‘Organise and fight!’ – education must be free!

Angry students marching through central London demanding an end to all tuition fees, the restoration of grants and no privatisation
Angry students marching through central London demanding an end to all tuition fees, the restoration of grants and no privatisation

STUDENT Unions (SU) across the country have slammed the National Union of Students (NUS) President Toni Pearce’s decision to pull out of today’s national demonstration against fees and cuts.

Ronnie Rowlands, Lancaster University Students Union (LUSU) Vice President (Campaigns and Communications), told News Line that despite the national representative body pulling out, the SU policy in support of Free Education would dictate their actions.

‘We have policy pledging our support for free education, and this demonstration is a chance for students to fight for its place on the political agenda.

‘The national executive of the NUS democratically voted to back this demo, and it is only the “executive authority” of a small number of NUS officers overruling that decision.

‘I’m not convinced by the shaky arguments put out by the NUS President and suspect there are other motives – I don’t know what they are and, frankly, I don’t care.

‘Other members of the LUSU FTO (full time officer) team and I are minded to agree with the resolve of NUS Scotland and push on with this, and not to let top table politicking prevent LUSU from fulfiling its mandates.

‘I simply do not care about the anxieties of NUS Full Time Officers; they are an utter irrelevance to me, and in this case, they are to LUSU’s resolve on this matter as well.’

NUS Scotland, which is run under a separate leadership, has maintained its support for the action.

Kirsty Haigh, the Scottish arm’s vice president for communities, affirmed: ‘We support the national demonstration and our officer team is looking forward to attend.

‘The organisers have told us they have met the necessary safety requirements and so, as always, we believe the biggest threat to students’ safety on the demonstration will be the police.’

Shelly Asquith, President of University of the Arts London Students’ Union said: ‘We cannot rely on simply passing policy at NUS National Conference and meeting privately with Government ministers to win an education that functions how we want it to: free, inclusive and democratic.

‘We must use our collective power, organise and fight. That is why students from the University of the Arts London – both FE and HE alike – will be walking out on Wednesday, joining thousands from across the country.’

Bristol students also voted overwhelmingly to walk out for the demonstration, with Bristol SU saying: ‘The government’s own figures tell us that for every £1 invested in higher education, the economy expands by £2.60.

‘Free education is not just a pipe dream, Germany recently abolished all tuition fees. Higher education is also free in Norway and Sweden.’

Hattie Craig, from Birmingham SU said: ‘The students attending this demonstration are a new generation: one that was not involved in 2010, one for whom £9,000 fees are the norm.

‘Despite this, they’re daring to call for demands which envisage a radical reshaping of education. This demonstration, expected to be the biggest since 2010, is the start of big things for the student movement.’

The National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts (NCAFC), one of the groups staging the demo, went further and accused the NUS of privately persuading students’ unions to pull out, branding its conduct ‘absolutely shameful’.

• Today’s demonstration assembles at 11am at ULU, Malet Street, London, WCI.