I could not otherwise understand why its buffering attempt would take the form of a student loan debt reduction bill, when the student movement on the campuses was not openly calling for it.

SAFRA is full of diversionary and ameliorating moves in the struggle between debtors and creditors that attempt to cushion the impact of the Crisis on student debtors.

(i) it replaces the private institutions with the federal government as the creditor, by halting loan-guarantees to the banks –a major source of interest revenue for the latter at no risk to themselves. The billions of dollars that will be “saved” would be used to increase scholarships for low-income students (Pell grants);

(ii) it provides for a reduction of debt payments, from 15% to 10% of discretionary income;

(iii) it provides for more debtor-friendly “forgiveness” conditions (viz., the debt would be “forgiven” for those working in the “private” sector–if payments were made on time–in 20 years instead of the previous 25 years, and in 10 years for those in “public service,” including teaching and the military).

These more favorable conditions are meant to forestall an increase in default rates–for if the “crisis” continues and unemployment rates remain high, the student debt machine is bound to collapse and will force a “bail out” of student loan debtors similar to Applebaum’s “Cancel Student Loan Debt to Stimulate the Economy” proposal. They are also meant to prevent an escalation of student activism on the campuses and above all to keep the two movements divided. Whether SAFRA will succeed in doing this is not something we can foresee at this stage. We can, however, see some steps that appear necessary to build an abolition movement besides the obvious one of bringing both movements together in a national student loan abolition convention.

Building a student loan debt abolition movement also requires that we reframe the question of the debt itself. A first step must be a political house cleaning to dispel the smell of sanctity and rationality surrounding debt repayment regardless of the conditions in which it has been contracted and the ability of the debtor to do so. Most important, however, from the viewpoint of building a movement is to redefine student loans and debts as involving wage and work issues that go to the heart of the power relation between workers and capital. Student debt does not arise from the sphere of consumption (it is not like a credit card loan or even a mortgage). To treat student loans as consumer loans (i.e., deferred payment in exchange for immediate consumption of a desired commodity) is to misrepresent their content, making invisible their class dimension and the potential allies in the struggle against them.

Student debt is a work issue in at least three ways:

  1. Schoolwork is work; it is the source of an enormous amount of new knowledge, wealth and social creativity presumably benefiting “society” but in reality providing a source of capital accumulation. Thus, paying for education is for students paying twice, with their work and with the money they provide.
  2. A certificate, diploma, or degree of some sort is now being posed as indispensable condition for obtaining employment. Thus the decision to take on a debt cannot be treated as an individual choice similar to the choosing to buy a particular brand of soap. Paying for one’s education then is a toll imposed on workers in exchange for the possibility, not even the certainty, of employment. In this sense, it is a collective wage-cut.
  3. Student debt is a work-discipline issue because it represents a way of mortgaging many workers’ future, deciding which jobs and wages they will seek, and their ability to resist exploitation and/or to fight for better conditions (Williams).

The overarching goal of capital with respect to student loan debt is to shift the costs of socially necessary education to the workers themselves at a time when a world market for cognitive labor-power is forming and a tremendous competition is already developing between workers. Employers’ refusal to massively invest in education in the US is not, in fact, a misreading of its class interests as theorists like Michael Hardt maintain (Hardt). It is the result of a clear-cut assessment of the new possibilities opened up by globalization, starting with the harvesting of educated brains as well as muscles from every part of the world. Capital’s strategic use of student loan debts to enforce a harsher work-discipline and force workers to take on more of the cost of their reproduction makes the struggle for debt abolition one that necessarily affects all workers. Accepting the student debt is accepting a class defeat, for it is certainly marks a major set back with respect to the 1970s when education was still largely financed by the state.

Certainly university teachers (like myself and many readers) and our unions and associations must take an active role in the abolition of student loan debt. For we are on the frontline, but in a compromised position, because we must “save the appearances” and pretend that for the university, cultural formation is of the essence, while we know that the student loan money is the source of much of the university’s budget and that the future debt peonage of many of our students “pays” our wages today (Federici). Just as, hopefully, most professors would object to be paid by a university whose revenue was the product of slave labor, so too must we object to having our students pay us at the cost of their post-graduation bondage.

