quarta-feira, março 24, 2010

Belgian students demand study cost reduction

"Everybody knows that the cost of studying is too high for most students. It is time for the government to honour their promises to reduce the costs, says Nic Görtz, secretary general of FEF, the Federation of Francophone students in Belgium.

At least 1.000 students will be protesting in Brussels today (March 24). The protest is part of the campaign Sauvez Wendy (Save Wendy), which is a concretisation of proposals to reduce study costs. The preceding campaign, ResPACT, was created to raise awareness of the study costs.

According to FEF estimates, the average cost of studying (housing not included) is 7.200 €UR. This encompasses indirect costs like transportation, food, and other costs that a students needs to cover if she or he is trying to study. After the ResPACT campaign of the two last years, the government of the French community in Belgium has promised to reduce the cost of studying.

"It's been nine months since the elections took place and the promises were made, so now we want a reply from the government: What are they going to do for students?", says Görtz.

Below are some of the demands:- Reform the law on leasing

- construct 4000 new student dormitory places in the Brussels region

- Construct 1000 student dormitory places in the Wallonia region

- Abolition of tax levied on students who have a second home

- Free public transportation for students

- Abolish the fees for students who have lowest income

- Freeze the increase in tuition fees in general

- Introduce a maximum total sum for cost of study materials

- Harmonise and increase the HEI budgets for social affairs

terça-feira, março 23, 2010

AEESEC avança com "desacordo de confiança"

Estudantes da Escola Superior de Educação de Coimbra (ESEC) decidiram [ontem, segunda-feira, dia 22], em reunião geral de alunos, avançar com um "desacordo de confiança", iniciativa que visa levar a debate no Parlamento as deficiências no financiamento do ensino superior.

Segundo o presidente da Associação de Estudantes da ESEC (AEESEC), João Morgado, com esta iniciativa os alunos pretendem contestar o "acordo [contrato] de confiança" celebrado recentemente entre presidentes dos institutos politécnicos, reitores das universidades e Governo, por entenderem que o ensino superior continua afectado pela falta de financiamento.

Angariar as 5.000 assinaturas necessárias para levar este assunto a discussão na Assembleia da República é o objectivo dos alunos da ESEC, do Instituto Politécnico de Coimbra, que declinaram participar na manifestação nacional prevista para quarta feira [amanhã, quarta-feira, dia 24].

segunda-feira, março 15, 2010

Students demonstrate against University System (Parliament Occupation @ Vienna, March 11th)

Thousands of university students demonstrated Thursday [Vienna, March 11] to protest a conference commemorating the 10th anniversary of The Bologna Process, a program aimed at promoting the reform of European higher education.
Continue to read the text...In defense of the program, Science Minister Beatrix Karl said at the conference that the education reforms will greatly contribute to the integration of young people into the world andcreate unlimited opportunitiesfor Austrian university students.

In June 1999, the European Ministers of Education from 29 countries met in the Italian city of Bologna and jointly signed the Bologna Declaration. The declaration laid out work plans with the objective of realizing integration in the fields of European higher education and technology, as well as construction of the European Higher Education Area.

The goal of The Bologna Process was to establish a unified European higher education system till 2010, including a unified higher education accreditation between European countries and realization of the mutual integration of higher education.

The reform program includes such measures as the unification of quality standards and education system reforms to achieve a mutual recognition of the credits and degrees among universities from different European countries. According to the reform program, the degrees of higher education of the European countries will be unified into bachelor, master and doctorate.

Any university diplomas and achievements of the participating countries in the process will be recognized by other participating countries. University graduates from these countries can apply for a study of higher degree courses and seek employment without any barriers in other countries.

The new system of bachelor degree in Austria was also based on that process.

Karl said at the conference that the implementation of The Bologna Process will create a unified European education area where students will be able to have a more free and flexible access to the opportunities of learning, graduation and further education. She said that under the current environment of globalization, the Austrian university students must adapt to international competition.

However, about 85 percent of Austrian students believed that some contents of The Bologna Process concerning the higher education system such as the addition of a bachelor degree will greatly shorten the time in the institutions of higher learning.

In addition, the mutual recognition of credits and qualifications between universities in European countries may also cause Austrian universities to be overcrowded by the students from other countries, resulting in a significant increase in the number of graduates and a range of issues like the difficulty for further education and employment for Austrian graduates.

The Bologna Process has been strongly opposed by most Austrian students and was a major reason leading to an Austrian student movement in October 2009.

Georg Winkler, principal of the University of Vienna, said that the Bologna Process has brought a heavy burden on the universities in Austria. For example, over the last six years, the budget of the University of Vienna increased by 5 percent while the number of its students rose by 25 percent. The vast majority of new students are from other European countries.

However, the principal also pointed out that the reform can contribute to the European integration of Austrian higher education and the employment of its graduates, enabling more Austrian young people to be able to have higher education and employment in other European countries.

