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12–16 March 2012
The coalition government may have shelved its plans for an HE Bill, however the fight to stop the Government from selling off our education goes on. Many of the most damaging reforms the government wants to push through do not actually require legislation, and would never have been included in the bill anyway. The government is therefore still able to push ahead with its proposed reforms, and can potentially continue to do so without scrutiny or opportunity to defeat. NUS wants a public debate on the issues - out in the open rather than behind closed doors. Government needs to come clean on student funding.
At the beginning of the year NUS consulted the membership on what our campaigning priorities for the year ahead should be. Invaluable feedback from members helped to shape NUS’ policy objectives and campaign tactics for the term ahead. These tactics include:
Week of action: Monday 12 – Friday 16 March
To take place on campuses across the country to demonstrate to VCs and principals that high fees, hidden course costs and a lack of bursaries are pricing students out of education, that postgraduate students need a better deal, and that students will not stand by and let the coalition government press ahead with its destructive plans to sell off and privatise our universities and colleges. We want institutions to come clean on course costs and the government to come clean on the future of our education system.
National walkout: Wednesday 14 March
A national walkout will take place on campuses across the country in the middle of the week of action. Students will boycott lectures and take action locally to demonstrate their opposition to the coalition government’s plans to destroy our higher education system.
Lobby of parliament: 18 April
The HE Bill may be no more, however the issues remain and we cannot let the government push their damaging reform proposals through behind closed doors. Many MPs will not have
been following the HE debate as closely as students have, therefore together we need to educate our MPs about the issues so that they can question the Minister on our behalf about the backdoor changes, and come clean on student funding.
Why a week of action?
With a range of actions taking place on campuses across the country, students will send a clear signal to vice chancellors and principals that they won’t stand by and quietly watch as their education is diminished.
Creative, visual actions will capture the attention of local media, MPs, would-be students, parents, and the general public, and show that people will not tolerate this coalition government destroying our higher education system as we know it, behind closed doors with no parliamentary mandate.
Why a national walkout?
With students unions across the country mobilising students to walkout of lectures en masse, we will send a clear message to the government. Students’ unions will be able to develop a range of actions that their students want to take, but the aim is clear: let’s clear out the lecture theatres, seminar rooms, IT suites and libraries.
The walkout will show the government what campuses will look like if they continue to press ahead with their plans for privatisation and pricing students out of education – deserted. The last time there was a national walkout it was a huge success, with campuses coming to a standstill across the UK, sending a clear message to parliament. Let’s do it again – bigger and better.
This toolkit is designed to help students’ unions generate ideas for a range of local actions that are appropriate to your institution to take place during the week of action and national walkout. Actions on campuses will be supported by a range of online campaigning actions developed by NUS nationally. A ‘How to lobby your MP’ briefing will also be issued in preparation for the lobby of parliament.
Some ideas for the week of action & walkout on your campus…
Before the action…
• Plan what activities you want to do and when • Recruit your campaign team and allocate roles and tasks • Put up posters around campus advertising the Week of Action and Walkout • Promote your plans via your SU website • Use social media, e.g. Facebook and Twitter to promote and create a buzz around your planned activities. • Use your student media – ask your student newspaper editor to cover the actions you plan • Leaflet all the clubs and societies’ chairs, and ask to speak at their meetings, to get their support for the activities • Invite your local trade union reps to get involved, and come along and to speak in the SU during the week of action and or at teach-ins on walkout day • Hold a banner making session and invite as many people as possible. Making a big, bright banner can be an effective way of getting a message across. These are easiest to make on old bed sheets or cheap cloth which can be bought by the metre. You can also use this time to discuss ideas for the week of action and walkout and to break the ice if people don't already know each other • Invite NUS NEC members to events in the week of action and/or the walkout
During the week of action…
• Set up stalls in the SU for students to write letters/postcards to your local MPs • Set up street stalls in town to explain the issues to school students, prospective students, parents and the general public, and encourage them to write to their local MP • Hold a march or rally around campus or in town (make sure you plan this in advance, inform the police, appoint stewards and carry out a risk assessment). Work with your local trade union reps to build for it, and ensure local media know about it and cover it.
• Use NUS’ Hidden Costs toolkit (launched Feb 20) to help you plan activities around this important issue. For example • set up stalls with giant piggy banks for students to submit receipt slips showing how much they have paid in hidden costs; • display a hidden costs totaliser in your union; • arrange Debt Mobs where students turn up in their lab coats which they‘ve had to pay for, with the total cost of all the coats written on them; • price-tag items in the SU shop which have cost students extra to demonstrate the scale of hidden costs. • Work with your postgraduate student reps and use NUS’ Taught Postgraduate fees campaign pack to help plan actions for a better deal for postgraduate students.
