The NUS must become a fighting, socialist unionFebruary 5, 2018
At this year’s NUS conference, to be held in Glasgow on 27-29 March, Marxist students will be arguing for the amendments to proposed policy and the resolution below. Everyone who supports these ideas is encouraged to put them forward in your own student unions. They will be discussed and ratified by the Marxist Student Federation conference to be held on 17 February in London.
Priority Zone proposal
- The NUS Student Poverty Commission has told us something clear and simple – it is time to get real about student finance.
- Nearly half of Britain’s students are worried about having enough money to buy essential groceries such as bread and milk from an average weekly food spend of £24.32, according to NUS research.
- Research also found that almost half of all students are struggling to get together enough money to cover basic costs such as travel and textbooks.
- Travel costs of £17.35 a week are also a cause for concern, with 43% of students worried about daily travel to university or college.
- Almost three-quarters of students (71%) cite worries about money as a cause of mental health issues.
- 23% have used non-government loans to extend their finances.
- In 2015 student rents in London averaged £226 a week compared with £147 elsewhere, eating up their maintenance support before all other costs.
- The current minimum wage rate for an apprentice is a shameful £3.50 per hour.
- The Government is in denial about what is in reality a student poverty crisis. When challenged on the gap between maintenance and costs for university students in October 2017, the then Universities Minister Jo Johnson argued that students should “live more frugally”.
- The Department for Education has repeatedly refused to publish research into Student Income and Expenditure carried out in 2014/15.
- Universities, Colleges and Training Providers are also in denial – often making decisions on the way they run programmes that make the problem worse for students.
- A large proportion of students simply can’t afford to participate in education- but are blamed for a “lack of aspiration”.
- The intense focus on the £9k paid to universities means that the amount FE, UG and PG students actually have to live on rarely gets discussed, underlying issues rarely debated, and the impacts ignored.
- Universities promoting first year accommodation as the only way to make friends that then profit from that rent should be banned from doing so.
Conference Further Believes
- An NUS that believes in a Living Wage in wider society should develop proper proposals on a Living Income for Students.
- The resources exist in society to provide every student with a living grant, but these resources are in the hands of a tiny minority of the world’s wealthiest people.
- The NUS should campaign for living grants for students and the living wage for workers.
- We should argue that, to fund this, we should use the wealth of the richest in society, by nationalising without compensation the commanding heights of the economy – the 150 or so major monopolies, and running them for need, not profit.
(Delete original points 2,3,4,5)
Further Education zone proposal
- Transport costs mean students are currently, and have consistently been, excluded from or impoverished by their education.
- During the Area Review Process, NUS held roundtables with student representatives from 124 FE institutions across England. It was found that in every area transport was an issue affecting student’s ability to access education.
- NUS carried out research with FE students in 2015 and found that 51% of students said they cannot always afford their travel costs.
- In Wales, around six in 10 (62 per cent) further education students have costs associated with travel. This figure rises to 75% in Northern Ireland.
- The cost of travel, both in cash and time, is putting strain on students’ abilities to balance their commitments between work, study and family life. In Wales, 37% of students reported this, in Northern Ireland it was 49%.
- Apprentices struggle to afford their transport costs. Across the UK apprentices are paying an average of £24 per week in travel costs. This means that an apprentice on the apprentice national minimum wage of £3.50 lose an entire day’s pay each week in paying for their commute.
- In Scotland, an apprentice on the apprentice minimum wage working 35 hours a week would earn £122.50 a week. While discounts are available to 16-18 year olds who hold a Young Scot card, apprentices over 18 face weekly ticket costs of up to £54.409 – almost half of their weekly wage.
- Rail fares have risen by over 32% on average since 2010.
- The discount offered by the 16-25 railcard and new “millennial railcard” announced in 2017 is not valid on a large amount of peak-time travel, when students are most likely to be travelling to college.
- Student support for travel is inconsistent across local authorities and does not cover costs.
- The removal of Education Maintenance Allowance and the Adult Learning Grant back in 2010 for students in England has made financial support a key issue for Further Education students when it comes to accessing their education.
- That whilst the Government replaced EMA with a bursary, the overall budget of this fund and its discretionary nature means that it is inadequate at meeting the needs of FE students.
- Only 17 per cent of FE students receive support from their college to pay for transport costs.