So far, 47 countries have participated in "the Bologna Process".

domingo, março 14, 2010

March 4th actions and beyond, a critical approach

The core issue of our time is the reality of the promise of perpetual war and escalating inequality met by the potential of a mass, activist, class conscious movement to transform both daily life and the system of capitalism itself. That is the background, the social context, of the momentous actions on March 4, 2010.
This inquiry aims at actions in California, mainly San Diego, but will touch on Los Angeles very briefly. Others will have to fill the huge, international, gaps left out here to gauge what happened, world-wide, on March 4, 2010. The movement finally became known by an abbreviation: "M4".

The proposal for an action on March 4 began in response to massive tuition hikes (32 percent) and faculty cuts (10 percent wages) and layoffs (thousand of classes cut) in Northern California (Oakland's Jack Gerson will write well about this background) when students in the elite, segregated, University of California (UC) system began protests, and building occupations. This was followed by a walkout in the entire UC system, backed by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP). Note, in foreshadowing, that the UC system has no union. There is no union contract. The walkout was not met by union bureaucrat demands to halt it, and it happened.

Building occupations in the UC system followed. From UC Santa Cruz’s occupation came the memorable reminder: ““Having a good school within this capitalist society is like having a reading room in a prison. Not acceptable.”

Huge meetings of students and school workers (more than 600 people, maybe 800) called for March 4, mainly a day of "Strikes." The idea spread via the internet and the many personal ties that people gained from being in demonstrations, meetings, and other actions together. It spread into the "workhorse" CSU (the "California State University" system — less prestigious than the "University of California") system, and into the state's kindergarten through 12th grade public schools.

The union bosses in the National Education Association (NEA) affiliates, the California Faculty Association (universities) and the California Teachers Association (k-12 and some community colleges) as well as some American Federation of Teachers (AFT) locals initially ignored this movement but, at the same time, some of their local leaders were deeply involved, especially in the Bay area and Los Angeles.

There was pressure coming from the bottom up; lots of pressure in some places. San Diego’s education association, involved in bargaining a contract that expired nearly two years ago, largely ignored the event, focusing members on a tentative agreement reached March 2nd . Meanwhile, students took the lead, backed by a handful of professors, k-12 workers, community people, and politicos of all kinds, coming like bears to honey, sometimes moving in humbly, as should be done, other times issuing “What is to Be Done,” screeds over the internet.
Continue to read the article...Online debates grew interesting. Students stayed in the lead and did remarkable organizing to make M4 happen. They used their techno-skills but didn't have to be told the technology could be shut off. Students built close ties with campus workers, person to person ties. At San Diego State, they asked the campus workers not to take down their signs, not to wipe out their chalkings on sidewalks, and the material remained, and the students later cleaned it up — followed through on their promise.

But the faculty of the California State University system is represented, to abuse the word, by the California Faculty Association, an NEA affiliate with direct ties to the CTA, which misrepresents the vast majority of k-12 school workers.

CTA bosses did three things. Where they could, as in many community colleges and k-12 schools, they ignored M4 entirely; many faculty never heard about it although they did place the “Day of Action,” on their web site and a few emails–that are typically ignored by faculty.

Where that was not possible, they tried to divert the movement. They did all they could to (a) turn the call for strikes and walkouts into their "Day of Action," and then tamp down the action and (b) to urge people into lonely voting booths, especially in support of a tax on upper-level working class people to pay for schools — a mirror of a ballot measure CTA created last fall that failed by about 66 percent. CTA spent more than $20 million on that move to pit one section of workers against another. The song that the labor leaders sang was: "None of us can violate the contract. We must work within the rules. We cannot strike or walk out."

When denying and diverting M4 was not possible because of rank and file and student action, CFA tried to take credit for the entire event. At San Diego State (part of the CSU), CFA reserved the Free Speech Steps (yes, meaning the rest of the campus, as throughout the CSU system is not that, and it is legal), for M4, then tried to prevent the students from using the area---and CFA leaders said they had no plans for action on M4 at all, not at the outset.

Then, pressured by a few faculty members and a lot of students, CFA decided to set up a "Vent at the Tent" on M4 — meaning people could come to the tent and say anything they wanted, but CFA gave no leadership on the "why" of the current circumstances, nor what the key issues might be. (CFA did the same thing on the recent contract concessions, about a 10 percent pay cut and booming class size — putting the issue to a faculty vote with no suggestion at to what to do, the real nature of the negotiations, etc — that slipped through with a vote of about 52 percent in favor).

SDSU CFA tops did all they could to discourage student leaders, steer them off their track. Indeed, in face to face meetings, CFA faculty leaders were downright mean to earnest students. As things turned out, probably 700 students marched and rallied at SDSU — the biggest campus actions since the Mayday demonstrations about 4 years ago. The students, after a long struggle for space, set up speakers 10 yards from the "Vent at the Tent" which was largely ignored, the CFA mis-leaders turned into bystanders who pretended to cheer the students.

