YUSU has announced it will no longer be providing subsidised transport to the ‘Free Education’ demonstration following the National Union of Students’ withdrawal of support.
Earlier this week, Toni Pearce, President of the NUS, released a statement which cited “significant concerns regarding an unacceptable level of risk” to students as the main reason for pulling support for the demonstration, which is due to take place on 19 November.
Pearce said the Union did not feel the demonstration would be accessible to everyone, particularly disabled students, and that the NUS liberation officers were concerned about “safe space” and the “ability for liberation groups to be involved”.
She also stated the Union did not believe there was enough time for the risks to be reduced and pointed out there is no public liability insurance in place for the demonstration.
Sam Maguire, YUSU President, explained in a blog post that the NUS’ withdrawal of support drew attention to some “genuine problems” and made securing insurance through their provider impossible.
He said: “It’s unfortunate that we had to make the decision to cancel the bus but student safety must always come first and we had significant concerns about the access and safety arrangements for the demo.”
Similarly, Thomas Ron, Disabled Students’ Officer, told Nouse: “As said by Maddy Kirkman [NUS Disabled Students’ Officer], there was a lot of miscommunication and confusion and this meant that the demo was potentially unsafe for disabled students. The NUS wisely decided to put student safety first. Therefore, YUSU had to take the unfortunate but necessary decision to cancel the bus.”
The decision has been criticised for being made at the “last-minute” by supporters of the demonstration, who have urged YUSU to reconsider cancelling its plans for subsidised transport.
A statement published on the York Campaign For Free Education Facebook page earlier today said: “To our knowledge, Sam and YUSU have come under a lot of pressure from officers within the National Union of Students since some of the organisation’s executives undemocratically chose to scrap NUS support for the demo.
“This was done on the 4th November without consulting the organisation’s National Executive Council [NEC] – the elected body who voted to support the demo several months ago, against the wishes of the Labour Students faction who have consistently lobbied against free education, even leading the campaign against it at this year’s national conference.
“It is our belief that the reasons given by the NUS for withdrawing their support have been fabricated by the executives in an attempt to provide justification for this desperate overruling of the NEC. Concerns about safety have been answered by the organisers of the demo even while the NUS has failed to respond to many requests seeking clarification on what exactly the concerns are.”
The statement asked YUSU to “specify which aspects of the demo plan they find fault with” after revealing a 50 page risk assessment report had been submitted yesterday afternoon. However, Maguire said such reports “[do] not provide sufficient consideration of possible risks and of measures taken to compensate for possible risks”. He added: “Our students voted to retain our NUS affiliation and we must take our lead from their leadership in their verification of this event’s safety.”
The York Campaign For Free Education statement also challenged YUSU’s claim it would be “impossible” to secure insurance following the NUS’ withdrawal of support, stating: “Many student unions are standing up to the exec by listening to their students and keeping their coach arrangements in place, proving that insurance is not dependent on NUS support.”
Students who booked a place on the YUSU coach to the demonstration have been told they will be able to get a full refund, whilst the money that would been used to subsidise the cost of transport will be contributed to the student hardship fund instead.