Greek Universities in danger

In the last few years, a wave of ‘reforms’ within the European Union and throughout the world has subjected Higher Education to the logic of the market. Higher Education has increasingly been transformed from a public good and a civil right to a commodity for the wealthy. The self-government of Universities and the autonomy of academic processes are also being eroded. The processes of knowledge production and acquisition, as well as the working conditions of the academic community, are now governed by the principles of the private sector, from which Universities are obliged to seek funds.

 

Read more and sign the petition here.

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Talking Shop 5: Debt.

The next talking shop will focus on the idea of debt and will take place on Monday 11 July at 7pm in Seomra Spraoi
The two suggested texts, which should provide a starting point for discusion, are David Graebers ‘Debt: The First Five Thousand Years’ and the recent Documentary by Katerina Kitidi and Aris Hatzistefanou called ‘Debtocracy’.
The Graeber text gives a breif history of debt from an anthropological point of view, conecting its inception to a history of slavery and state sanctioned violence.  The documentary focuses on Greece’s particular crisis in the context of the recent history of IMF and World Bank intervention. Particular highlights are an explanation of the concept of ‘odious debt’ and Equador’s unorthodox handling of their sovereign debt in 2006. 
David Graeber, ‘Debt: The First Five Thousand Years’: http://www.metamute.org/en/content/debt_the_first_five_thousand_years

Debtocracy: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qKpxPo-lInk

Launch of the Campaign for the Old City Arts Building- Take back the city!

Saturday June 11th, 6pm at Seomra Spraoi.

Campaign launch with talks by campaign members and Sandy Fitzgerald, former director of Dublin City Arts. Followed by Food and Party. 3 euro suggested donation after 10pm.

Join us on June 11th for the launch of the Campaign for the Old City Arts Building (COCAB). Our aim is to take back the Old City Arts building, 23-25 Mosse St (near Tara dart station) which has been abandoned for nearly a decade and is now part of the National Assets Management Agency (NAMA). We want the building to be opened up for use as an educational and cultural space, managed collectively by anyone who wants to take part, independent of private or state institutions. We also want to broaden this by demanding that the NAMA legislation be changed so that all disused NAMA buildings can be used by the citizens for social and cultural projects, social housing or (in the case of undeveloped land) community gardens. It is clear that the politics of ‘elected representatives’ has completely failed in the context of the crisis- only people power and direct action can bring real change.

NAMA, which is the largest property owner in Europe, has been a key part of the state’s strategy for managing the crisis, a strategy which has unashamedly prioritized the financial system and property speculators above all else.

The crisis is also being used as a pre-text for destroying public services. Any public service that promotes equality has been attacked with increasing intensity over the last two years. Sectors such as the university and community development have seen their funding cut, and at the same time are being strangled by bureaucratic control. The message is clear- the state only values narrowly defined economic activity, in other words, it only values what investors value.

With unbelievable cynicism we are told that the state simply does not have the resources to fund public services- that equality is a luxury we can’t afford. Yet the state’s lack of resources is a direct result of pumping our collective wealth into the bailout of the banks, the speculators and the financial system. The irrationality of this is revealed when we consider that while the state claims to have no money for public services it has effectively bought an empire of empty buildings. That is one resource the state does have.

But NAMA has been set up on the basis of the same narrow economic objectives that define the state’s overall strategy. First of all, NAMA has bought the toxic debts (at inflated prices) rather than the buildings themselves. The vast majority of these debts will never be paid yet the speculators who own them still have a say in what happens to those buildings, while the citizens do not. In fact, NAMA is not subject to the Freedom of Information act and as such we’re not even able to access basic information about an agency which has gobbled up billions of euro of public money. Likewise, NAMA is limited to a few options in terms of the buildings it controls, each more irrational than the next and subject to the agreement of the developer in question. It can destroy a building, sell at a much reduced price or hold onto the building in the hope that we will return to the insanity of the property boom.

This is a con. We don’t want to see public resources bailing out speculators and we don’t want to see a return to property speculation. Dublin has been used as a casino for long enough- it’s time it became a city. NAMA buildings should belong to everyone.

There is no justification for maintaining empty publicly owned buildings while the state slashes public services. We want to use the old Dublin City Arts building for independent educational and cultural projects open to everyone. In particular, we believe that because the university is being undermined, we need a space where education is based on equality and open to all, where teaching, learning and research can become a force for change, and where the bureaucracy, competition and corporatisation of the university are replaced by a collective, participative and empowering educational process. The project will be run collectively and democratically by anyone who wants to participate and will provide space for any projects who want to organize educational or cultural activities. We are especially hopeful that the space will be a resource for those excluded from education and from the city in general.

The NAMA legislation was made by the Dáil- but what the Dáil does the people can undo.