Then, however, student and faculty leaders used the sound system to not only denounce the system of capital and its wars which produced these crises, but to attack the CFA tops, in particular detail, for trying to wreck the day.

What the CFA mis-leaders actually thought about that, I don't know, but I watched their embarrassed smiles.

A disappointing number of faculty turned up for the student march and rally at SDSU, maybe 50. While I speculate, I don't think that comes from a lack of sympathy, or more to the point, mutual exploitation. University faculty are notoriously individualist, and not especially courageous — absent a really powerful minority of writers and activists--but the role of the union has to be important. With a long history of SDSU union tops doing less than nothing, indeed some of them moving right into well-paid administrative positions at the end of their terms, with the union being well known for not protecting people, it's reasonable to think that some faculty were deterred. That would be especially true of the untenured and adjuncts who have, on one hand, plenty of reason to be afraid, yet on the other hand are the people hit hardest and the greatest reason to want to fight back.

In the two weeks prior to March 4th , the huge, prestigious, University of California at San Diego experienced a series of racist events:

- a fraternity held a “Compton Cookout Party,” where members and dates arrived in black face, the campus TV station ran a program defending the party, a campus newspaper, the Koala, ridiculed protests against the racist environment at UCSD which has a black enrollment of 1.3 percent, a noose was hung in the campus library, and a KKK hood was draped over the head of a statue of Theodore Geisel, Dr Seuss, on campus.

Rising protests against not only the racist atmosphere that made these events possible, but also against the economic cuts (32 percent tuition hike, classes abolished, etc.) which had a deepening racist impact merged with the March 4th action, perhaps making the usually very conservative campus a focal point for San Diego action.

School-based protests were held on k-12 and some community college campuses through the early afternoon on March 4th. Then people merged at Balboa Park, perhaps 3,000 marched to Governor Swarzeneggar’s San Diego office. Notably, students and faculty from Mission Bay High marched at least eight miles from their school to join the larger late afternoon demonstrations.

In Los Angeles, thousands of students walked out of schools and colleges, CSULA in particular, and joined a mass demonstration at Pershing Square where the LAM4 committee, once again largely organized by students, led the day.

Reports came in from other areas about sit-downs on expressways, mass arrests in other areas. With that as background, the actions on M4 were a great, great success. They prove that people will indeed fight back (for years, labor bosses said they would not, then sold members out on that premise). People positioned so that they must fight back, will. That does not mean they will make sense of why they must fight, that is, capitalism and imperialism produce over time nothing but miserable inequality and war. It's possible people will fight the nearest appearances of oppression. Teachers will fight for teacher jobs, students for more admissions and against tuition hikes, nurses for nurses, the unemployed for jobs, the foreclosed for payment holidays, and so on.

What they're doing is following the war of all on all nature of the economy, capital, and once again defeating each other — as the union structures are designed.

The greatest success of M4, however, was that students took the lead with breathtaking competence, and they showed everyone that they could be more whole, creative, and joyful within a movement where they knew they were making sacrifices, taking real go-to-jail risks.

Those who have been discouraged for some time might be "restored to life." The No Child Left Behind Act did not work. It failed to create obedient and loyal workers and soldiers, far to the contrary of what some people thought. Why, however, were the unions so onerously involved in trying to pound the life out of the March 4th actions?

That account has not been made, not in the liberal reviews from Labor Notes, nor elsewhere in the radical press. Rather, what is written, especially by NEA, is that there was wonderful unity of the education community, students and educators, and the broader community as well. That’s not true. It avoids a critical reading that needs to be made as we plan what is next.

What is going to be can only be built on what is. The student leaders of March 4th are all for an end to tuition hikes, open admissions, well paid teachers in not-overcrowded classrooms, well-fed happy students gaining and testing knowledge in a reasonably free atmosphere, solidarity with the education workers and the community, that is, not restoring what we know is truly segregated not-public education, but fully transforming it, rescuing education from the ruling classes.

Are the union leaders and the unions' structures all for that? Not in their practice, nor in their theory. Not a single top labor leader in the US believes in the main reason people think they join unions for: the contradictory interests of employees and employers. Instead, the labor bosses believe in the unity of labor tops, government officials, and corporations, in the national interest. That was called "New Unionism," by former NEA President Bob Chase. It's not especially new, except in the very current sense of the rapid deepening of the corporate state.

This "New Unionism" theory is entwined with the remarkable salaries and benefits that US labor mis-leaders enjoy. Reg Weaver, president of the NEA until last July, earned $484,000 last year and he could easily live on his expense account. Labor bureaucrats know where the source of that bloated money comes from--the empire’s adventures overseas and their ability to sell labor peace to employers. NEA and AFT are both still involved in the empire through groups like the National Endowment for Democracy. Kim Scipes, Paul Buhle and, before them, Jack Scott, have all written well about that. It's so commonly known, I won't pursue it here.