On walkout day…
You could set an ‘alternative timetable’, including: • Pickets: where practical work with your local trade union reps to encourage students and lecturers to gather outside entrances to academic buildings to explain what’s going on and persuade fellow students and colleagues to boycott lectures. NUS is not able to sanction any attempts to stop normal activities, such as deliveries of goods, entrance of staff or any physical attempts to force students not to enter college buildings. More detailed information on the legal situation on pickets is explained in the ‘frequently asked questions’ section of this briefing. • Stunts: creative, visual stunts that will capture people’s attention and make a good photo op so that you can invite local media to come along and cover it, e.g. hold a Come Clean march or rally, or shutdown the power in the SU for a minute to signify the end of education as we know it. Invite local media outlets to come and cover it. • Harness the talents of your clubs and societies, for example: • Invite your dance society to organise a flashmob dance of unaccountable politicians/ private profiteers in suits to represent the villains who want to steal our higher education system away from us for a quick buck; • Invite your drama society to put on a play during a teach-in, or perform some street theatre on campus - a cleverly constructed and well-planned piece of street theatre can be more effective than simply standing around and is more likely to attract press coverage;
• Invite your film society to make short films, e.g. about the impact hidden course costs are having on students at your institution, and encourage them to cover the campaigning actions during the week of action and walkout; • Invite your sports teams to get involved, for example by wearing black arm bands to signify the end of higher education as we know it; • Invite music societies to write songs about the issues, and get students to perform these on campus, in teach-ins, and at social events. • Teach-ins: invite lecturers and students who are boycotting their lectures, to run their own alternative lectures and debates on what they want from their institution and their own vision for higher education; get your clubs and societies involved by providing some entertainment, e.g. drama and music as outlined above. • Banner drop: outside your SU or an appropriate university building (ensure you get permission first). Set a time for its unfurling, organise a crowd with placards to stand in front of it and invite local media to take photos and interview students about why they are taking action • Social activities: organise social events in the SU on the day and evening of the walkout to encourage students to come along and take part in campaign activities
Countdown to the week of action & walkout…
Four weeks to go…
• It’s vital for SUs to secure agreement from the institution that students will not be academically penalised for this action - as is their right • Decide what activities your SU will do for the week of action and walkout (see ‘Some ideas…’ section in this guide) • • • Recruit your campaign team and allocate roles within the team e.g press, publicity Set a budget for your campaign actions Start publicising the action and activities via your website, student media, posters, flyers, Student Council, clubs and societies, lecture shouts, etc
• Your activists: invite them to a briefing on the campaign and try to get them to commit to at least an hour a week to build for the action • Course reps, clubs and societies, Student Council members: invite them to a briefing too, suggest ways they can get involved (see ‘Some ideas…’ section in this guide) • Local UCU and other trade union reps: to inform them of the action and enlist their support. Invite them to join in your activities, speak in debates/ at rallies etc during the week of action and/or walkout day • Heads of department: let them know what’s going on, they may well be supportive too
Three weeks to go…
• Ensure your campaign team are well briefed • Flyer students in lecture theatres, halls, the SU, cafes, bars etc • Set up a Facebook event, invite everyone you know to join it, and ask them to invite everyone they know too • Tweet about what you’re doing, use the official hashtags #nusweekofaction #nuswalkout and #comeclean to create a buzz and get the actions trending • Blitz halls of residence with flyers • Organise the literature for the stall in the SU
• Write an article for the student newspaper • If you plan to hold a march or rally in town start planning this now, inform the police, work with them to agree a route, conduct a risk assessment, recruit your stewards. • Organise social activities for the day and evening of the walkout
• Your vice chancellor/ principal: let them know of the activities planned for walkout day • Heads of departments: explaining the activities planned for walkout day • Local media (not just press but TV, radio and local websites too!): issue a press release with details of the actions you are planning • Student media • Students: via an all-student e-mail if you can, to let them know what is happening • Your local MP: find out what they think about the issues; invite them to come along to visit your SU during the week of action; arrange to make an appointment to meet with them in their constituency office during the week of action, where you could present them with letters/signed postcards from your members; arrange an appointment to meet with them at Westminster during the Come Clean lobby of parliament on 18 April. • NUS NEC members: invite them to come along and help you campaign during the week of action and/or the walkout
Two weeks to go…
• Do lecture shouts – ask staff for a couple of minutes before a lecture begins to let students know your plans and urge them to get involved. Encourage the Exec, SU councillors and course reps to do the same and speak to as many captive audiences as possible! • • • • • Have a banner and placard making session Continue publicising the week of action and walkout with posters and leaflets Set up a stall in the SU to give out info about week of action and walkout Keep updating your Facebook event page Keep tweeting about your actions and asking students to tweet and retweet too.
