Labour and Co-operative Member of
Parliament for Kemptown and Peacehaven

A march for Free Education but NUS fails to step forward

by Lloyd on 26.03.09
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On a cold February morning about 60 students from Bradford set off to London to make their mark in the start of the free education ahead of the government review on University fees.

With mounting evidence that graduates will not earn significantly higher than non-graduates the reasons for going to University are quietly clearly for personal developmental, social well-being and to provide better services for our nation and the demonstration wanted to point that out.

The Demonstration which was organised by left wing and liberal unions was the first national march in over 10 outside of NUS.

Last April the NUS leadership dropped its 10 year old stance for free education instead for a fight for a fairer funding system. As I have argued in these pages before the only fair funding system is free education.

Just under 1000 students marched through London the national demonstration against fees and marketisation organised by an alliance with socialists, anti-capitalists and free education campaigners, as well as over 20 student unions and the NUS Women’s, LGBT and Black Students’ Campaigns. (For a full list of the sponsoring organisations, see www.studentdemo2009.org.uk.)

There were decent turn outs from a number of Unions, but only a small number. This is an indictment of NUS and the majority of student union leaderships, who refused to have anything to do with the demo and in fact no doubt worked against it.

Despite this, the fact that the demonstration took place was progress. Such is NUS’s inactivity that there has not been a national student demo since 2006; without this initiative, that three year gap could have lengthened to four years, five years or even longer. (It was also the first time that a national free education demo has been organised independently of NUS since the Campaign for Free Education demos of the late 1990s.) The fact that a broad variety of left-wing student activist groups were able to work with student unions in a democratic organising committee to organise the demo bodes well for future action. We have learnt important lessons which can put into practice next time.

Bradford has had a long history for fighting for free education; we supported non-payers during the introduction of fees. We have got strong policy against all fees (that’s home, EU and International). In the last article of the Bradford Student I argued the case for Free Education, I called for our Vice Chancellor (the head of Bradford Uni) to do only noble thing and call for free education as I believe he personally supports. He still hasn’t, failing a generation of students!

In the Guardian Wes Streeting, the NUS president replied to criticism about not supporting free education despite NUS for a principled stance for free education. He says “”The NUS is standing alongside several other trade unions today to protest against 1.5 million cuts in adult education places.
“If the student movement gets campaigning tactics (over fees) wrong in 2009 there will be no chance of stopping the lifting of the cap.

“Some people say we have small ambitions but a fundamental overhauling of the way the system is funded isn’t small.

“We’ve made a bold and brave decision to focus on how graduates contribute and eliminating the market rather than getting rid of fees, which is unfeasible.”

The economic climate would make it unrealistic to argue for the abolition of fees, he said.
“It looks like cloud cuckoo land. The fight has got to be to ensure the market in fees doesn’t go further and to defend investment in universities and colleges. That’s a campaign we can win.”
In the same article the newly elected President of Susses University Union, Tom Wills stated “The NUS’s policy is flawed logic – you don’t win concessions by trying to appease the government, you need to put pressure on them.

“With the march, we want to put this on the agenda and make sure free education is talked about on every campus, especially next term as the review raises the temperature on the debate around tuition fees. We need to make fees an election issue.”
He said the fact that several student demands were met after the sit-in protests on campus was “inspiring”.

“With the economic crisis the future is already uncertain and students want to feel part of shaping that future,” he added.

In April students around the globe will take action for free education, Bradford is getting read to force the University to unequivocally come out against fees, if you want to join the campaign then please contact me on ubu-ust@bradford.ac.uk or come in to the students’ union.

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Labour and Co-operative Member of
Parliament for Kemptown and Peacehaven

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