Socialist Worker

Students build demo for free education

by Tom Walker, City University students’union executive
Issue No. 2130

Students are building for a national demonstration for free education and living grants next year – but the National Union of Students (NUS) is not supporting it.

The protest, called by student activist group Another Education is Possible, will be a rallying point for students who refuse to compromise on free education.

NUS leaders argue that we should be “realistic” and lobby ministers for a “fairer funding system”.

They have focused their energy not on fighting fees, but on attacking democracy in the union. The leadership is proposing “reforms” that would hand over control of the union to a trustee board of unelected, non-student “professionals”.

In a candid interview with the Guardian newspaper earlier this year, NUS’s unelected “chief executive” Matt Hyde said, “It’s an ideological struggle for students’ unions.

“More politically active, factionalised groups from the hard left will have a different view of how the NUS should be run. But their disproportionate influence will be less.” The left managed to beat back the initial attack at the NUS’s annual conference in April, arguing with every delegate and winning the third of the votes needed to block the proposals.

Since then the right have been able to use their majority on the executive to spend the union’s time and resources campaigning endlessly for the reforms. NUS president Wes Streeting – a member of Labour Students – wants to hold two extraordinary conferences in a row to pass the changes.

Unlike annual conferences, few delegations to extraordinary conferences are elected – students’ union bureaucrats massively outnumber activists.

The first of these extraordinary conferences took place last month, and the new constitution was passed by a majority of more than three quarters.

A second conference could be called soon. It would have the power to destroy NUS as we know it, without even needing the approval of the far more democratic annual conference.

The student left is united in the Save NUS Democracy campaign. We need to build the movement on the ground – one that can take on fees and win.

Free education and living grants for all demonstration. 1pm, Wednesday 25 February 2009, central London. Go to »

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Article information

Tue 2 Dec 2008, 18:43 GMT
Issue No. 2130
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