At Northumbria freshers fair it was very interesting to hear what students are saying. Socialist Students members campaign on a number of issues and it appeared that students are concerned about all of them.
The 'Keep Tyne and Wear Metro Public' campaign against privatisation of public transport got a lot of attention, as did the Campaign to Defeat Fees petition. Students were also impressed by our record over the past year, such as taking on the far-right, racist British National Party, protesting against tuition fees and getting elected to the student council on the basis of our tireless campaigning and clear socialist ideas.
One mature NHS student said: "socialist ideas need to get back on the agenda". We were the only society to clearly put forward socialist ideas. As a result many people were interested in joining the society and some wanted to join the Socialist Party. They were attracted to our approach, linking socialist ideas with campaigning on the issues that affect students such as for a non-fee paying cash machine on the eastern campus and for cheaper food in the student union canteen.
"I really REALLY want to join that!" So said Sara who joined Socialist Students at Manchester University on the first day of the freshers fairs.
Our 'join the socialists' stall received a fantastic response. Over five hours at our two stalls we signed up 70 members for Socialist Students and sold 32 copies of the Student Socialist. "All my family are socialists so I'm definitely joining you," said another student.
Many young workers also filled out cards to join the Socialist Party after seeing our posters during protests at New Labour's conference. More and more young people, both those at work and studying, oppose New Labour's failed way of running the country in the interests of the rich. They are saying: 'We need an alternative!' On and off campus, we'll be providing that alternative - so 'join the socialists' and make it happen!
Decorating our stall and the surrounding area with Socialism 2008 posters and posters saying 'Capitalism in crisis - was Marx right?' we got a brilliant response. Passing students stopped to talk saying: "Yes he was"!
There was no worry about carrying a heavy bag home as leaflets on 'capitalism in crisis', Socialism 2008 and the Campaign to Defeat Fees were snapped up. Students were queuing up to sign our petition against fees and for a living grant for all students. The student union president, having walked past several times, saw how well we were doing and eventually approached us. He said how pleased he was that we were campaigning against fees, and that we should be working inside the university. We agreed and he provided the details of who to contact to set up a Socialist Student society.
By the end of the stall we had sold 18 copies of the Socialist Student magazine and ten copies of The Socialist. Even more importantly, 16 students and one university canteen worker filled in cards to join or get more information about the Socialist Party with many more wanting to join Socialist Students.
Last Tuesday, members of Bangor University Socialist Students ran a stall outside the FE college, Coleg Menai against EMA payment delays.
We received a lot of support from students who, in particular, agreed with our demand that FE students deserve an EMA they can actually live off, that does not leave them reliant on their parents.
One student came back after reading our leaflet and said we should organise a protest. We invited her to join our Campaign to Defeat Fees day of action on 16 October and our upcoming meetings. Others came back later with friends to sign the petition and buy copies of The Socialist and the new Student Socialist magazine. We now aim to build links between college and university students in Bangor.
It looks like a busy autumn as we also prepare to campaign for the student union to support the Campaign to Defeat Fees, despite opposition from the national leadership of NUS.
'Join the socialists' stalls got a great response at Manchester College and Xaverian Sixth Form. Some college students have now gone over five weeks without receiving their EMA.
But students are clear that it is chancellor Alistair Darling's fault. This is what the government and their big business friends have to offer young people - more problems, not support. And that is why young people have had enough of this system and want to join the socialists!
Based on our experience, we recommend you use the glossy Socialism 2008 and 'join the socialists' posters, get some join cards and copies of The Socialist, do a 'join the socialists' activity at your college and build the challenge to the system!
At Leeds University there were queues of people lining up to give their details so they could get involved. The issues that attracted so many people? Opposition to war, fees, racism and big business and an invitation to join the socialists!
At King's College in London four new people came along to a meeting on 'capitalism in crisis: was Marx right?' despite Socialist Students being allocated a tiny hidden-away room. A Chinese student who attended was initially attracted by the Chinese leaflets on the stalls.
Given ever-rising travel and food prices, the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) which provides up to £30 a week for 16 to 18 year olds in full-time education, is increasingly vital, if insufficient. This year hundreds of thousands of students experienced delays with their payments. The culprit? Privatisation.
The Learning and Skills Council handed the service over to private contractor Liberata. This was despite the Financial Services Authority fining Liberata in April for failing to carry out contracts for pensions companies. Their ineptitude led to life and pension policyholders losing money on their investments, but Liberata saw a growth in profit for 2007!
Now it has meant a nightmare for students starting out at college. However, the evidence shows that, given a lead, these students are ready to fight back!
Evidence to show how Britain's wealth gap affects education abounds. An OECD report placed Britain fourth in terms of large class sizes, and worst in terms of the gap between private and state school class sizes. In 1997 Labour promised to cut class sizes. And some class sizes have been cut - for the rich! On average there are 13 more pupils in a state primary class than in a private one in Britain.
In 2007, the average annual cost of sending a child to a private day school was £9,627. The super-rich and their friends in New Labour may be able to afford this but for teachers, average private school fees represent 28% of the average salary and it is 36% for nurses.
When university top-up fees were introduced Socialist Students warned that this would have a big impact on limiting working-class students' access to higher education. We were told that a bursary scheme would prevent the £3,000 bill being an obstacle.
A recent report shows that students from poorer backgrounds receive, on average, £1,000 less in bursaries a year if they go to an ex-polytechnic rather than a redbrick university.
And league tables show most universities in the Russell Group, representing the top 20 research universities in Britain, have missed government targets to raise the number of state pupils they admit. At Oxford, the figure was only 53.7%.
From school through university, students from working-class backgrounds face an uphill battle. Applications to university have increased, showing the aspirations of young people to get a decent education, but tuition fees and mounting accommodation and other costs are great obstacles. 22% of students drop out, often for financial reasons.
It seems that when it comes to education, New Labour is living by a line from the Bible - "To those who have, more will be given, from them that have not, even that which they have will be taken away."
Socialist Students does not intend to offer the other cheek but to organise the student fightback for free education as a right for all. Join Socialist Students.
Organise a protest in your university as part of the Campaign to Defeat Fees day of action on Thursday 16 October. Contact Socialist Students at email@example.com for leaflets, posters, support and advice.