What many people do not seem to know is the traditional trade-off in US union contracts. The labor tops sell labor peace for the duration of the contract in exchange for dues-check off, the agency shop or, in some cases, the union shop--meaning that people must either pay dues or join the union and pay dues. During the period the contract exists, members must live within the peaceful, exploitative, conditions of the deal, contract, the labor bosses dealt. At base, labor bosses sell the predictable, becalmed, labor of the members they own in exchange for dues money. Henry Ford understood this right away when it was explained to him: "You mean I'm the unions banker?!" The labor mis-leaders use this somewhat hidden reality to discipline union members who might get a bit out of hand, at the extreme with wildcat strikes.

They threaten the members, arguing that a job action will destroy the union, "get us sued and we will all get fired and go to jail," a routine that those labor tops who have any real experience know isn't true. The only illegal strike is one that completely fails. Reality intervenes with contract law.

So, labor mis-leaders whipsaw the rank and file. People are forced to pay the union bosses, then the treasury is used against members in the form of propaganda, lawyers, etc., in order to maintain the deal that wins the labor bureaucrats those nice incomes. It is a vile deal. But the rotten deal tends, in the minds of some, to be covered up with the heroism that defined, for example, the early days of the Industrial Workers of the World or the CIO. Such courage, meshed with anti-racism, internationalism, solidarity, anti-capitalism, and real friendship is worth emulating. Current labor mis-leaders and the union structures themselves have, in fact, nothing in common with those days.

To be specific, to turn back to March 4th, what is described above is exactly what happened in California. The union bosses are made irrelevant by actions like at San Diego State on March 4th . Even so, many people remain mystified not only by the unearned authority of union bosses, but unionism itself, as if to hope that what the union is, is not what it is. Be clear. Union tops are the nearest and most vulnerable of workers’ enemies. They have some power in their treasuries they control, legal help, their illegitimate rule from the podium, but all that can be swept aside by, say, wildcats or, bluntly, removing them from the podium. It’s very unlikely they can be voted from office. The gross, undemocratic structures they sit upon are designed to keep the structure of the union intact, even if at the local level some people must come or go, usually corrupted by the very process that moves them into the hierarchy of leadership. We can build a social movement that rejects the barriers US unionism creates, from job category to industry to race and sex and beyond.

People are more united throughout the world by systems of technology, transportation, communication, than ever before, but we are divided by class, race, nation, and sex-gender.

Why? Capitalism is necessarily a war of all on all.

Everything negative is in place for a revolutionary transformation of society:
  • distrust of leaders, collapse of moral suasion from the top down,
  • lost wars, the real promise of endless war,
  • financial crises, massive unemployment, booming inequality,
  • imprisonment of only the poor, growing reliance on sheer force to rule,
  • eradication of civil liberties,
  • corruption and gridlock of government at every level, etc.).
What is missing is the passion, class consciousness, organization, and guiding ethic to make that change. Our answer–an ethic of equality forged in a class conscious organization.

Now, beyond March 4th , rises March 20th , the 7th anniversary of the US obscene invasion of Iraq, and beyond that, Mayday, the international workers’ holiday that began in the US, then was swept away and became, in the States, Law Day, the day we are to celebrate obedience.

One fine idea that was raised several times is a “Reverse Strike.” That could, in my view, run the gamut from more sit-downs and occupations to mass teach-ins on campuses, carefully examining why things are as they are, once again demolishing the soldiery habits of daily campus life. We shall see where the movement flows, but there is every reason to believe it is begun. Up the Rebels! Good luck to us, every one.

quarta-feira, março 10, 2010

sexta-feira, março 05, 2010

quinta-feira, março 04, 2010

«Empréstimos para estudantes: a crise do crédito chega a Portugal», opinião de Rui Namorado Rosa

A nova medida de conceder empréstimos aos estudantes que o desejem para pagamento das propinas, trombeteada por Sócrates, com pompa e circunstância como uma medida de imenso alcance social, trata-se de facto de mais um ataque ao ensino público e mais um negócio milionário para o capital financeiro. Os futuros licenciados vão iniciar a sua vida profissional em empregos precários ou pagos a recibo verde e com uma dívida que para muitos será incomportável. O exemplo do EUA, donde a UE copiou a medida, está aí para o demonstrar. A rendição do PS e do seu governo maioritário às inovações do capitalismo neoliberal atinge agora os jovens estudantes…

O conceito de empréstimos para estudantes foi concebido e posto em lei pelo Congresso dos EUA em 1965 (Higher Education Act). O conceito expandiu-se sobretudo ao longo da última década e meia, e alastrou à outra margem dos Atlântico. Um novo mercado estava criado oferecendo um imenso potencial financeiro.

