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The National Union of Students has backed a rally set to take place in central London, on Wednesday Week 7 with plans to gain support for free education nationally. The demonstration, ‘Free Education – No Fees, No Cuts, No Debts’ is designed to raise awareness of the importance of student debt and its implications prior to the upcoming general election in 2014.
Ronnie Rowlands, LUSU VP (Media and Communications), sees the demonstration as an opportunity to create a national platform for political debate on free education. “The Students’ Union has policy in support of free education. On a national scale, we’ve got the Tories wanting to remove the cap on fees, Labour wanting to reduce them to six thousand pounds, and I’m sure the Liberal Democrats are saying some incredibly enlightening things too. None of the mainstream parties are pledging free education, and with a General Election fast approaching, now seems an ideal opportunity for students to lay down THEIR conditions.”
NUS’ national executive committee voted, on September 19, to support the rally organised by numerous student groups, such as National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts, the Student Assembly Against Austerity and the Young Greens.
Speaking to the Times Higher Education, Beth Redmond of the national Campaign Against Fees and Cuts commented that the introduction of £9000 had limited the number of people who could feasibly afford university education. She stated that, “whole areas of higher and further education are now off limits to anyone without rich parents”.
She continued, “We are calling this demonstration to take the fight to the government and to demand a public education system that serves society and is free and accessible to everyone.”
Demonstrators believe that the right to education is “an active social good” which the government has failed young people by commanding such large fees. In as statement on their website the groups said: Since the 2010 raise we have seen that fees have well and truly failed. “Our generation will never be able to pay back its student debt, and many people are being cut out of Further Education and foundation courses due not just to fees but hidden course costs and the lack of a living grant.
“Education for all is not just a right but an active social good. Higher fees shut those out of education who can diversify the student body: our education and academic output suffers when education remains the realm of the privileged and the few.
“For most of Europe, free education is not a pipe dream: look at Germany or Denmark. With the general election around the corner, we must fight for it too. See you in London on November 19.”
NUS’ position regarding free education is seemingly complicated. A vote during last years national conference in Liverpool voted narrowly in favour of free education, however, within the Union there is significant support for a graduate tax which would counter free education in principal.
In July 2014, student figureheads from the NUS and universities nationwide announced the demonstration in a letter received by the Guardian. The letter stated: “Over the past four years, education in Britain has been the subject of a failed experiment in fees and Marketisation. We are witnessing a crisis of cuts, indebtedness and access to education – and widespread attacks on staff working conditions.
“The coalition government now wants to deepen this experiment with plans to sell off the student loan book and further slash education budgets in the pipeline. Before the general election and beyond, we intend to put free, accessible, public education back on to the political agenda, not by softening our position but by making our ideas impossible to ignore.
“Free education is not a fantasy – this year Germany has decided to scrap tuition fees. That is why we are supporting the call for a national student demonstration on 19 November, as part of an autumn of protests and direct action in coalition with trade unions and workers.” No member of LUSU signed this initial statement.