Wages for Students!

“We are fed up with working for free

We demand real money now for the schoolwork we do.

We must force capital, which profits from our work, to pay for our schoolwork. Only then can we stop depending on financial aid, our parents, working second and third jobs or working during summer vacations for our existence. We already earn a wage; now we must be paid for it. Only in this way can we seize more power to use in our dealings with capital.

We can do a lot with the money. First, we will have to work less as the “need to work” additional jobs disappears. Second, we will immediately enjoy a higher standard of living since we will have more to spend when we take time off from schoolwork. Third, we will raise the average wage in the entire area affected by the presence of us low-cost workers.

By taking time off from schoolwork to demand wages for students, we think and act against the work we are doing. it also puts us in a better position to get the money.

No more unpaid schoolwork!

The Wages for Students Students”

Read the full pamphlet on Zerowork (download PDF scan of 1975 original). See also here and for historical context, Federici (1974) Wages Against Housework.

Student debt linked to the value of academic labour?

Andrew McGettigan has posted a useful analysis of the government’s ‘plans’ for financing higher education. What struck me was his last remark:

“In immediate policy terms, OBR assumes that tuition fees will rise with inflation from 2016-17, and then in line with earnings from 2019-20. As they have emphasised in previous years, without the link to earnings (which are projected to rise faster than inflation in the long-term), university income would be eroded owing the labour-intensive nature of HE.” (Andrew’s emphasis)

The way I read this is that from 2019, the interests of students and academics will be set against each other in a way they have not been in conflict before: Student debt (tuition fees) will be linked to the rise in the median value of UK labour power, which includes waged academics.

In the UK, the price of labour power (i.e. wage) has historically risen faster than inflation and therefore the cost of running a labour intensive university rises accordingly. Until 2013, the increase in fees payable by students was periodic, rising 200% from £1000 in 1997 to £3000 in 2006, with tuition income supplemented by state grants via general taxation. During that time inflation rose about 26% and earnings rose about 28%. (Had £1000 tuition fees risen with inflation since 1997, they would be about £1600 today).

If the income for a university (largely tuition fees) is set against inflation as it is expected to be for 2016-17, the main type of costs (wages) is expected to rise more than the main source of income (fees) and over time the university would gradually get poorer. It’s unsustainable under our current funding regime. In this sense, the change might protect academic jobs in contrast to the current arrangement that increasingly puts them at risk. Of course, the idea of whether any of the current economic paradigm of growth is sustainable is questionable in itself. See Michael Roberts here and here for a response to that…

On the one hand, individuals who will be or are students from 2019 naturally want any growth in their debt to remain low relative to inflation – it’s not in their interest for the price of their education/degree/experience to be set higher than the rate of inflation (arguably, debt is not in their interest, full stop). On the other hand, workers, such as academics want any growth in their earnings to be high relative to inflation so that real wages are high.

So, it seems to me that if the assumption that fees will be tied to earnings is true, then a conflict of interest between students and academics is introduced that currently doesn’t exist. Although the change will help create a form of equivalence between income and outgoings for the institution, it creates a situation where the academic effectively says to the student: “As my wages go up, so do your fees” (or “as my value goes up, so does your indenture”), instead of “As the cost of living goes up, so do your fees.”

That workers are forced into a position of having competing interests among themselves is fundamental to capitalism, but this latest prediction struck me as reinforcing a dysfunctional relationship between students and academics.

The Co-operative University: Labour, property and pedagogy

My paper for the conference, Governing Academic Life is available for download and I welcome comments here or via email. Thank you.


We are witnessing an “assault” on universities (Bailey and Freedman, 2011) and the future of higher education and its institutions is being “gambled.” (McGettigan, 2013) For many years now, we have been warned that our institutions are in “ruins” (Readings, 1997). We campaign for the “public university” (Holmwood, 2011) but in the knowledge that we work for private corporations, where academic labour is increasingly subject to the regulation of performative technologies (Ball, 2003) and where the means of knowledge production is being consolidated under the control of an executive. We want the cops off our campus but lack a form of institutional governance that gives teachers and students a right to the university. (Bhandar, 2013)

Outside the university, there is an institutional form that attempts to address issues of ownership and control over the means of production and constitute a radical form of democracy among those involved. Worker co-operatives are a form of ‘producer co- operative’ constituted on the values of autonomy, democracy, equality, equity and solidarity. In most cases the assets (the ‘means of production’) of the co-operative are held under ‘common ownership’, a social form of property that goes beyond the distinction between private and public.

I begin this paper by discussing the recent work of academics and activists to identify the advantages and issues relating to co-operative forms of higher education. I then focus in particular on the ‘worker co-operative’ organisational form and discuss its applicability and suitability to the governance of and practices within higher educational institutions. Finally, I align the values and principles of worker co-ops with the critical pedagogic theory of ‘Student as Producer’.

Open education. From the freedom of things to the freedom of people

In this book chapter I offer a critical analysis of Open Education, a growing international movement of educators and educational institutions who, through the use of the Internet, seek to provide universal access to knowledge. The purpose of this analysis is to examine the production of value through technological virtuality, in the concrete labour process of teaching and learning.

Published in Towards Teaching in Public: Reshaping the Modern University

Download the full chapter