O sistema abriu caminho à constituição de uma rede de companhias que operam um sector de serviços que movimenta anualmente cerca de US$ 85 biliões. Os maiores fornecedores de crédito a estudantes são a SLM.N mais conhecida como Sallie Mae, o Citigroup e o JPMorgan Chase.

O nível das propinas praticadas por algumas universidades privadas mais conceituadas é superior ao rendimento mediano das famílias norte-americanas. Este indicador dá para perceber por que é que a maioria dos jovens norte-americanos se não desiste do aceder ao ensino superior tem de necessariamente se endividar profundamente, mesmo sendo prudentes, para conseguir obter um grau académico.

Em face de frequentes quebras de contrato por parte de estudantes incapazes de reembolsar as suas dívidas, o Congresso primeiro alargou o período de carência e reembolso. Mas mais tarde (mediante alterações introduzidas no Higher Education Act) retirou aos devedores em falta as protecções em geral facultadas no quadro dos direitos dos consumidores, negou a oportunidade de renegociação da dívida, facultou poderes de excepção às entidades credoras, incluindo a apropriação de salários e de subsídios sociais. Alguns Estados chegaram ao ponto de confiscarem as licenças profissionais aos faltosos.

E o problema não é episódico. Quase 5 milhões de jovens norte-americanos estão em falta no reembolso das suas dívidas; este número exorbitante é impulsionado por propinas muito elevadas, altas taxas de juro, penalizações incorridas por atraso nos reembolsos, e dificuldades de emprego. As consequências sociais são óbvias: adiamento do estabelecimento de vidas familiares, emigração forçada, doenças do foro psíquico e até suicídio.

Este negócio bilionário presta-se a jogos de influência e a transacção de favores envolvendo legisladores (que fixam as regras), oficiais governamentais (que supervisam a sua aplicação), universidades (que fixam propinas excessivas e beneficiam dos empréstimos para o seu financiamento) e as companhias que exploram o negócio dos empréstimos para estudantes (acumulando enormes lucros e mordomias).

Os casos de corrupção são presentemente objecto de investigação. O Congresso considera reduzir os subsídios federais de que esta “indústria” (já de si lucrativa) ainda por cima tem beneficiado (supostamente para mobilizar capitais privados em benefício dos estudantes). Este ano de 2007 o Procurador-Geral já concedeu retirar a Sallie Mae e o Citigroup da lista de entidades sob investigação em curso, em troca do pagamento de uma penalização simbólica e da promessa de se absterem de futuros conluios com funcionários universitários.

Sallie Mae tem 10 milhões de “clientes” e administra anualmente US$ 142 mil milhões; o seu administrador executivo é o mais bem pago CEO em Washington; e os ganhos anuais dos accionistas gozam de um crescimento de dois dígitos percentuais (29% em 2003) que o CEO atribuiu tanto ao crescimento da emissão de empréstimos como de taxas cobradas a devedores em falta. Propinas elevadíssimas e emprego não qualificado e precário alimentam cinicamente este sucesso financeiro.

Os títulos de empréstimos a estudantes são activos financeiros das casas emissoras, que estas consolidam em pacotes e transaccionam como valores mobiliários tipo “securities” (ABS), sobretudo a investidores institucionais; só em 2006 foram vendidos US$ 79 mil milhões. A mesma Sallie Mae alimenta a maior parcela deste negócio. A responsabilidade e o risco são desse modo dispersos, encorajando a atribuição de crédito mesmo em casos de duvidosa cobrança. O crédito ABS tem protecção muito limitada, quer porque a garantia federal só é aplicável a situações muito restritas, quer porque é já grande a proporção de empréstimos privados obtidos directamente por estudantes junto de bancos comerciais.

O mercado de crédito ABS é muito menor que o mercado hipotecário de imóveis que, através do colapso de agentes e casas de crédito operando com hipotecas “subprime”, entrou em grave crise neste Verão de 2007. Mas o crédito ABS é considerado ter comportamentos de algum modo análogos, e ter também entrado em terreno de excessiva exposição a risco.

Os EUA foram pioneiros neste território de criação de crédito para o enorme e renovado universo de jovens procurando prosseguir estudos e, por esta via, de uma assentada financiar o sistema de ensino superior, “educar” os jovens no consumo de crédito, e ampliar o mercado financeiro.

