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From The Socialist newspaper, 17 April 2013

NUS conference votes against free education and EMA

Ronnie Smith, Sheffield Socialist Students

In 2012, the National Union of Students (NUS) conference mandated the union to call a national demo to launch the fightback against the government's attacks on education.

In 2013, free education and demands for the reinstatement of EMA were voted down. What happened to provoke such a U-turn?

The NUS leadership failed to properly build support for the national demo in 2012. The 2013 NUS conference was then led by the right-wing New Labour leadership who, through buzzwords and empty rhetoric, whipped up a defeatist attitude and anti-left sentiment on conference floor.

The NUS leaders claimed that "free education will prop up privilege". Neil Moore, Belfast Met Students Union president and Socialist Students FE Block of 15 candidate, responded: "I dare you to come down to my college and say that, where free education isn't an 'insult', it's a necessity for the poorest students to access education."

Neil also exposed the leadership's promises to "investigate a better alternative to EMA" as lowly attempts to avoid action.

There was no commitment to action, the focus being on the 2015 general election and how "we" - or rather the New Labour Students faction - were going to win them.

As if we'd forgotten that Labour introduced tuition fees! Socialist Students spoke about students demanding action now on the issues important to them: fees, cuts, privatisation, and EMA.

We demanded that the real issues students have to deal with be discussed, and spoke out demanding a vote of no confidence against the blatantly biased chair (multiple times!), supported by many delegates who felt similar frustration towards the abhorrent lack of democracy.

Socialists defend students

Socialist Students intervened successfully to ensure the NUS's attempt to quietly drop its opposition to unpaid internships was defeated, mandating NUS to demand proper terms and conditions for interns and apprentices, and also ensured NUS continues to oppose all mid-course fee hikes for international students.

Socialist Students also played a critical role in fighting against pro-privatisation and anti-immigrant motions.

Significantly, the conference did vote to campaign against privatisation. But the eight-week occupation at Sussex Uni opposing privatisation of support services, which has mobilised thousands, was hardly mentioned - except by Socialist Students members.

We intervened to stop the right-wing attacking the NUS democratic structures as the leadership tried to steal the little control ordinary students still have over NUS.

Unsurprisingly, the sentiment on conference floor was reflected in the election results. Not a single left-wing candidate was elected for president or vice-president positions.

But Socialist Students Block of 15 candidates Neil Moore and Edmund Schluessel got a good response, with the results due on 17 April.

26 people came to the Socialist Students 'Marx Was Right' fringe meeting.

NUS is currently an organisation run from the top by careerists, blocking the student movement rather than leading it.

Socialist Students will continue to fight to change NUS, building a democratic fighting student movement.

But students won't wait forever for the NUS leaders to act - as Sussex Uni has shown.

Students need to build campaigns on every campus where cuts and privatisation dare to raise their ugly head.

Socialist Students will look to bring these together nationally to build a mass movement to defend education.

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In The Socialist 17 April 2013:

Socialist Party news and analysis

NUS conference votes against free education and EMA

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In Brief


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