Finally, debt in general is constructed to humiliate and isolate the debtor (Caffentzis). But demands for its abolition can be unifying, because it is everybody’s condition in the working class worldwide. Student loan debt, credit card debt, mortgage debt, medical debt: across the world, for decades now, every cut in people’s wages and entitlements has been made in the name of a “debt crisis” of one sort or another. Debt abolition, therefore, can be the ground of political re-composition among workers. If this is the path it takes with respect to student loan debt, the student movement in the US will experience a decisive turning point and opening out to many allies beyond the campus.


Applebaum, Robert (2009). Cancel Student Loan Debt to Stimulate the Economy. Accessed December 10, 2010.

Caffentzis, George (2007). Workers Against Debt Slavery and Torture: An Ancient Tale with a Modern Moral. UE Newspaper (July).

Collinge, Alan Michael (2009). The Student Loan Scam: The Most Oppressive Debt in U.S. History–and How We Can Fight Back. Boston: Beacon Press.

Federici, Silvia (2010). Political Work with Women and as Women in the Present Conditions: Interview with Silvia Federici. Maya Gonzalez and Caitlin Manning. Reclamations. Issue 3 (December). Accessed on Dec. 10, 2010

Hardt, Michael (2010). US education and the crisis. Liberation (Dec. 2).

Lederman, Doug (2009). Economy Sinks, Default Rates Rise. Inside Higher Education. September 15. Accessed December 10, 2010.

Read, Jason (2009). University Experience: Neoliberalism Against the Commons. In Towards a Global Autonomous University: Cognitive Labor, The Production of Knowledge, and Exodus from the Education Factory. Edited by the Edu-factory Collective. New York: Autonomedia.

Usher, A. (2005). Global Debt Patterns: An International Comparison of Student Loan Burdens and Repayment Conditions. Toronto, ON: Educational Policy Institute.

Williams, Jeffrey (2009). The Pedagogy of Debt. In Towards a Global Autonomous University: Cognitive Labor, The Production of Knowledge, and Exodus from the Education Factory. Edited by the Edu-factory Collective. New York: Autonomedia.

“Invest in your child’s education”

John Weeks

The reduction of funding for universities and a trebling of admission fees are among the many blessings bestowed by the Coalition Government on the United Kingdom (though not Scotland nor, it seems, Wales). Because the (formerly) Liberal (ex-)Democrats (fLxDs) had a pre-election pledge to oppose university fee increases, unscrupulous opponents have called the fLxD’ers “hypocrites”.

Using the pedantic argument that they did not tell the truth, extremists have called them as “liars”. The party leaders, N. Clegg and C. Cable, defend their bold action on the argument that circumstances changed for the worse between making the pledge and gaining the power. Unprincipled opponents, such as the self-seeking university students, have suggested that keeping pledges when it is difficult to do so is a test of character.

What the critics fail to realize is that money spent on education is an investment that increases a person’s earning power (except for the social parasites that choose lower paying jobs such as school teaching and nursing). It is incentive-sapping socialism in its most degenerate manifestation for Big Government to fund education for children whose parents lack the foresight to pay for it.

The Calamitous Coalition (CamCo) should be congratulated for its defense of capitalist principles at the university level. As usual it leaves a job considerably less than half done (see previous comment on old age pensions). It is common knowledge that all competent research shows that across levels of education, the highest return to public investment is for early childhood (“The Economic Impacts of Child Care and Early Education,” 2004, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Sloan School of Management). Since the return to money spent on educating the young is so high, it is shocking that it should be done by Big Government rather than families through the private sector.

If, as the Coalition argues, people should pay for their university education because they gain financially from it, all the more for primary school. No doubt this is why in the United States kindergartens are rarely if ever supported by the long-suffering taxpayer, with the United Kingdom quite good on non-funding, as well. Having clearly placed itself in support of markets for university education, CamCo should have the courage of its convictions and announce an end to socialism in education: abolition of all public funds for schooling in any form.