A “teoria económica” para as propinas e os empréstimos no ensino superior foi formulada pelo Fundo Monetário Internacional em termos claros. Primeiro, as Universidades devem ser financiadas por uma combinação flexível de fundos públicos e propinas, podendo estas ser cobertas por um título de dívida; o acesso ao crédito é invocado para argumentar que com ele os jovens de origem modesta não seriam descriminados no acesso a estudos superiores. Segundo, o empréstimo deve acomodar as propinas e, em países mais ricos os custos de manutenção também, ficando sujeito a uma taxa de juro próxima da taxa de referência bancária; o reembolso será feito em amortizações proporcionais à remuneração e colectado com os impostos sobre rendimentos, após a presumível conclusão de estudos e colocação no mercado de trabalho. “Idealmente” os custos iniciais deste esquema de empréstimo deveriam ser suportados pelo sector privado mas, em países em desenvolvimento, uma garantia governamental é chamada a cobrir os riscos da operação, sem o que o prémio de risco cobrado pelo capital privado seria insuportável. Terceiro, a aspiração de acesso ao ensino superior é crítica e deve ser promovida; jovens de origens mais modestas, pouco motivados e não informados sobre os custos e benefícios do prosseguimento de estudos, terão relutância em se endividar para esse efeito; os fundos públicos seriam necessários para captá-los.

Os três elementos da estratégia preconizada pelo FMI são pois: propinas não limitadas e adiáveis, reembolso dos empréstimos a ritmo adequado aos rendimentos futuros, e promoção activa do acesso ao ensino superior. A máquina de contribuições e impostos, já montada pelo estado, irá recolher os proveitos futuros dos investidores privados, sem margem de fuga.

No Reino Unido, as propinas foram fixadas e os empréstimos introduzidos em 1998. As reformas depois legisladas em 2004 adequaram finalmente o Reino Unido ao esquema recomendado pelo FMI. Desde 2006 as propinas são livremente fixadas pelas universidades. Assim, actualmente os estudantes britânicos podem optar por pagar as propinas ou por contrair um empréstimo a um agente bancário, o qual pagará as propinas directamente à universidade; mas os empréstimos são extensíveis à cobertura dos custos de manutenção; e, desde 2005, estudantes carenciados são elegíveis para receberem uma bolsa também, mas só para além da contracção do empréstimo, numa malha fina de captação de clientes bancários. O salário líquido que o futuro graduado auferirá será deduzido do reembolso da dívida, em conjunto com o imposto sob rendimento e contribuição para a segurança social; a fronteira público-privado esbate-se neste sistema em que as políticas públicas servem linearmente o capital privado.

Nas palavras do FMI, o esquema instaurado no Reino Unido pode ser tomado como exemplar. Austrália, Canada, Nova Zelândia são outros “bons exemplos”.


No início de Setembro de 2007 o governo Português anunciou com pompa o lançamento de um inovador sistema de empréstimos para estudantes. Ameaçado pelo governo de Guterres, o de Sócrates passou à acção. E a promoção publicitária oficial não se fez esperar, mesmo antes de a banca se dar a esse trabalho. A velha onda de estudos superiores por empréstimo chegou assim a Portugal.

Para o efeito, o governo aprovou previamente o Decreto-Lei n.º 309-A/2007, que alarga a actividade das sociedades de garantia mútua à prestação de serviços conexos em benefício de estudantes do ensino superior. O sistema de garantia mútua baseia-se numa parceria público-privado, em que sociedades de garantia mútua, instituições de crédito maioritariamente privadas, são resseguradas por um fundo público, o Fundo de Contragarantia Mútuo. A banca comercial ficou assim habilitada a conceder acesso automático ao crédito a estudantes do ensino superior, com garantia do estado. O Decreto-Lei esclarece: a Comissão do Mercado de Valores Mobiliários foi ouvida; porém as associações de estudantes e de pais, o Conselho Nacional de Educação ou o Conselho de Concertação Social não tiveram nada a dizer no que foi exposto ser uma inovação a favor da educação, do ensino superior, da “sociedade do conhecimento” em Portugal. Para que conste, para o governo trata-se de uma operação financeira, sejam quais forem os custos sociais e culturais em que o povo Português forçadamente incorre.

Os empréstimos terão uma taxa de juro apurada com base na taxa dos “swaps”, e um “spread” máximo de 1,0%, e não carecem de avales ou garantias patrimoniais. O montante do crédito pode atingir € 5.000 por ano, por estudante, até um máximo de € 25.000. O reembolso deverá concluir-se até 12 a 16 anos após a contracção do empréstimo (anos de curso, mais 1 ano de carência de capital, mais 6 a 10 anos de reembolso). Para uma população escolar da ordem de 400 mil alunos em formação superior inicial ou intermédia, o montante do crédito a ser assim gerado aponta para vários biliões de Euros. Os fundos de valores mobiliários agradecem as novas oportunidades de especulação e ganhos.

No quadro de drástica redução do financiamento público para o ensino superior, as famílias Portuguesas recebem agora o “privilégio” de terem de se endividar, ainda por cima em condições expeditas junto das instituições bancárias, para por essa via poderem vir a liquidar as propinas de que crescentemente se alimentam as universidades. O governo achou oportuno garantir que as propinas não serão agravadas – este ano – diplomaticamente adiando por um ano esse novo passo da reforma do sistema de ensino superior em curso.

