The Socialist Students launched their ‘Campaign to Defeat Fees’ last Wednesday with a rally and a guest speaker from the University of Sheffield, Dan Randall, attending.
The premise of the campaign is a push for the complete abolition of all fees and a reinstatement of the equivalent of £150 a week in grants for students, regardless of background or parental income. This event is designed to be a part of a much wider national campaign, and has the backing of the NUS through a message of support on their website in addition to their own ‘Admission: Impossible’.
David Marjoribanks, a prominent member of the Socialist Students, claimed that the NUS, despite their pledge of solidarity, were “not doing enough” for students on the issue of fees but also on wider points of interest.
Marjoribanks made reference to the protest march which took place in London last October, which united Student Unions, student groups like NUS, teaching associations such as the ATL and NUT and Socialists, Anarchists and Anti-War protesters. “The NUS line is to keep the cap, whereas the majority of the student placards at the protest last October were for the end of fees… the NUS is out of touch.”
Dan Randall, a former member of the NUS National Executive Committee and currently in the first year of an undergraduate course, pressed this point further in his speech. He expressed his disappointment at the lack of NUS presence on campuses, remarking that “it shouldn’t be left to small groups of campus activists” to organise events. “The potential to build a mass campaign is there, but we are not achieving this due to the incongruent NUS” This was a reference to the message of support on the website which is viewed by the Socialists as not being backed up by action.
Furthermore, the NUS campaign, ‘Admission: Impossible’, had not succeeded, in Randall’s view, due to a lack of political will: “one demo a year and some shiny stickers just isn’t enough.” The lack of NUS action since the protest means that ‘Admission: Impossible’ is seen by many as an unacceptable failure to represent the views of students.
The main thrust of the speech came in Randall’s calls for a “real national fight”, and a general change in attitudes towards privatisation, which is viewed by the Socialists as being the main cause of the government’s decision to implement top-up fees. Randall said “we need a massive increase in taxation to defeat a system driven by profit. If we’re serious… we need to take on the project behind it”.
Also present were two of the candidates running for YUSU sabbatical posts this year, Anne-Marie Canning, a Presidential hopeful, and Grace Fletcher-Hall, standing for Academic & Welfare. Canning expressed her support for the campaign, saying that she wanted to “engage with political parties and harness colleges” if elected, and Grace Fletcher-Hall, a veteran campus activist, said “we need to repoliticise people.”
This term, two Socialist Students are running for positions on the YUSU Campaigns Committee in order to galvanise support for the ‘Campaign to Defeat Fees’: Chris Swann and Adam Wollman. They hope to raise the profile of the project by bringing it to the specific attention of the Student Union and using the access to funding and extra publicity to their advantage.
The speaker who had previously been booked in to speak at the event, York Politics lecturer Dr. Simon Parker, was unable to attend due to illness.
The issue of fees is one on which there is a general consensus of dislike, but disagreement over how to change the situation.