Hackney College campaign builds toward protest
Senior managers at the college are proposing to make up to 55 teaching and support staff redundant, close courses, reduce the curriculum on offer and reduce the number of adult students who can enrol onto courses for next academic year.
Teachers from the college told the meeting their courses were over-subscribed and that success and achievement rates were high. They said students from the college did well, with many progressing to other courses, university or employment. Among the courses threatened with closure is the Access to Nursing programme, which received 160 applications for 21 places this year. The range of Access subjects has been cut back drastically over the years.
The basic reason for these closures is a £3.3 million cut in funding from the two main funding agencies — a point on which teachers said they were in agreement with college management.
Speakers said the campaign was about defending education for working class people. A campaign spokesperson said: “Let’s not be scared to say it: this is about defending our people.” A lot of people talked about the riots and the rising unemployment in the area. Another speaker said the cuts were part of the government’s attempt to undo the post-war settlement of a mixed economy and a welfare state.
Later in the meeting people discussed the college’s ‘downward spiral’, saying cuts would not reverse but exacerbate that trend.
One speaker referred to the failure of the cuts agenda at a national level, pointing to the election of Francois Hollande as president of France as an example of a different approach.
One of the college’s governors (a Labour councillor, no less) addressed the meeting but was met with laughter and incredulity as he tried to take credit for the Government’s U-turn on funding for courses in English as a Second Language (ESOL) last summer, forgetting to mention the hugely popular and successful campaign by ESOL teachers and students.
Ian Ashman, the college principal, addressed the meeting and there followed a dialogue between him and various staff members challenging his rationale for the cuts. Teachers from other colleges disputed his argument that the cuts were inevitable and unavoidable. They pointed to the approach of City and Islington College, which despite the constraints resulting from government cuts to Further Education funding had invested a lot of money in new courses and invigorated existing ones, often showing a willingness to take financial risks. Hackney Community College, by contrast, says the introduction of a student loan system for some adult education courses — which until now were funded by the government — means it must make cuts. It appears that Hackney stands alone in this position, which would imply that the management’s ‘realpolitik’ is in fact a cover for a lack of vision, imagination and risk-taking.
Efforts were made by the organisers for the meeting to spark wider participation in the campaign than those currently involved. The meeting took place in a community venue off campus. For part of the meeting people were invited to sit at tables with flip chart paper to write down their ideas, and Post It notes were placed on tables to encourage people to ask questions through the chair during the meeting. About half of those who spoke were women.
The meeting decided to build for the demo on Saturday 26th May, and to leaflet in Dalston and the Narrow Way in Hackney every Saturday at 12 midday, and then move on to visit shops, community centres, churches and mosques with the leaflet. Everyone is encouraged to get involved.