Os “clientes” elegíveis para este negócio são alunos inscritos em cursos pós-secundários de especialização tecnológica, licenciatura ou mestrado, no quadro da reforma de Bolonha imposta pelo governo. Mas com ingénua surpresa ficamos sabendo que o esquema é extensível a bolseiros de doutoramento e pós-doutoramento e, pasme-se, investigadores também.

Quer dizer que um “estudante” aplicado e brilhante atingirá o grau de doutor cerca dos 26 anos de idade, ao fim de cerca de 20 anos de frequência escolar ininterrupta, acumulando já 8 anos de dívida, no mínimo. E que, no quadro actual da “sociedade do conhecimento”, elevada “competição” e “mobilidade” e inovador empreendedorismo”, terá provavelmente de continuar a recorrer ao crédito para continuar a trabalhar, por mais três ou seis anos como pós-doc, que o governo entende ser um prosseguimento natural de “formação ao longo da vida”, ou então, com ou sem recibo verde, como micro-empresário contingente.

Quer também dizer que um jovem licenciado ou mestre, que queira ou tenha de entrar na “vida activa” iniciará um percurso profissional já carregando aos ombros uma divida e seus juros acumulados, sabendo que a banca e a autoridade do estado estão vigilantes. Esse jovem não só pagará os custos da sua educação como a pagará várias vezes. E, sob a pressão de ter de a pagar, terá de estar “disponível” para aceitar o trabalho que puder alcançar, como trabalhador precário e flexível, ou emigrar, com o espaço da União à sua frente.

Este quadro, que se foi compondo nos EUA e outros países anglo-saxónicos, e que agora a União Europeia se esforça por alargar a todo o continente Europeu, é indissociável do modelo económico e ideológico neoliberal da presente etapa do capitalismo. Para além do retrocesso social que se contem na agressão a direitos fundamentais dos cidadãos, em benefício do poder imperial e omnipresente do capital industrial e financeiro, esta etapa configura a financeirização extrema da vida económica e social, um salto em frente na procura da sustentação de um “crescimento económico” já completamente fictício, que procura iludir a sobrevivência presente deste sistema inumano à custa de hipotéticos recursos, bem estar ou até a sobrevivência, de vidas e gerações futuras.

quarta-feira, março 03, 2010

Student Occupation at University of Westminster

Over 200 staff and students at the University of Westminster have protested, stormed the board of governors meeting and are currently in occupation, vice-chancellors office, in regard to recently proposed tutoring and administrative job cuts [see photos].

Management are planning to slash 285 jobs by April and this follows the closures of the ceramics department and the nursery. Recently, over 150 staff and students placed a unanimous vote of no confidence in the vice-chancellor and his management at a rally addressing Westminster's severe proposed job cuts, on February, 17.

The vice-chancellor has openly declared that job cuts are the initiative of the governors, not his. Well, demonstrators asked him for themselves, after storming past security and into the governor’s meeting. They were greeted by a board of governors who were ‘quaking in their boots;’ shortly after students persuaded Geoffrey Petts, the VC, to stick around and answer some questions which he hesitated to on the first instance but then proceed to do with a full bureaucratic and dismissive tone.

Our demands to the vice-chancellor are:

A) Issue a statement on the avoidance of redundancies

B) Make freely available to the unions in the university appropriate financial documents

C) Produce alternative, sustainable plans for addressing the financial gap over the next several years.

Join us, over 40 students are currently occupying at Regents Campus, V-C's office!

terça-feira, março 02, 2010

Student Loans: The New Big Bubble

We had the dot.com bubble and then the real estate bubble, and now we are looking at the student loan bubble. All over the country, tuition is going up, and students are turning to public and private loans in order to finance the cost of their education. Not only does this mean that many students will graduate with huge debts that will take them years to pay off, but the student demand for credit is resulting in a huge gold rush for banks and other private corporations.

One of the main reasons why the United States has to keep coming up with new bubbles is that there are trillions of dollars of investment money sloshing around the globe desperately looking for a "safe" place to land. A few years, ago it looked like real estate was the stable area for investment because people need homes and credit was freely available. Moreover, the constant inflation of home prices seemed to guarantee a fixed market for financial speculation; however, once people started to foreclose on their mortgages at record rates, the whole pyramid started to collapse.

To prevent a total global financial meltdown, the Obama administration poured trillions of dollars into the banks, and they guaranteed most of the financial institutions' loans with taxpayers' funds. The banks in turn started to buy U.S. treasury bonds and to horde their money because it was safer and easier to earn interest off the money they got from the government than to lend it to small businesses or new homeowners. However, we are now seeing the return to our favorite financial instruments, credit default swaps, collatorized debt obligations, and various exotic securities.

