NUS national executive votes against recognising NUS’s free education policy!

freeedAt the 13 May meeting of NUS National Executive Council, a motion
simply recognising the straightforward fact that NUS policy is in favour of free education was VOTED DOWN.

This shows why student activists and student union officers who support free education need to come to the National Meeting on fighting for free education on 15 June, at University of the Arts London – see here and here.

13 May the last meeting of the outgoing NUS NEC. Rather than a detailed “battle plan” for fighting for free education, NCAFC members of the committee proposed a recognition of NUS’s policy for the new NEC to build on.

Such recognition was necessary because, read totally literally, NUS policy is now contradictory. It says “oppose and campaign against all methods of charging students for education – including tuition fees and a ‘graduate tax’ which is nothing more than a euphemism for ‘student debt’.” This was voted through a by big majority after a long and passionate debate specifically about it. However, the main motion still contained (vague) support for graduate contributions because, for whatever reason, NUS Democratic Procedures Committee did not do the logical thing and make the amendment delete that text from the main motion.

Delegates voted for NUS policy to be for free education, and against a graduate tax – and clearly knew what we were doing. So why did the NEC vote against recognition of this democratic decided policy?

The sort of line argued both at national conference and at the NEC is that a firm stand for free education would prevent NUS from “accepting” concessions, including a graduate tax.

The conference rejected this argument. But in any case it is silly.

Concessions won’t be won by NUS ignoring its own policy in order to come closer to the government. They will be won by exerting the maximum possible pressure.

If a Miliband government, say, introduced a graduate tax or cut fees to £6,000, NUS insisting that it wanted free education would do nothing to stop that. In fact keeping up the pressure at every stage would allow us to squeeze the maximum possible concessions for students.

The vote at the NEC looks very much like the start of an attempt by the NUS leadership to ignore NUS’s democratically and very consciously decided policy, so that they don’t have to fight the government or their friends in the Labour Party leadership.

At the first meeting of the new NEC, where the left will be stronger, we should bring the issue back for a new vote. But the most important thing is for student activists to get organised, both to campaign independently of NUS and to demand that our national union carries out the decision we made at conference. That’s why the 15 June National Free Education Meeting at UAL is so important.

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  1. Motion passed by NUS conference 2014 (215c – Free education)

    Conference believes

    1. There is an alternative paying for university through tuition fees or a graduate tax – public investment for free education.
    2. The proposal to replace tuition fees with a ‘graduate tax’ is simply replacing one form of student debt with another. Under both systems the experience for the overwhelming majority of students would be the same: to pay tens of thousands of pounds for a university degree over the course of a number of decades after graduation, taking the form of automatic deductions from graduates’ wages every month.
    3. Higher education is a public good and should be free for everyone to access.
    4. Free education would pay for itself. The government’s own figures show that for every £1 invested in higher education the economy expands by £2.60.
    5. Investing in free education would not only offer opportunities for young people but would play a central role in reviving the economy now and in promoting longer-term prosperity and growth for the future.
    6. There is an austerity agenda that refuses to fund education properly, which produces a false choice between underfunded, fee-laden, debt-ridden education for the many or free, elite education for the privileged few.
    7. This is no choice at all.
    8. NUS believes in democracy – but political democracy is incomplete when the distribution of wealth is violently unequal and undemocratic.
    9. Vast wealth lies in the coffers of a handful of rich, powerful people and their private businesses, instead of being invested in socially useful purposes such as education.
    10. In 2008, the UK government spent £850 billion to bail out banks, but these banks have continued to operate much as before, instead of being required to spend that public money on the public good.
    11. If this wealth was instead under democratic control, our society could use it to build a comprehensive accessible free education system for all and pay every education worker decently, and still have plenty left over for free, world-class healthcare, good social housing, and decent public services and benefits for all.
    12. NUS should reaffirm the idea that education is a right not a privilege

    Conference resolves

    1. To reject the absurd idea that our society lacks the resources to provide decently for its citizens, and make campaigning for the democratisation of our society’s wealth a priority running through NUS’s work.
    2. To make the case for free education and demand that free, accessible, quality education, and decent wages, public services and benefits, are funded by:
    a. Ending tax evasion and avoidance and cracking down on tax havens
    b. Imposing serious taxes on the incomes, inheritance and capital gains of the rich
    c. Taking the banks, and their wealth, under democratic control
    3. To raise these demands in particular when putting forward positions on fees and education funding, and when organising protest actions.
    4. To oppose and campaign against all methods of charging students for education – including tuition fees and a ‘graduate tax’ which is nothing more than a euphemism for ‘student debt’.
    5. Foundation courses should be free of fees for all students, regardless of age or nationality, with full access to a grant.

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