Monday 19-09-2016 - 11:41
NUS Journalist Rachel Brown reports from last week’s Road to the Demo event. The NUS Journalist programme allows budding journalists to report on student issues throughout the year. Applications for the 2016-17 programme are welcome until 23 October - find out more here.
The countdown to the demo has started. #Nov19 will see students take to London’s streets, marching together with the University and College Union (UCU). We will demand a better education for all. That includes bringing back maintenance grants, writing off student debt and Further Education (FE) investment.
But like that wise saying, ‘we get the government we deserve’, we also get the demo we deserve. It’s your choice to stay at home on #Nov19. But where would women be now if the Suffragettes had kept to the kitchen? And if students stayed in, we’d never have known the inspired image of peace: a student protesting the Vietnam War by placing a flower into the barrel of a gun. In another effective protest, Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King led a bus boycott that overhauled racist segregation laws. In essence, this is our campaign. An effective demo will demand our determination.
That’s why NUS held their “Road to National Demonstration” conference this week. The event was open to all students but was attended mostly by Sabbs living close enough to participate in the London event without busting travel budgets.
The space inspired serious thinking about how to make #Nov19 a high impact event that remains relevant to our goals.
A highlight was NUS Vice President (FE), Shakira Martin’s passionate talk about the role of education in the social equality movement. Shakira revealed, “Without education, I would be dead”. The point college could save us because education generates life giving opportunities is something every politician should remember. Particularly as they narrow participation through funding cuts; funding their own privilege meant they personally survived without.
Shakira’s speech foregrounded college and sixth form student interest, explaining they will be hardest hit by government plans for fewer grants and greater fees. As Goldsmith’s Education Officer Molly Kneath tweeted, Shakira ‘gave a seriously powerful talk’.
Vice President (Higher Education) Sorana Vieru proved her passion, showing major expertise on the Higher Education Bill. Sorana recently ridiculed the HE Bill’s proposal to establish an Office for Students (OfS) which would be the main regulator of HE. Evoking Orwell’s oxymoronic ‘Ministry of Love’, whilst purporting to be for students, OfS would lack any student representation! Sorana showed the absurdity of this with her own office in Westminster. Crucially, Sorana’s OfS included actual, live students.
The Vice President (HE) also used her stage time to call on students to lobby their university about the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF). Sorana emphasised universities have the right to opt out. And opt out they should, unless they want course fees linked to TEF scores. The policy move shows government marketising education. Sorana indicated strong NUS opposition on TEF, Sorana indicated strong NUS opposition on TEF, as captured by the campaign Quality Doesn't Grow on Fees.
But the day wasn’t just about speeches. Workshops encouraged participants to focus on student engagement. Sabbs were keen to tap into student creativity, with suggestions to involve theatre groups, techies and musicians. It makes sense too because if we can give expression to our demands creatively, we’ll attract media like a moth to a light.
It was also praiseworthy to see Sabbs strive for inclusivity. The University of Birmingham’s Women’s Association Disabled Students’ Rep, Rachel O’Brian was illuminating. Rachel put accessibility at the heart of planning by advising Sabbs on practical aspects like accessible coaches. The demo’s ethos of inclusivity beat clearly with the applause met after Rachel told everyone, ‘Disabled students can do direct action!”
I wish fellow sceptics had filled the seats of the Road to National Demonstration. They could have seen our impressive National Executive Committee (NEC) clearly set out the #Nov19 goals. Or been reassured about the Sabbs’ focus on a safe and accessible demo. And felt invigorated by the prospect of standing together against, as President Malia Bouattia aptly abridged, “government’s attack on education”.
As the Suffragettes said, it’s about ‘deeds not words’. So make your stand on #Nov19 and together, we will get the demo our education and our future deserves.
Keep informed on similar NUS events open to all students on Twitter and NUS Connect.