In a last minute change in policy, the National Union of Students (NUS) will support the Free Education National Demonstration on the 4th November as part of their #cutthecosts campaign, it has been announced.
The decision, voted on last month at a conference, paves the way for a deeper confrontation between the students organisation and the Conservative government, and offers a glimpse at the tone of newly-elected president Megan Dunn’s tenure in office.
The vote reversed an earlier policy decision by the organisation not to involve itself in the campaign. That decision was made by Dunn’s predecessor Toni Pearce, who vetoed involvement earlier this summer as one of her last acts in office.
In announcing its commitment to join the campaign, the NUS condemned the cuts as “draconian”. Dunn called it a “national scandal”.
£13,000 increase in debt
The campaign, run in tandem with the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts (NCAFC), is directly aimed at the policies of the Conservative government.
In July, Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osbourne announced that all student maintenance grants would be scrapped in the Summer Budget of 2015 and replaced with loans. With over half a million students receiving maintenance grants, the cut will mean that the poorest will graduate with £53,000 pounds in debt, an increase of £13,000, according to the Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS).
The IFS also found the Government’s proposed cut to maintenance grants to be the least popular policy in the budget. Eighty-one per cent of surveyed respondents opposed the measure.
A survey by the NUS found that over a third of those who already receive grants said they would not have gone to university without them. Over half surveyed deemed the grant “absolutely essential” to their attendance at university.
In a statement, the NUS said:“We cannot allow George Osborne to write off the most vulnerable, let down the future talent of this country and price students out of higher education – which is why saving maintenance grants that support the poorest students is our utmost priority.”
The NUS will work with the NCAFC and the Student Assembly Against Austerity to organise the event.
“More money in their pockets”
Despite the opposition, a spokesperson for the Government defended the measures as beneficial for students by improving their personal finances.
Speaking to The Student, a spokesperson for the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills said: “The Government is committed to widening access in higher education and anyone with the ability to succeed should have the opportunity to participate, regardless of their background or ability to pay.
“The changes announced in the Budget provide students with more money in their pockets to help with living costs while studying. Lifting the cap on student numbers also means that more people will be able to benefit from higher education than ever before.”
A representative for the NCAFC told The Student they welcomed the NUS’s support in opposing the cuts.
They said: “The NUS is activism-poor but resource rich, whilst we are activism-rich but resource poor – thanks to their support we will have the resources at our disposal to organise an even bigger and better-executed demo than previously.
“Campaigning against austerity is one of the most important tasks that we face; people are dying at the hands of this government every day and those already marginalised by society are being hit the hardest.
“There is clear evidence that protests have effected real change – from the dropping of the poll tax to women’s suffrage, some great changes in history have been made as the result of waves of direct action.”
EUSA “fully behind” NUS
Edinburgh University Students’ Association (EUSA) will also be campaigning against cuts, lobbying MPs and MSPs and working with students to find alternatives, according to Jonny Ross-Tatam, EUSA President.
He told The Student: “All four of us are fully behind the National Union of Student’s campaign against the decision to scrap maintenance grants. We feel there is always more that can be done to encourage and inspire students to campaign on the ground aside from making statements from the top.”
“We are going to do all we can here at Edinburgh to make that happen. The Students’ Association will work with as many students as possible in shaping the debate on tuition fees and university funding.”