So dramatic would be the change that it is impossible to fully appreciate the long run benefits. Most obvious, the socialist-government schools would cease their near-monopolist crowding out of the private sector at the primary and secondary levels. In the UK the portion of students at market-based educational institutions is a shockingly low seven percent (lower still in the United States). Eliminating the anti-competitive socialist sector would immediately raise that to 100 percent. As usual, leftists and fellow travelers would claim that the number in school would fall once families had to pay up-front the true cost of education.

Would that be a bad outcome? It would merely indicate, as it did at the university level before the Labour Government of 1945-1951, that most consumers choose to buy other commodities instead of education (food and rent are common examples). Indeed, when the British Empire was powerful and great, a minority people attended school of any type. The fundamental problem is the same as for pensions. State pensions exist because people are under the delusion that they have an entitlement to grow old. Public education exists because people are under an equally anti-capitalist delusion that they have a right not to be ignorant. While the first delusion is a severe threat to the public purse, the second strikes at the very basis of the social order that the Coalition defends.

Students are Revolting: Education Cuts and Resistance

Dave Hill

Students are revolting! And quite right too. From the 52,000 strong demo in Westminster on Nov 10 (which went via the Millbank Tory Party HQ- not your average day at the office!) to disciplined and organized student occupations, sit-ins and teach-ins at Leeds, Manchester, Sussex, Middlesex and other Universities, through subsequent Days of Action, to student protests across Europe- Paris, Lisbon, Athens, Dublin. Saying, chanting, acting, demanding, `No to Education Cuts’, `No to (increased) Charges for Education’, `Education should be Free!’ The 10 Nov demo, organized by the National Union of Students and the college lecturers union, UCU, was the biggest student demonstration in a generation.

The next round was Wed 24 Nov, `Day X’. Students at universities, further education colleges, Sixth Forms and secondary schools walked out, and demonstrating against cuts and tuition fees, in a national day of action. Some marched on their local Tory party offices, just as 300 students and trade unionists in Barnet marched earlier on the local Tory Party HQ in Finchley!

The next `Day X’ is the day of the vote in Parliament on 9 Dec 2010 over the fees increase. There’ll be another massive demonstration. The Facebook group `Tuition Fee Vote: March on Parliament’ had 2,300 `attending’ within 45 minutes of being set up! Students and Workers realize this is a common struggle – Day X is supported by the three main anti-cuts umbrella organizations – the NSSN (National Shop Stewards Network), the RtW (Right to Work campaign) and the CoR (Campaign of Resistance) whose 27 Nov London rally of 1300 brought together organizations, socialist/ Marxist parties and groups, national organizations, local anti-cuts groups, students and school students.

One of the most remarkable and inspiring speeches, by 15 year old Barnaby, on Youtube explicitly linked the student struggle to wider struggles and workers struggles.

This time round, students are saying much more than `No Fees’. Saying and chanting `Students and Workers Unite and Fight’, `We are Part of a Wider Struggle!’ A recognition that our struggle is a common struggle for a better, a fairer, not a diminished and crueler, society. Facebook sites such as `School and FE students Against the Cuts’ have brilliant, basic, bold slogans- `Education for the masses not just for the ruling classes!’

What the banker’s crisis, the current crisis of neoliberal capitalism, `making the workers pay for the crisis’, the millionaire Con-Dem millionaire government is doing, is stoking raw anger. Not just among mainly middle class university students, but among working class students at Further Education colleges and Sixth Form colleges.

Raw Anger

There is raw anger at the withdrawal of Education Maintenance Allowances (EMAs) that are currently for low-income working class kids to stay on and study from the ages of 16-19, worth up to £30 per week. Now they are to be scrapped. Nationally 46% of Further Education students get EMAs. In poorer areas like Knowsley, Birmingham and Leicester the figure is 80%. Those affected are kids like members of my family. My grandson is one of hundreds of thousands of working class, low parental income kids, who could not have afforded to stay on to do A levels without the EMA. Millions of working class families will see their EMA support abolished. This is nearly 50 years on from when I received the staying on at school grant that I got as a working class kid staying on at Sixth Form in the 1960s. I couldn’t have stayed on without that grant. Now, almost half a century on, neither will millions of others. This is part of cutting back the social democratic advances won by the trade unions and working class after the second world war. The fight is to save the last vestiges of our post-war social democratic settlement starts here! One benefit, one part of `the social wage’, is being taken away. This is the deliberate culling of educational opportunity.

