Tuesday 17 May, 2016
By Fiona Edwards and Aaron Kiely, Student Broad Left
A massive campaign is underway from right wing forces inside and outside the student movement, backed up by a hostile right wing media, to seriously weaken the National Union Students (NUS) by pushing for affiliated Students’ Unions to leave the national union.
This is unambiguously an attempt to break up the NUS and therefore undermine the national voice of students, with the aim of leaving students defenceless against the huge national attacks which are being driven forward by the Tories.
The next year is a critical period for the student movement, with significant challenges: this week the government unveiled its Higher Education White Paper which contains plans to increase tuition fees above £9,000, whilst further education colleges are facing cuts on a scale we have not seen before through the ‘Area Reviews.’
The role of NUS in this situation is clear: inform and consult students, mobilise students, organise campaigns, lobby politicians and the government against the cuts, privatisation and marketisation agenda. This is what students voted for at NUS National Conference last month – a fighting NUS that defends students and education, with a new leadership team elected which is committed to delivering just that.
NUS represents 7 million students, making it the largest democratic student movement in Europe. NUS is organised on the basis of the affiliation of college and university Students’ Unions, with 600 currently affiliated. Students studying at affiliated Students’ Unions are automatically members of NUS. NUS depends upon the affiliation fees of Students’ Union to function and provide a national voice for students.
Moves to disaffiliate Students’ Unions from NUS are a serious threat to the student movement in the UK. Every Students’ Union that disaffiliates can deprive NUS of thousands of pounds and thousands of members. It will weaken the student movement and undermine resistance to austerity.
Last week saw votes on NUS affiliation take place at four universities – with two choosing to stay with NUS (Exeter and Surrey) and two choosing to leave (Lincoln and Newcastle).
Over the coming weeks referendums will be taking place at a number of other universities including Oxford, Cambridge, Warwick, Hull, York, Bath Spa, Worcester, Bristol, Durham and Essex.
Not only are right wing groups in the student movement pushing for Students’ Unions to disaffiliate from NUS, they are also attempting to prevent representatives of NUS from campaigning on campus during the referendums to make the case for the national union, on the premise that there should not be ‘outside’ interference. This is a clear attempt to prevent a serious, democratic and fair debate – particularly in the context of the very real external intervention taking place from the right wing press, with hundreds of articles published attacking and smearing the NUS President-elect. Malia Bouattia is being slandered because she represents a new left leadership of NUS.
It is the number one priority of all left and progressive forces in the student movement to defend NUS – because what is at stake is students having a strong, national union to defend their interests.
The left in NUS should unite with all those who are willing to fight to keep the NUS as a union for all students.