Wednesday 04-11-2015 - 09:21
Today is the national demonstration for Free Education in London, which this year is going under the banner ‘Free Education & Living Grants For All: No Barriers // No Borders // No Business!’
Coming up to the end of a year that has seen many challenges for students in Britain – not least of all the election of the most hard-line right-wing government in recent memory – this demo is a crucial opportunity to regather, regroup and show that as a movement, we will not be taking the attacks that the government has lined up against us, quietly.
As long as this Tory government manages to cling on to power it should know that it will face no comfortable ride from the student movement – and on behalf of the NUS I am proud to say that they will find no ally in this national union.
We’ve come a long way with the campaign for free education, and after years of being slapped down as a dirty word within even the NUS it is now again policy re-voted in by an overwhelming majority of our national conference, and has gone on to gain support from an increasing number of sectors in society, and even leaders of major political parties.
Anyone who complains about another ‘anti-everything’ demo taking place fails to understand (or is sheltered from appreciating) just how important a truly free –and- liberated education system would impact the lives of so many in society (even beyond students) and how this campaign touches upon their lives in so many ways.
The free education system that we should aim for goes beyond abolishing tuition fees, to tackling the market forces that are looking to make the education sector a playground for big business, at the expense of those who need it most.
The type of education that we want would be one that puts us at the forefront of tackling the barriers that students from a liberation background face in an education system that was never built to cater for them.
It would be one where students can fight back against the various ways the government tries to intrude on our campuses, without their institutions colluding with the state – from the police to immigration enforcement to PREVENT turning our educators into informants; where protest is suppressed, international students are muzzled and Muslim students face suspicion everywhere they turn.
And it would be a system where the wider community has input and a stake in how their local college and universities are run and can access the resources available for the betterment of the people, not where they are run as exclusive clubs perched in the centre of towns, or where the market dictates their direction.
Above all, free education is a liberating vision, and a positive one – but in aiming for it we have to confront the oppressive barriers standing in our way, and that’s the reality.
Lastly, national demonstrations are a strong show of the collective power of the student movement and the energy and effort put into them show what it is capable of.
As a movement, our strength lies in students. As a national union, our strength lies in us standing over seven million deep.
This strength, this energy and this potential cannot be wasted just on a race to get a tiny select few ‘a seat at the negotiating table’. Where that table is as fundamentally unbalanced as it is now, seated alongside a deeply hostile government and deep-pocketed profit-makers, the impact of the NUS will not be found just in the demands we make in board rooms, but by those demands being echoed and amplified by our membership, chanting them in unison outside in the streets and from across their campuses, disrupting and occupying to send the government a polite reminder that enough is enough.
The true power of students will always lie in the grassroots, so I hope to march alongside as many of you as possible tomorrow, the time after that and the time after that ‘til we make Free Education a reality.