National Union of Students conference 2018

Students protest as NUS restricts debate

Socialist Students marching with the UCU in London, 14.3.18, photo James Ivens

Socialist Students marching with the UCU in London, 14.3.18, photo James Ivens   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

Theo Sharieff, national chair, Socialist Students

The annual conference of the National Union of Students (NUS) met in Glasgow from 27 to 29 March in the midst of an almighty fightback on university campuses.

But thanks to the actions of the right-wing NUS leadership and bureaucracy, the conference was notably devoid of any serious political discussion on what many students understand to be the most important issues facing the movement.

Conference this year was smaller compared to previous years. Delegates only cast 691 votes in the presidential election, redelivering Blairite Shakira Martin to the union’s presidency.

Socialist Students made a fantastic and bold intervention at the conference, arguing for a fighting and socialist leadership of the NUS.

We ran a candidate in the national executive council (NEC) elections. A Socialist Students delegate also submitted a motion demanding the leadership mobilise members for a national demonstration for free education.

Unfortunately, however, that motion – and many other crucial discussions, such as on the recent University and College Union pension strikes – weren’t heard, thanks to bureaucratic restrictions on delegates’ rights to discuss.

On the second day of conference, the right-wing bureaucracy, acting through the chair, cut the discussion on the struggle for abortion rights in Northern Ireland.

Around 150 delegates spontaneously occupied the stage to express their outrage at the official procedures of conference as determined by the right wing.


Socialist Students participated in and gave full support to the occupation, with a Socialist Students delegate from Belfast speaking to the crowd.

On the last day, we organised a protest in solidarity with the student movement in Catalonia.

Socialist Students used the opportunity to allow delegates from Northern Ireland to explain why they’d protested.

We put out a call to any other students angry at the lack of real leadership from the NEC, encouraging them to speak.

The student movement needs this kind of democratic, combative approach if it is to become a serious factor in the struggle against cuts and privatisation in education, and effective in supporting the workers’ movement in the fight for socialist change.

  • Full report on the 2018 NUS conference in a future issue of the Socialist