So, too, is the trebling of fees for university students following the Con-Dem government’s acceptance of the Browne Review. The cap of £3,000 a year tuition fees has been raised to a maximum of £9,000 a year fees! The most expensive state university fees in the world. Leaving students with a projected post-university degree debt of £38,000, that will, inevitably cut out poorer families. And so there is disgust among students at the bankers taking their millions in bonuses while other families agonise over the spiralling cost of what… getting educated!

The Class System and Education

Schooling, education, universities, even as early as nurseries, serve to sort people out – their futures, their minds. To reproduce the class system. It’s not what the official rhetoric claims of course, and it’s certainly not what teachers and lecturers want. But the actual intent of the ruling/capitalist class is for education to create and reproduce a hierarchically tiered and very differentially rewarded workforce. That’s the economic aim. It’s all about sifting and sorting and allocating – on a (raced and gendered) social class basis, `education for the economy’. Little else is deemed important for the masses. Ah- and mind-control- education as an `ideological state apparatus`. Yes, the social and political aim is a socially compliant citizenry. To teach us all our very different places. In the words of one senior civil servant, `people must be educated once more to know their place’. And, to use Louis Althusser’s distinction between the Ideological State Apparatuses (mainly nowadays, the mass media and the education system, formerly mainly organized religions) and the Repressive State Apparatuses (the Laws themselves, the Police, the Armed Forces, Surveillance and Control mechanisms, state force) – when the Ideological State Apparatuses don’t work, then the police kettle students and protesters, charge demonstrators on horses (I remember that from the Grunwick Strike in 1977), and use their batons. The smiley face of the police officer leading/ liaising with marchers, organizers, demos in Brighton over the last few years is replaced by visored, shield bearing and baton wielding riot police.

In the capitalist world, education is differentially funded on a class basis, with different expectations, life chances, and personality characteristics being encouraged and reproduced. In a nutshell, (most) upper class kids get to private schools and elite universities. There they are trained for the Bullingdon Boy, Eton educated Cameron style of leadership, wealth and power. Born- and educated- to power.

Most `middle class’ kids go to schools that are in some way, formally or informally socially and academically selective, and are trained for lower professions and supervisory and managerial jobs. Around half of my grammar school Upper Sixth form in 1963 went on to become teachers. I don’t think any of my twin brother’s secondary school classmates who had left school at 15 went on to become teachers. Most went straight into the manual job market.

Most `working class’ kids go to the middle and bottom rungs of the ladder of educational schools, expectations and opportunity. Trained for skilled manual, semi and unskilled and routine jobs, earning (in most cases) a fraction of the ruling / upper/capitalist class. Some don’t. Most do. There is some (ever-diminishing) social mobility of course, it legitimates the system and gives the illusion of meritocracy. And, for some, better funded lives.

Most, if not all, of the `working class’, live poorer, sometimes far, far poorer, more materially circumscribed lives, being educated not to expect too much, to obey, to accept life’s inequalities, to accept mind-numbing `celebrity culture’ as a substitute for real news and critique. Cameron’s millionaire cabinet (18 millionaires in the Cabinet) think £30,000 a year is poverty! Tell that to the millions on £15,000 or on minimum wage or on benefits! Who know what being hard-up means on a daily basis.

Some, especially in the Tory party, want to bring back grammar schools. Tell that to the millions who got a second-rate education, second-rate funding, second-rate libraries and less qualified teachers in secondary schools compared with the lucky 20% who got into grammar school.

Yes, I was lucky, passing the 11-plus and getting a first-rate education at a Grammar School, encouraged to reach for the stars, study until the age of 21, and set professional ambitions. I went on to become a university professor of education: not the lifestyle of a banker or billionaire, but very comfortable.

