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Posted on 7 July 2010 at 12:21 GMT

NUS anti-cuts conference

Action needed

On 29 June, the National Union of Students (NUS) held a hastily organised conference to discuss the massive cuts looming in higher education.

The event was controversial from the start as many who registered had their places cancelled.

This was apparently due to 'over-subscription' but the fact that it was largely anti-cuts activists who were told not to attend shows that the leadership was nervous about being forced to commit to real action against the cuts.

The conference looked at details of the upcoming cuts and some delegates argued for a campaign against them, for example by building for a national demonstration on the issue.

The date for this demonstration was delayed to be discussed further at the upcoming national executive committee meeting this week.

Weak leadership

Student activists will need to keep pressure on NUS to ensure that they set a date and do not backtrack on the plan.

Disappointingly, there was also a session on how to 'cope' with the cuts which reflected a wider defeatism about stopping them.

Aaron Porter, NUS president, has even said that limiting cuts was the 'best' that students could hope for.

Porter is on record blaming universities for the need for cuts. "I recognise the pressures on university and college funding but they have had a decade of almost exponential investment and very few of them had the foresight to realise there might be a few years of difficulties." This line was parroted by various sabbatical officers from around the country during the conference.

In fact, it was clear from the discussion that the majority of student union officers are not interested in organising a serious fightback.

Most agreed with the idea that cuts are inevitable and that 'damage limitation' is the only option. They naively put forward the argument that this can be achieved through polite negotiations and 'partnerships' with university managements.

National demonstration

While student activists who are serious about fighting the cuts should keep pushing for effective action by their local student unions and by NUS nationally, it is also essential to organise independently of these structures to build mass campaigns that will take action to really stop the cuts.

If NUS fails to name a date for a national demonstration, Youth Fight for Jobs calls on all activists to organise a demo to coincide with the announcement of the next round of public sector cuts on 20 October (see www.youthfightforjobs.com to pledge support for this).

They must also build alliances with trade unionists on campus, and link their campaigns into the wider struggle to defend the public sector against the attacks of the Con-Dem coalition.

Welsh university mergers threaten education and jobs

Leighton Andrews, education minister in the Welsh Assembly announced on 29 June that Wales' newest universities, Swansea Metropolitan, Glyndwr and University of Wales, Trinity St David would be merged into pre-1992 universities.

Andrews, a Labour Assembly Member (AM), claimed that merging the universities would raise education standards.

Staff and students have been quick to disagree. The University and College Union (UCU) has noted that mergers mean job losses and worse conditions for students.

Jack Parker, a student at Cardiff University said: "This is yet another example of efficiency being deemed more important than young people's opportunities.

"What I don't understand is how our economy is expected to prosper in the decades to come when my generation continuously pays the price for mistakes that neither I nor my fellow students made."

Despite agreeing to jointly campaign with UCU against cuts, the NUS leadership has only said it "welcomed the commitment to protecting student numbers", which Andrews claims will be guaranteed.

This ignores the fact that fewer academic jobs, with the same number of students, will increase lecture sizes and have a devastating effect on education standards.

Edmund Schluessel

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