Tomorrow, Wednesday 21st November, students are due to march in the NUS demonstration across London. The march aims to tackle several problems facing education, including cuts, fees and unemployment.
Reaction to Demo2012 has varied across universities. Reading University Students’ Union held a debate, followed by a vote entitled ‘Shall Reading University Students’ Union go on the National Union of Students (NUS) Demo in London on November 21st 2012’. The majority voted against attending the demo, with 152 votes to 101, while six people abstained.
Ceri Jones, Vice-President for Democracy and Campaigns at Reading University, told Impact that her impression of this result was that although “students want to see change on campus, they don’t feel that the demo would do that”. However she did comment that Reading University Students’ Union maintains a positive relationship with the NUS.
Reading SU denied that the results meant that they would not provide help to any of their students who wanted to march themselves.
UoN’s Education Officer, Matt Styles commented that, “Reading held a referendum where only around 250 students voted. For a university of 22,000 students, I don’t feel it fully represents their membership. I’m told that the violence at the last demo was one of the main reasons for voting against, which I do appreciate, however NUS have taken these considerations into account in light of the events of 2010, which NUS and member unions condemned at the time.”
In contrast, referendum held by the Students’ Unions of the University of Huddersfield and the University of Bath resulted in students voted in favour of their SUs being involved.
When questioned about the fact that Nottingham SU did not hold a referendum to see how students wanted to be represented in regards to the demo, Styles stated that “Nottingham did pass the decision to attend Demo at SU Council, with I believe was a unanimous vote for. Equally, we have Policy which backs the Demo message, so if a vote hadn’t occurred, Officers would still be implementing Policy by attending and encouraging students to.”
Controversy was sparked at the University of Manchester when Tommy Fish, Activities and Development Officer of the Students’ Union sent an email to societies saying that they would jeopardise future funding if they did not send at least 10 of their members to the demo.
The email read, “In order to be sure of silver or gold award [which provide societies with further funding], societies will need to send 10 members to buy tickets and thus show support for the national student movement.”
Manchester University’s SU responded, saying that societies will not be unable to gain the awards, if they do not attend the protest. They added that attending the demo was just one way that societies could acquire future funding.
A petition was set up in response to the email, stating that, “attendance at #Demo2012 should play absolutely no part in this process” and that societies should retain the right to be politically neutral. Furthermore, it added, “it is entirely unfair that societies whose members may not agree with the message of the demonstration should be financially penalised for their ambivalence or opposition to it.”
As it stands, the petition has 500 signatures.
Manchester’s SU are charging their students £8.50 for a ticket to attend the demo on the 21st November, while Huddersfield and Bath are both charging £5. This compares with the University of Nottingham, where the SU has arranged free buses for those who wish to attend. Impact understands that the buses are costing the Union £1500.
The SU organised buses for up to 150 students, all spaces have been booked online.
On a separate issue, when speaking to Impact, Ceri Jones added that Reading University also holds votes on the University’s affiliation with the NUS. Styles admitted that, “We don’t regularly hold one, however any student who wishes to is able to either propose a motion at council to call one, or collect signatures from 2% of our students wishing to call one.”
He added, “That said, I would imagine the result would be an overwhelming vote for, given the wide range of benefits both for individual students and for the organisation as a whole. Also, as is the case with Demo, we are stronger when we are united.”
Ellis Schindler and Emily Tripp