The ‘reality’ of ideology and the struggle for the university

One of Trinity’s Provostial (presidential) candidates, Colm Kearney, hits the nail on the head in his manifesto when he says:

“Our current situation is thus:

  • We face a projected deficit of €80-100 million by 2015.
  • The government provides 90% of College’s funding, and will not change its funding model to suit Trinity College.

Once we accept this reality, we can put in place the appropriate response.”

This is the central idea that governs the present crisis of the university, the idea that reality is fixed and unchangeable and consists in one thing: the withdrawal of state funding and the consequent budget deficit. Don’t think about it, just accept. Everything else is secondary when faced with this ‘reality’. If we don’t ‘accept this reality’ we are naive dreamers. If we do, we can get to work and start coming up with all manner of ‘creative’ and ‘innovative’ solutions.

The question of the university thus becomes one about whether or not we accept this reality. In this context, several points become central.

  1. Reality is political and never ‘objective’. In the present situation, the absence of public money doesn’t reflect an objective situation but rather a specific set of readily identifiable priorities: the state has decided to prioritize the financial system, international investors and property speculators above all else. It has put our future, and the future of all our public services, down as collateral on an insane loan to do this.
  2. Money is not some kind of natural resource like water, and humans are not naturally subjected to its comings and goings, its rainy seasons and droughts. Money is made by humans, it develops value through the subjective meaning we attach to it and it reflects social relations. Money above all else expresses the domination of capital. Today the clearest example of this is the international credit ratings agencies. When a state cuts the minimum wage its credit rating is likely improve. If we increase minimum wage, hey presto, it costs more money for us to borrow, or , in other words, our money is worth less. Whenever equality and freedom are attacked the markets read this as a positive sign that government’s are taking the ‘tough decisions’. This is a power relation. What we lack, in dealing with it, is not money but politics. The problem is not the absence of money, but the absence of anything but money.

‘Accepting this reality’ (as described by Kearney) means accepting the domination of capital. It is to accept that the State is undermining every independent and egalitarian element of our society (health care, community development, citizenship, worker’s rights and a long etc.) It is ultimately to accept that the university is subordinated to the economy.

The pragmatism we are encouraged to take up, as if it were some kind of call to arms, is simply servility. The pragmatic abandoning of all principle and ideology is today’s paramount principle and ideology. No one actually believes in capitalism, no one is willing to defend it. It’s just a reality that we have to accept.

The response today has to be a ‘ya basta’ (enough!)- a pure and simple refusal to accept the ‘reality’ we are presented    with. From an aggressive negation of this ‘reality’ can begin to emerge not just a belief but a material and subjective alternative, a movement in which economics is subordinated to living knowledge and to equality.

This is the challenge that confronts the student movement and anyone concerned with education today: to negate the fatalism of the pragmatist and to create the alternative within a movement, within a living network which gives value to the generation and sharing of knowledge. This means taking over teaching and learning, reappropriating them as free and equal activities. The university is not their’s to destroy- it’s time to take it back.

 

Mick O’Broin

The Provisional University and FEE on the Telly

Dublin City Community Television have made a short programme on the commercialisation of education, featuring activists from the Provisional University and Free Education for Everyone.

Watch online

University and the ruins of the present

Reading the manifestos of the candidates for Provost (President) in Trinity College you could be forgiven for thinking that we really had reached the end of history. Nowhere in their over-inflated promises is there any hope that the university has a future beyond the market, an endless competition for funding, private finance, international students, ‘top’ academics and ‘brand recognition’. They write of hiring ‘development officers’ in New York, Beijing and London to generate funds from ‘philanthropists’ while at the same time supporting the re-introduction of fees and cuts to teaching staff. They all accept the government’s decision to cut funding for public institutions because the banks and bondholders are considered more important than free and equal education. This consensus is mounting all around us and it makes no sense.

But there is resistance.

Below is an eloquent article from friends in America who remind us that: “there is great disorder under heaven; the situation is excellent.”

Read the article

Occupation and Solidarity

Here is a statement from the students who yesterday occupied a building in UCL. The occupation is in solidarity with lecturers and other university staff who are the latest subject of attack in the ongoing subordination of the university to the neoliberal consensus.

‘In solidarity with striking lecturers and support staff students from UCL have occupied the Registry – the main administrative wing of the university. As students, we do not have the power to withdraw our labour in solidarity with staff, and so we have decided to occupy in order to fight the current attack on our lecturers’ pay, pensions and conditions. Management may not value the staff at UCL, but we students do.

This is, however, a much broader fight. We are still committed to a fully publicly funded education system and to resisting the privatisation of higher education. Lecturers are suffering this attack because of ideological reforms to the higher education system, implemented under the pretext of a financial crisis that they did not cause. The students and lecturers are what make this university, not the financial managers. We refuse to be divided from our lecturers and treated as disgruntled consumers. The true divide is with management and the ideological destruction of higher education they are complicit in.

We stand with our lecturers. We urge all students to join us in occupation in solidarity with their lecturers. Their fight is our fight.

We are all in this together!’