Marketisation has dramatically weakened our student unions and NUS, turning them into inactive, apolitical, professionalised charities- just at the time when we most need a student movement to push back against university bosses and the government. Anti-democratic reforms passed at last year’s National Conference make this even worse. The UCU strike gives us the strongest opportunity to defend education in a decade. We urgently need to turn our student unions into activist organisations, with NUS linking them up into a national movement that fights alongside trade unions for free education, decent working conditions and urgent action on climate change.
Nominated by: Elizabeth Yeates, University of Leicester Students' Union; Asanga Kasun Witana, Sheffield Hallam Students' UnionArranjit Rangi, Aston Students' Union; Daniel Davison-Vecchione, Cambridge University Students' Union; Justine Canady, Students' Union UCL; Catherine Nugent, Goldsmiths Students' Union; Alison Brown, Sheffield Hallam Students' Union; Andrew Peak, Oxford University Students' Union
I’m a part-time student at Birkbeck College in London. This year I have been building support for the UCU strike on my campus, setting up Birkbeck Students Support the Strike and helping to coordinate solidarity nationally, too, through Student Strike Solidarity. I’m an active member of the Labour Party and an activist in the revolutionary socialist organisation Workers’ Liberty. In 2018 I was one of the founders of the Student Left Network. Before that, I spent years fighting for free education with the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts – both as a student and a teacher, when I was also a member of the National Education Union.
I’m standing for Vice President Higher Education to make the case for a radically different NUS. I want a national union that links up student unions across the country to fight marketisation, campus cuts and attacks on our living, working and studying conditions. A national union which also links up with the trade union movement to defend migrants, oppose austerity and fight the far right.
Our movement needs to be democratic!
This year’s National Conference will be the first since wide-ranging anti-democratic reforms were passed. Drawn up in hotel conference rooms by student union managers and Presidents, with barely any consultation, these reforms were designed to address a huge financial deficit and mass disengagement from NUS. But the reason for this crisis was years of failure by NUS to fight for students on the daily issues we face, and the bureaucratisation and depoliticisation of our student unions. The reforms will make this problem worse, not better.
We urgently need NUS and our student unions to be engines for changing society. But to transform NUS into a political fighting force, students need to have real control over what our union says and does. We need more time for political debate and discussion at Conference, not less. We need a movement that is open to all students, not just a clique of sabbatical officers who, under the new rules, can bypass student councils to submit policy.
Local student unions need to be transformed from apolitical, professionalised charities into organising centres for campaigning and direct action, with NUS linking them up into a national movement that’s not afraid to raise radical demands. We need student unions run by sabbatical officers and mass general assemblies, not managers and unelected trustee boards intent on making sure no one upsets senior management.
The strength of our movement comes from political debate and the ability to campaign around our ideas in a way that empowers and mobilises tens of thousands of students, including mass demonstrations and direct action.
Fight for free education
Universities are being run more and more like businesses. Marketisation means overcrowded campuses, a lack of academic and pastoral support, soaring rents, a student mental health crisis and a bad deal for international students. For staff, it means job cuts, precarious contracts, overwhelming workloads. Management make cuts to our courses and staff while spending millions on shiny new buildings that look good on a prospectus. Recent cuts signal we are heading for a two-tier education system, where certain, less ‘employment driven’ subjects are the preserve of an elite.
We can’t just wait for a Labour government to end marketisation and give us free education, funded by taxing the rich – we need to fight for it now! NUS must mobilise a movement from the bottom up to fight for a fully-funded, free and public education system, alongside adequate living grants and cheaper rent. To me, free education also means democratic institutions run by students, workers and the communities they serve; spaces for critical thinking, understanding society and how to change it; and for research that fulfils social need. I will unconditionally support education workers' struggles against neoliberalism and austerity in their sector, from outsourced cleaning workers on university campuses, to lecturers, to teachers in FE colleges and academies.
Defend the right to protest
From students suspended from studies for occupations in solidarity with staff, to racially-profiling government programmes like Prevent, our right to protest, organise and speak on campus is under serious threat. Our increasingly corporatised university administrations are determined to squash any form of militant protest, and more crackdowns look set to come from the government. NUS must demand “cops off campus”, fight positively for our right to protest and for freedom of speech, and bring the whole weight of the student movement behind defending students victimised by management for protesting.
Organise to change the world
As a socialist, I think the student movement should have a vital role to play in acting as spark and inspiration for the wider working-class movement in the fight against capitalism. I believe in linking up with trade unions to campaign for a socialist Green New Deal. I feel strongly about the need to stand up for reproductive rights and trans rights. Under this Tory government we need to campaign for freedom of movement and migrants’ rights. Why aren’t we organising trips to picket lines and demonstrations - our movement needs to up its game. Tweets and talking aren’t enough!