National Demo: should we stay or should we go?
At the national conference last year one of the main areas of discussion was whether NUS should organise a national demonstration in 2012 against the changes to both higher and further education; in particular the increase in student fees to £9000 a year. The debate at conference was heated but a majority of delegates voted in favour of organising a demo.
Keele’s delegates abstained from the vote as they wanted Keele students to make the decision on whether we would attend. It was decided at the final UGM of last year that we should hold a referendum at the start of the next year and that time has come. At the end of this week you’ll be able to vote on whether KeeleSU takes part in NUS’s national demonstration ‘Educate, Employ, Empower’, which is being held in London on Wednesday 21st November.
I’m not sure which way to vote for this one, but I want to make an informed decision. I’ve spoken to friends who think that Demo2012 is the best way to stand united against tuition fee rises and austerity cuts, whereas others think that with the fees now whacked up to £9k there isn’t much point in protesting. I’m also worried that we’re demonstrating for the sake of it and I really don’t want our reputation as a union of students to be damaged by break-away groups – and I certainly don’t want any more damage being done to my home town.
I spoke to Vicki Baars this afternoon – she’s Vice President Union Development for NUS – about the National Demo and why she thinks we should be involved. I have to admit, she made some really good points and spoke passionately about the benefits of surrounding yourself with like-minded individuals who are frustrated with the government’s decisions. Although, whilst I’m still healing from being stabbed in the back by Nick Clegg, I’m still not convinced that the increase in fees can’t be somewhat justified and even if they can’t be, there’s more chance of the squirrels taking over Keele than the government doing a U-turn on this particular policy.
Overall, I’m still up the air. I like national demo’s; it’s a great opportunity to meet up with students from other uni’s and it does give you a great sense of unity. But do I want to risk being kettled if things turn nasty? And shouldn’t I be focusing on my rather expensive education anyway? We’ll see. I’m going to head to the re-scheduled UGM tomorrow evening before I make up my mind. If you’ve already made up yours, let me know below.
— The interview —
We’re holding a referendum on the National Demo this week, why do you think we should vote yes?
I think students at Keele should vote yes because there have been too many things that have destroyed the prospects of future generations, in terms of their education, in recent months and years. The increase in tuition fees has not only put university out of reach for many but has also put off a lot of people and also caused a lot of difficulties in terms of money in people’s pockets.
Students should also be angry about the way international students are being treated like illegal immigrants and lumped in to immigration figures when actually they contribute hugely both socially and economically to this country.
There also seems to be an ideological move towards certain subjects whilst devaluing the necessity of having humanities and social sciences in our society – there have been huge cuts to arts and humanities courses in the last 6 months with many courses being withdrawn or having their places reduced.
Those are the reasons we should be angry, and there’s no better way of saying you’re angry than by a mass protest through the streets of London. We need to start setting the agenda ahead of the 2015 general election. We can say loud and clear that we aren’t going to settle for what we’re currently being given and that we believe there are better options.
Keele’s quite independent from NUS, so what will the average Keele student get out of attending the demo?
Being involved with direct action gives people a sense of determination and a sense of desire to want to change things as well as a further understanding of things they are discontented with. The students of Keele will benefit from the collective action and anger – they’re probably aware that they’re upset about it but can’t give all the details and can’t put it across in the way they might want to when lobbying MPs or talking to their parents, grandparents or children.
It’s also a great opportunity to be around like minded people who are angry. Sometimes, when you’re at university, your course mates don’t really seem to be bothered by the same issues so being around people who are bothered is a really empowering act; you don’t feel so alone.
At national conference last year we voted in favour of the demo. Do you think we’re demonstrating for the sake of it and how can the NUS deal with the factions that break off and cause carnage?
I don’t think we’re demonstrating for the sake of it, it’s for lots of good’s sake! I do think were demonstrating for many different reasons. Someone said to me it sounds like we’re trying to have a hundred different demo’s in one- that’s exactly what we’re trying to do. How often do thousands of people get together under the united umbrella of ‘don’t attack our education’? That’s why we’ve gone for ‘Educate, Employ, Empower’. It means investing in education and giving everyone that opportunity, as well as the opportunity for meaningful employment in life, and it allows us as individuals to become empowered to say what we want, when we want it and how we want it.
I think these are very clear messages, despite being very broad. So, I understand sometimes some people may think it’s pointless, but actually it gives the opportunity for you to shout about what the issues are on your campus. We want to be in the eye-line of politicians and the eye-line of the general public.
In terms of making it safe, I think NUS have a public and membership responsibility to ensure its as safe as possible – we’ve invested an awful lot of money in events organising and have paid an expert to do the risk assessment. We want to do all of the risk assessment stuff in the most professional and comprehensive way as possible.
As a result the route has changed – personally I’m disappointed as it doesn’t pass the areas of power, however the route is intentionally long, 2 miles – if it’s too short people get restless and start to look for alternative action and that leads to what happened in 2010.
I believe we want to let people do what they came to do; march from A to B and be able to shout, sing, dance and be as loud and clear about their message as they want to without necessarily feeling the need to create other forms of protest on the same day. NUS is doing everything in its power to support that.
Our students union carefully budgets to make sure they spend their allotted funds in the best way possible. Can we justify taking money which could be spent on campaigns to pay for the travel to London?
Yes, I think it’s justifiable as the issues we are trying to raise awareness of affect all individuals on campus. One of the big messages is that international student fees are extortionate. If we manage to get more support for the idea that international and postgraduate fees shouldn’t be as high as they are and that education is for the good of society, we’ll be in a better place.
The value that’ll come back to individual universities and colleges will be worth it – if we shift the opinion, the shift can be seen on campus. This demonstration covers welfare too – the raise in fees is affecting the money in your pocket. All the issues we are campaigning about if changed would lead to a better education system, so it’s absolutely justifiable. If we invest now, we can get a better education system in the future.