Socialist Worker

Confront right wing attacks on the NUS

by Nick Clark
Issue No. 2504

Students on the march for grants in November last year

Students on the march for grants in November last year (Pic: Guy Smallman)

Two student unions have disaffiliated from the National Union of Students (NUS) as part of a campaign to undermine its new left wing leadership.

Student unions at Lincoln and Newcastle universities disaffiliated from the NUS last week.

Students at Exeter and Surrey voted to remain.

The votes follow the election of anti-racist and left wing activist Malia Bouattia as NUS president last month.

Right wing student activists launched a disaffiliation campaign in response to Bouattia’s election.

It came as Bouattia was disgracefully attacked and smeared as an antisemite by right wing politicians and newspapers for supporting Palestinian resistance.

Bouattia starts her role as NUS president in September. She is currently NUS black students officer and leading a campaign against the Islamophobic Prevent strategy on campuses.

Her election will make her NUS’s first president who is a black, Muslim woman.

Three other left activists —Shelly Asquith, Shakira Martin and Sorana Vieru— were elected vice presidents.

Right wing NUS activists responded by raising what they said were concerns about the “direction” of the NUS.


A statement by Lincoln student union officers said their delegates had “returned from the recent NUS conference disillusioned with the direction that NUS are taking the student movement.”

It added that the referendum had “not been called as a direct impact of Bouattia’s presidency or any other officers and their current or past views.”

But it also cited a previous Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions rally as a “concern”.

A similar statement from Newcastle student union president Dominic Fearon said, “It is clear that our students feel that the NUS no longer represents their views, does not prioritise correctly, and is not effective at achieving change.”

The attack on the NUS’ left wing leadership mirrors the war waged on the left in the Labour Party by the Labour right.

The success of the disaffiliation campaigns in Lincoln and Newcastle comes after years of a hollowing out of NUS democracy under successive right wing leaderships.

The election of Bouattia and others to leadership positions marked a shift towards turning the NUS into a campaigning organisation.

The official NUS campaign for student unions to stay affiliated focuses on defending higher education.

But the campaign avoids defending anti-racism and Palestine solidarity activism.

More ballots are set to take place in Cambridge, Warwick, Oxford, Cambridge, Worcester, Loughborough and York.

Stopping the right’s attack will mean confronting them head on.

New threat of higher fees

Moves to allow universities to increase tuition fees even further were announced in a White Paper on Monday.

The government wants to link fees to teaching results.

While institutions will “only” be allowed to increase the maximum £9,000 annual fee in line with inflation for next year, it could be the first step in allowing colleges to set their own fees.

Labour’s shadow universities minister described the move as a “Trojan horse” for eventually removing the fees cap altogether.

The proposals will also make it easier for more private institutions to be given university status, bringing closer the era of higher education openly dominated by profit.

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