THE National Union of Students (NUS) and the Trades Union Congress (TUC) yesterday signed an agreement for joint campaigning for the coming year.
The partnership was signed at Congress House in London by TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady and by new NUS National President Megan Dunn. A joint press statement said the accord will see the TUC and the NUS commit to work together to fight discrimination on campuses, in workplaces and in wider society, and to defend further and higher education from privatisation.
The student and worker organisations pledged to join forces to engage students with the world of work, inform young workers of their employment rights and campaign for high quality apprenticeships. TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: ‘The union and student movement share many values and challenges and this new partnership aims to increase our ability to campaign more effectively together.
‘Too many young people are bearing the brunt of the Chancellor’s failed economic plan, stuck in zero-hours, low-paid jobs, saddled with mountains of student debt. Every young worker should be in a trade union, to get their voice heard and their interests represented.’
NUS National President Megan Dunn said: ‘It is almost ten years ago that one of my predecessors became the first NUS President to speak at TUC Congress. Over that time NUS and the TUC have worked together to campaign to safeguard and extend rights for workers – including working students. I am proud that with this agreement we are reaffirming our historical partnership. Working together could not be more important.
‘Faced with cuts to student support, an increase in debt and insecurity at work it is vital that in the year ahead we stand together. This agreement continues and builds on the success of our longstanding commitment to do just that.’
Currently the NUS has launched a CuttheCost campaign against the Tory governments intention to scrap maintenance grants for full-time Higher Education students in England. The NUS website said: ‘The current government plan to scrap maintenance grants for full-time Higher Education students in England and replace them with a loans-based system – a move which will end non-repayable state support which is offered to hundreds of thousands of students from lower income households every year.
‘The scrapping of the maintenance grants will saddle poorer students with yet more debt, should they aspire to study. We must now face the reality that if the government gets its way and maintenance grants are replaced with loans, the impact will be detrimental to hundreds of thousands of the poorest students studying in England for years to come, and may place pressure on the governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to follow suit.’
Maintenance grants are given to students from lower income households to help with their living costs. The maximum grant is £3,387 per year for students whose household income is less than £25k. The NUS understands that currently, approximately 500,000 students rely on maintenance grants. The government proposals would stop all grants to new students from September 2016, forcing poorer students to take on further debt to fund their studies.
The NUS website continued: ‘We cannot allow George Osborne to write off the most vulnerable, let down the future talent of this country and price students out of higher education – which is why saving maintenance grants that support the poorest students is our utmost priority’. Students responded to the launch of the campaign by, posting comments on the NUS website.
Jan Pearson who has set up a 38 degrees petition ‘save-our-student-support’ posted: ‘I set up this petition, to save student grants it has almost 40,000 signatures, we need 100,000 to have it heard in parliment.’ Ben Chairman student posted: ‘We are the national union of students and need to exert that power properly. No soft touches. We are the future of this country, full stop.’
Sarah Gibbons, University of Warwick, posted: ‘I’m really pleased that NUS are working to challenge these brutal changes.’ Claire Saxton, Manchester, United Kingdom: ‘I think the point is that students from lower income backgrounds would be less likely to receive additional financial support from their parents/guardians.’
Helen Cobley, who works at The Learning Institute, South West, posted: ‘As a parent who has one daughter just gone through the system and benefited from a full maintenance grant I am devastated to learn my son will start uni next year without this assistance. . . . I have worked all of my life, but as a single mum I am unable to offer the financial support a working couple can offer their child.’ She added: ‘As things stands making students from lower income backgrounds struggle appears a cheap shot.’
Earlier, the NUS published new research showing over half of full-time students graduating under the post-2012 fees and loans system believe their degree was not worth the tuition fees. One in 20 graduates said if they could go back, they would not have gone to university, citing the cost of study and level of debt as the main reasons. The report, Debt in the first degree, examines the attitudes and behaviours of the first £9,000 fee-paying graduates.
• 77 per cent of graduates were worried or very worried about their student debt.
• 43 per cent of graduates believe their standard of living would be affected by the cost of repaying their student loan.
• Only 45 per cent of graduates expect to fully repay their student loan debt.
• Of the 56 per cent of graduates who believed that their degree was not worth the cost of their tuition fees, 17 per cent believed their degree was worth considerably less than they paid.
• A third of Black and minority ethnic (BME) graduates were more concerned about the interest of student loans and much more likely to want to repay them as soon as possible, believing the student loan debt to be as bad as other forms of debt such as bank loans or credit cards.
• Cost of study had some impact on the choice of institution (45 per cent) and some impact on where graduates chose to live (60 per cent). A considerable number of those surveyed said they would consider changing their subject (28 per cent) or their university (23 per cent).
In a separate poll carried out by NUS, 91 per cent of 16-18 year olds said they were concerned about the financial implications of going to university. Responding to the NUS campaign strategy Joshua Ogunleye Secretary of the Young Socialists Student Society and a student at ULU said: ‘We welcome the unity of the trade unions and the students in the struggle to defend, jobs and education.
‘However the NUS and the TUC must do more than just appeal to the Tory government and to MPs to vote against the legislation. The TUC is presently calling on workers to lobby the Tory Party Conference to get them to change their policies, but this will have no affect whatsoever and is just a waste of time.
‘The TUC has the power to stop this government, by calling a general strike to force the government to resign. We call on all students to join the Young Socialist Student Society (YSSS) and take part in the Young Socialists Lobby of the TUC en masse on 13 Sept. The TUC Congress must be forced to call a general strike. ‘ We must must use the enormous power of the trades unions united with the students to bring the government down and establish a workers government and socialism which will repudiate all student debt and re-establish grants and free education.’