Conference Further Believes:
- Students also suffer from poor, unreliable services on public transport such as buses, trains and trams.
- One third of FE students spend between one and two hours getting to college.
- Students in rural areas have limited services that are at risk of being cut or removed completely, limiting students’ access to college and activities outside the classroom. In cities, transport options are more numerous but the cost can be so prohibitive as to leave students’ transport options very limited.
- Area reviews in England, college regionalisation in Scotland and mergers creating large regional colleges in Wales and NI are intended to create greater specialisation of subjects being taught on certain campuses.
- Curriculum changes like this will lead to students having to travel further to access the course they want to study or choose a course or institution they may not want to study because it is nearer to their home.
- Many students’ unions negotiate with local bus companies to provide a discounted rate for students, but as this happens at a local level it varies from institution to institution meaning not all students are getting a fair deal.
- Anyone studying more than 15 hours per week may purchase a 16-25 railcard, but to discounted rail fares can be obtained using a 16-25 railcard before 10am and apprentices over 25 are not eligible.
- Private rail companies should reverse the decision to scrap 16-25 Railcard holders being able to access discounts at peak times – a decision which penalises students and young workers who need to travel by train to study or access their place of work.
- The Government should guarantee free bus travel for FE students and apprentices, just as older people do, to ensure equal access to opportunity, preventing them from falling behind due to financial barriers.
- To invest in a community led campaign across the country, to bring together
transport companiestrade unions, local councils and students to fix cheaper, more affordable, more reliable travel for students.
- To make the cornerstone of this campaign the demand for the immediate nationalisation, without compensation, of all bus, rail, and other transport providers.
- To make the case for nationalised industries to be run by those who work for them and make use of their services, not by distant government departments, so that they can effectively serve people’s needs.
(Delete original points 2,3,4,5)
Union Development zone proposal
- Student unions have a long history of engaging in political campaigns and activity: from student-organised boycotts of South African apartheid, to the fight over vice chancellors’ pay, we are proud of our tradition of changing political landscapes and fighting for a better world.
- In 1994, the Conservative government introduced the Education act. A piece of legislation that aimed to limit the scope and remit of Students Union’s.
- Since then, we have had the Charities Act 2006 which has meant most Students Unions are required to register with the Charity Commission and have had legal restrictions placed on what they can do.
- The increasing willingness for the Charities Commission and Government to encroach on the freedom of activity of Students Union’s is dangerous and attempts to clamp down on important work Students Unions have been doing.
Conference Further Believes:
- The commission has gone as far as questioning the existence and structures of political societies on campuses – such as Labour, Greens, Liberal Democrat Societies etc.
- We have seen unions decide to abolish liberation groups representing women, Black students, LGBT members, mature and disabled students when faced with pressure from the regulatory bodies and their hardline interpretation of legislation.
- The ability of Union’s to take political action and run political campaigns is both consistent with our history and a requirement for our future.
- We will only and can only change the Further and Higher education landscape through, collective and powerful, political action and negotiation. This must be done with our Students Unions at the very forefront.
- The protection of political activity and campaigning of Students Union’s is pivotal to the future of the Student movement more broadly.
- For the Union Development Zone to better support student unions in response to the Charity Commission’s clamp down on political activity and campaigns by running specific support sessions at its training conferences.
- To resist attacks on our Union’s political rights and freedoms, including the disarming of our collective organisations through anti-union laws.
- To work with and support UCU, TUC and other trade unions that have also been subject to legislation limiting their ability to organise.
- To encourage student unions to launch political campaigns against education cuts, tuition fees, and other attacks on education.
- To combine these campaigns with a national campaign to overturn those laws which limit the political activity of student unions.
The resolution below should be used as the basis for a motion in the appropriate format to be presented to student unions.
“This student union notes that, with the exposure of the failings of privatisation in recent years, support for nationalisation has risen sharply. In opinion polls, over 80% support the renationalisation of the utilities and the railways, while 50% even support the taking over of the banks.
Therefore, this student union believes that we must resist privatisation in all its forms, from academies to universities to the NHS.
This student union is committed to the nationalisation of the biggest businesses, including banks, utilities, construction companies, education services, and healthcare, so that a socialist, democratic plan of production can run the economy for need, not profit. It calls upon the NUS to launch a campaign to make this a reality.”