• Your Student Council, course reps and clubs and societies; let them know what activities you have already planned for the week of action and walkout day and find out what they are planning to do -start to encourage a competitive edge, especially if little has been done, raise and praise those who are involved
One week to go…
Final push: • Send speakers out to do as many lecture shouts as possible about the week of action and walkout • Continue publicising the week of action and walkout with posters and leaflets • Continue to have a stall in the SU to give out info about week of action and walkout • Send your press release to the local media • Organise the students who will stand outside academic building entrances to picket on walkout day
During the week of action…
• Send speakers out to do as many lecture shouts as possible about the walkout • Continue publicising the walkout with posters and leaflets • Set up stalls in the SU for students to write letters/postcards to your local MPs • Set up street stalls in town to explain the issues to school students, prospective students, parents and the general public, and encourage them to write to their local MP • Brief student picketers on how to picket (see the ‘frequently asked questions’ section in this guide for more info on the legal situation and pickets) • Create publicity material for building entrances • Publicise the support you have from your vice-chancellor/principal, heads of department and staff unions to students • Turn the SU into a campaign headquarters: plan protest activities to take place during the week of action and on the day of the walkout, and encourage students to call into the SU to take part • Go along to your local MP’s surgery and present them with letters/signed postcards from your members
On walkout day…
• Leaflet halls of residence with a wake up leaflet advising them not to attend lectures • Decorate the SU (or alternative venue) so all students are aware it is the campaign HQ • Do a banner drop (see ‘Some ideas’ section) • Hold teach-ins (see ‘Some ideas’ section) • Ensure there are students at the academic building entrances you plan to picket • Organise a stunt, e.g. a power shutdown, flashmob, some street theatre… and invite local media along to cover it (see ‘Some ideas’ section) • Line up some students to be at hand to do interviews with local media – journalists are always interested in hearing from ‘ordinary students’ and what they think about how government plans will affect them.
• Tell NUS how your week of action and walkout went – how many students participated? How many lecture theatres were deserted? Did your lecturers, VCs or principals support you?
Some frequently asked questions
Q. Our SU elections are held during the week of the walkout - what can we do? A. Many students’ unions whose elections fall during the week of action and walkout are worried that students will stay away from campus and will not vote in students’ union elections. In fact, your elections coinciding with the week of action is a huge opportunity to both increase voter turnout, and involve more students in the Come Clean campaign.
To ensure that students participate in the action and still exercise their democratic rights in SU elections you can: 1. Declare 14 March an official campaigning day and strongly encourage all candidates to get out and campaign – both for themselves and Come Clean. 2. Encourage questions about the Come Clean campaign at candidates’ hustings 3. Ensure that students have the opportunity to vote in their halls of residence on 14 March 4. Ensure there are plenty of ballot boxes and staff to cope with the influx of students in the students’ union 5. Consider extending the voting period for an extra day 6. Ensure all candidates are aware of the walkout and encourage them to inform voters of the importance of the action as well as the need to vote.
Q. Our SU is in college buildings - how can it be the campaign headquarters? A. If you’re concerned that the SU isn’t big enough to allow students to use it as a campaign headquarters, or you’re worried that because it’s in university/college buildings they may be tempted to go to lectures, you could: 1. Ask for permission to use a larger space within the institution 2. Identify and get permission to use a venue near the institution as the campaign HQ, e.g. a local community hall.
Q. What are the legal implications of picketing? A. In order to be effective on the day of the walkout you need to be aware of certain facts of law. We would encourage SUs to organise groups of students to peacefully explain the reasons
for the walkout. However there are limits to this: 1. Students should not attempt to physically prevent entry to buildings or rooms. Any physical restraint is likely to lead to, or itself constitute, a breach of the peace or a public order offence. Physically blocking access is also likely to constitute a civil wrong for which participants could be sued in the civil courts. 2. Students should not try and stop lecturers and other institutional staff entering buildings, and lecture halls, even by non-physical means. If they did, they would be inducing them to breach their employment contracts, which is a civil wrong. Industrial relations law grants immunity to certain participants in lawful industrial action from being sued in the civil courts. However, this immunity only extends to employees (at the place being picketed) and their trade union representatives. 3. Participating students should not carry offensive weapons. 4. Participants should not use threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour which are likely to provide a breach of the peace. The Public Order Act 1986 s5 makes it a criminal offence to use `threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour or disorderly behaviour’ or to display `any writing, sign or other visible representation which is threatening or abusive or insulting’ where someone present is `likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress thereby’. However, if the words or behaviour are reasonable in the circumstances then they will be acceptable. On the whole, as long as participants stick to political statements rather than personal abuse, they should not fall foul of the Act. 5. It is unlikely the police would feel the need to get involved, but if they did then it is an offence to obstruct a police officer in the course of his/her duty.
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