Not so for millions who were separated out for a second-rate education system – like my twin brother, who went to local Secondary Schools.

Most working class kids in the 1960s were ejected at age 15 into factory, shop and building site work. Nothing wrong with that work, but manual workers, then as now, get far less in pay, pensions and benefits than the more highly qualified. Of course, both sets of workers – manual and professional – then and now get paid a tiny fraction compared to the ruling class, “the masters of the universe”, mostly educated at private schools, inheriting and passing on privilege.

That was when I was a teenager, half a century ago. But it’s now, too. At school level, with the market in schools, a socially differentiated system where schools choose the kids rather than parents choosing schools for their kids. And class-based, too. With the abolition of EMAs, more so! With more and more working class kids dropping out of education because they can’t afford to stay in it!

And so too at University. In addition to having a three tier higher education system (elite/ Russell Group universities; other old universities; and a third tier, much more working class, tier of ex-polytechnics). There will be less of them, there will be less working class kids going to universities when fees are raised. The culling of educational opportunity. So people will once again not only know their place, but will be less able to change places!


But people resist! Students are rebelling! Some trade unions are resisting cuts! And many teachers, students, workers, retirees, have visions of different utopias, past, present and future. Some remember the hopes and visions of the welfare state, of a free education and health service, free at the point of delivery, available on the basis of need not ability to pay. And some of us want better than that! Not its destruction.

Divisive and divided education for conformity is resisted! Many resist! Many teachers/ lecturers/ `teacher trainers’/ students/ families resist magnificently! (I’ve been involved in teacher education for forty years, I see it). Many try day in day out to raise expectations, refusing to label and stereotype and demean kids from particular class and ethnic backgrounds. The best teachers and lecturers, and other cultural/media workers, try, teach, show that we, and that kids’ and students’ futures, need not just be as compliant cogs in an economic machine.

Many – and it will become millions! – not only want but see the possibilities of a far better, far fairer, far more socially just, far more equal education system, society, politics and economy. Students – and anti-cuts campaigns and groups up and down the country – are prepared to struggle and demonstrate and organize. We’ve got to change this educational and social and economic system. And we can. But not with any of the current main parties!

All three of them want to/ accept slash and burn the welfare state, to reverse hard won historical rights and benefits. That’s where socialist groups and parties and anti-cuts campaigns come in. For me, a way forward is TUSC, the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, and local anti-cuts movements and coalitions – including the example of the students at Sussex University and other universities, sitting in, teaching-in, joining workers and trade unionists on our marches and demos.

One of the brilliant speeches at the CoR rally was by John McDonnell, one of the very few remaining socialist MPs left.

`This generation was meant to be apathetic, only interested in careers…. They’ve taught my generation, that we have been too long on our knees. And it’s time to stand up and fight. You students (who were arrested during Millbank and the kettling), you are not the criminals… The real criminals are the ones attacking our education system… say this to the TUC, it is time to play your role! We want co-ordinated industrial action, co-ordinated strike action across the country. It is time for generalized strike action. We are posing an alternative.… When Parliament refuses to represent. When politicians lie. When governments seek to ignore us… We have no other alternative but to take to the streets. And direct action to bring them down. Take to the streets’.

Local anti-cuts movements, occupations, sit-ins, demonstrations, and national coalitions such as TUSC, if they are organised democratically, can bring together workers, trade unionists, different socialist groups, students, teachers, OAPs – the people! – black, white, men, women, people of all religions and sexualities – in a common fight for equality. The struggle is wider than just over education!

Dave Hill is Professor of Education at Middlesex, and Visiting Professor of Education at Athens and Limerick Universities. Formerly a Labour Parliamentary candidate and Labour Group Leader, he was the TUSC general election candidate for Brighton Kemptown in May 2010, and is active in the Brighton Anti-Cuts Coalition. He was on the recent Education national demonstration, and is involved in Student / Lecturer actions against the Cuts/ at Sussex and Middlesex Universities.