This morning’s story in The Times about a leaked NUS memo advising students’ unions to “not fight against fees” was depressingly predictable. Wonkhe has seen the secret memo which is not at all hard to get hold of and it doesn’t advise anything of the sort. It discusses fees and what institutions might take into account when setting pricing levels and it suggest that SUs if not already, should demand to be part of the decision making process as the legitimate representatives of the student body. It suggests questions that might be worth asking as part of holistic campaign to ensure a fair deal for students. It doesn’t take an expert in campaigning to realise that a students’ union president will get more leverage through a well-informed debate at University Council than standing outside the registry with a placard saying “NO TO FEES!”
That’s not to say that such tactics aren’t legitimate, necessary or should not be supported. Because they are and they should be. But it won’t help influence the detailed policy decisions being taken in the Vice Chancellor’s offices everywhere. And NUS would be remiss if it didn’t adequately brief SU officers on every aspect of fees, pricing, access and the national political and policy landscape.
Had NUS sent a memo to student’s unions calling for an escalation in the fight against fees, they would have been accused in the same press as using redundant left-wing tactics and not acting to constructively represent student’s interests. As they have time and time again.
More pernicious is the now overt campaign to damage Aaron Porter in the run-up to his re-election bid at the NUS National Conference in a few weeks’ time. Jamie Brown, the student from Exeter who has apparently fed the memo to The Times is also the current campaigns officer of the Exeter Conservative Future society. And the paper then goes on to give oxygen to the hard-left campaign to dislodge his leadership at the end of the piece.
The attacks come from both left and right and the press are happy to lazily repeat them without giving NUS or its leadership a fair opportunity to comment or reply. With such a hostile press, constant personal attacks from the left and right, a government in a complete mess over the whole issue, Porter is one of the few voices of reason on the landscape. Terminating his leadership now in favour of the hard-left will wind the clock back on the whole debate. So be careful what you wish for.
UPDATE: Aaron Porter has decided not to re-stand for election.
3 responses to “Aaron Porter’s catch-22”
Good points, Mark. Agree with all of them wholeheartedly. Said much the same in support of Aaron on my blog, but not nearly as well.
NUS engaged with Labour and were refused a seat on the Brown review. NUS engaged with Lib Dem MPs and they went on to triple fees.
In France students and workers fought a mass campaign to overturnthe anti-young person CPE law and won. In the UK people fought a mass campaign against the poll tax and it was repealed.
The left isn’t saying we should only demonstrate. It’s the NUS leadership represented by this memo which supports using only some weapons in our arsenal. We say use them all.
History has shown that what is passed in parliament can be undone by mass movemts. History had also shown that when NUS abandons mass mobilisations in favour of officer-uni-government negotiations it loses for students.
Sloppy journalism doesn’t disguise the fact that NUS sees this battle as lost. That view is a disservice to students and student officers who have worked their arses off the last few months and it’s a betrayal of the students of the future.