NUS National Conference opened on Tuesday 25th April with successful motions including an emergency motion in response to the upcoming General Election and a motion for free education
Delegates voted in favour of an emergency motion that aims to achieve the biggest voter registration drive amongst students, as well as putting forward demands to all political parties ahead of the upcoming election. Despite calls to stand behind a particular party, delegates decided not to take partisan lines in their approach. Presidential candidate Tom Harwood told delegates, ‘we shouldn’t be telling [students] how to vote, we should be telling them to vote’.
Meanwhile, several motions concerning Higher Education were debated, with the ‘Free Education’ motion dominating much of the discussion. The motion, which calls on the NUS to oppose and campaign against all methods of charging students for education, was subject to several amendments which made this the longest debated motion of the day.
The amendments, all of which passed, were to place the campaign within ‘a broader context of fighting for a liberating education’, to prioritise stopping fee increases, and to endorse and support the Goldsmiths fee strike for MA Social Work students. Following the amendments passing, two rounds of speeches for and against the motion were heard.
One delegate speaking against the motion said that education should only be free for those who need it most. Meanwhile, a delegate from the Liverpool Guild of Students told the conference that until education is free and accessible for all, there will be ‘no liberation’ and ‘no black freedom’. However, the motion eventually passed as most delegates voted in favour of it.
Redbrick spoke to Ross Strong, the Guild’s Welfare Officer who is attending conference as an elected delegate, about his vote in favour of the motion. Strong told Redbrick, ‘People might consider free education a pipe dream in the current political climate, but I don’t believe that should stop us from demanding accessible education for all.
‘We know that fees, debt and the cost of living is effectively pricing less-privileged students out of education,’ he added, ‘and we have seen countries such as Germany abolish tuition fees in response to student demand.’
However, some Guild delegates voted against the motion for free education, including Adam Elmi and Xenios Matjilla. Speaking to Redbrick, Matjilla said, ‘It’s misleading to describe this motion as about “free” university tuition. It’s a motion about who should pay for it – those who chose to go to university, through tuition fees, or everyone else, through taxes. I think it would be incredibly unfair to ask people who don’t go to university to subsidise those who do’.
Matjilla told Redbrick that he had researched the motion ahead of the vote, and found that there had been improvements made to the British universities since the introduction of tuition fees. Speaking about the current system, he said, ‘it’s helped deliver a system where more working class students are going to university than ever before and made British universities some of the best in the world in research and academic results.’
‘I felt it would be morally wrong of me to vote for an old system that fails working class students and penalises those who don’t want a degree.’
Also discussed in the Education Zone was a motion to create a ‘manifesto for teaching excellence’ through student consultation. The motion was debated as the Higher Education and Research Bill returns to the House of Commons this week and MPs consider amendments made by the House of Lords. The bill proposes a Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) to be used as a measure of quality at universities that would in turn allow some universities to raise tuition fees, but has been heavily criticised for not consulting students enough.
Other motions discussed on the first day of conference featured in the Union Development Zone and included the Guild’s motion to add sanitary products into the NUS Purchasing Consortium. The motion, which was originally submitted by former Guild Officer Izzy Lenga, was overwhelming voted in by delegates.
Also in this Zone was a motion submitted by VP for Union Development to increase civic engagement through political action. This motion passing means that the NUS will work to offer an accredited course in political literacy to every under 24-year-old in education or training, as well as investing in student media with regular, quality coverage of local political affairs. A controversial motion in the Union Development Zone was to make the NUS impartial and inclusive of all students regardless of any established political stance which failed after much debate.
Not all motions in these zones were debated however, as time ran out for both despite extensions to the allocated time slots. Whilst delegates voted for the remaining six motions in Union Development to be remitted to the NEC, they voted against remitting the remaining 17 Education Zone motions to the NEC following warnings from VP Richard Brooks against it. Motions that weren’t discussed in the Education Zone included motions on student loans, NUS National Demo, and the NSS boycott.
In a final twist to the day, a motion for a censure on VP for Welfare Shelly Asquith was submitted as Asquith was answering questions about her work in Welfare this year. Many delegates took to Twitter to express their surprise about this move, and the motion eventually fell.
Wednesday’s agenda includes motions in the Welfare and Society & Citizenship Zones, as well as elections for five VPs and the National President.