The trillions of dollars of global debt and credit needs to find a bubble so investors can work their magic and turn hard-earned debt into a new source of profit and speculation, and here is where student loans come in. Looking at the American market for college loans, bankers and investors have found a large pool of debt that can be easily increased, leveraged, and sliced and diced. While the Obama administration says that it wants to start taking over most of these loans, it has also said that it wants to regulate derivatives, but it looks like neither of these two things will happen.

We must remember that what has turned the United States into a debtor nation is that real wages for the vast majority of Americans has stagnated for thirty years, while the cost of health care, education, housing, and energy have continued to go up. Besides the top 15% of the American earners, most Americans have been forced to take on debt to pay for the essential things that no one can do without. This constant need for loans and credit has created the debt pool for global capital to invest public and private funds. So don't be surprised if a country like Ireland or Italy goes into a depression if American college students stop paying back their loans.

The global debt and credit market has functioned to hide the growing economic inequality in the United States. Simply put, because Americans have been able to borrow so much money to pay for their homes, health care, and education, most people have not noticed that their jobs do not pay enough to support their basic necessities. Moreover, due to the constant availability of credit, health care corporations, real estate sellers, and universities have been able to charge whatever they want, and they have little incentive to cut costs or reign in executive pay.

From this perspective, the free market is really a giant Ponzi scheme where companies hold down workers wages so that the employees are forced to live on debt, and then this debt is bought and sold on a global market. In this structure, the only way to make money is to be an executive or to be an investor who knows when to leave or enter the market at the right time.

It would be great if the tea partiers understood that while they are protesting against the government and yelling "take your hands of my social security," the real cause for their lost income and homes is the fact that their jobs do not pay enough, and the health care, housing, energy, and education industries have not been regulated. Furthermore, it is because workers have not been unionized, and the laws have been stacked against organized labor, that workers have not been able to increase their income. Without a collective, unionized voice, there is no way that employees can fight for a fair share of their company's or institution's profits.

The basic solution to all of these problems is to unionize all employees, regulate the cost of health care, education, and housing, and outlaw destructive financial instruments. In other words, we should become a lot like France, Germany, and Sweden. Of course, most Americans will respond by saying that we do not want to pay 40% of our income into taxes, but without higher taxes, we all will be paying more for everything else, while we go deeper and deeper into debt. Why didn't they teach us this in college?
Bob Samuels is President of the University Council - AFT and a lecturer at UCLA. He is also the author of the popular blog «Changing Universities».

segunda-feira, março 01, 2010

March 4th: Student Strike Against Budget Cuts

Part of the National Day of Action to Defend Public Education: 1 PM on the Quad at University of Washington-Seattle... Rally and picket lines begin

The University of Washington is facing massive budget cuts which means tuition hikes, cuts to financial aid, and overcrowded classrooms for students.

It means layoffs, overwork, dangerous working conditions, furloughs, health care cuts, and union busting for workers.

On March 4th we will fight back to defend our education and our jobs! Students and workers across the country and around the world will be striking on that day, responding to a call emerging from the mass movement against budget cuts in California. Activists in some California cities are even organizing to build for city-wide strikes and actions on the 4th!

Here at UW we have tried rallying several times and it hasn't been enough to stop the cuts. It's time we up the ante by showing the legislators in Olympia that there will be no more business as usual on our campus as long as they try to balance the budget at our expense!

It's also time we show UW President Mark Emmert and the Board of Regents that UW is not for sale to corporations. The budget cuts are no excuse for targeting cuts towards custodians and other immigrant workers, working class students, students of color, women, and queer folks. We need to fight to make sure that UW is open and accessible for ALL people regardless of income!

Strikes are an effective form of struggle and have won concrete victories in California. By walking out of a class students show that this school cannot run without our daily cooperation. We feel our collective power. By setting up picket lines we will try to convince other students to skip class once so that our classes and our classmates will even be here next year! We hope this will inspire more people to join the struggle and will be one step among many toward building the kind of mass movement we need to actually stop these cuts.

Workers at UW, community members, and high school students are invited to come join the picket lines with us. Students will be striking not only for our own demands but for those of workers, high school students, and anyone else affected by budget cuts!

Washington Federation of State Employees Local 1488, SEIU local 925, and UAW local 4121 all decided to support this student strike after months of rank and file mobilization. WFSE Local 1488 is the union that represents thousands of workers and staff members at UW and Harborview. Rank and File WFSE members, especially custodians, have been at the forefront of the struggle against budget cuts; they helped build International Workers and Students for Justice, a group of campus workers, off campus workers, and students. Rank and file teaching assistants in the UAW have also been key organizers of this strike through their organization For a Democratic University. While workers are not necessarily striking at this time many will be coming to the student picket lines after work or will use vacation time to attend. We are building the necessary rank and file organizations to prepare for future actions.

This action overall is called by the UW Student - Worker Coalition, an alliance of undergrad, worker, and grad student organizations that has come together to fight the cuts.