Sorana Vieru, NUS Vice President for Higher Education, was present at a banner-painting event organised by the Royal Holloway Student Union on Wednesday 9th November. The meeting, attended by members of the Left Forum, saw students prepare for a mass demonstration due to take place on the 19th November.
Organised by the National Union for Students, the London protest will involve students from across the country voicing their opposition towards increasing tuition fees and a new tiered system. It is being put in place by the current Conservative government.
Ms Vieru, who was democratically elected to her post early in 2015, was intensely critical of the Higher Education and Research Bill, calling it “ideologically driven.” She criticised plans to introduce tiered systems, where universities and even courses would be quality-assessed, with higher scoring universities allowed to raise their tuition fees above £9000, in line with inflation. She also lamented the “privatisation” of higher education and called the new proposals “highly marketised.”
The Higher Education and Research Bill claims to want to improve the quality of higher education through market-like liberalisation and rewards for institutions deemed to be of a high standard. To this end, it will be “easier for new high quality providers to start-up, achieve degree awarding powers and secure university status,” according to an official summary of the legislation
Ms Vieru asserts that these start ups will only be able to provide provisional degrees until they are granted proper status, and that a failure of the institution in the meantime would make students’ academic work null and void. This, she says, would “erode the reputation of British further education.”
Regarding the planned demonstration, she called it a show of “mass opposition” against privatisation, as well as a show of “solidarity for international students” affected by post-Brexit educational isolationism. “We want to raise public awareness and kick-start a generation of activist students,” she added.
The NUS have come under fire recently after allegations of anti-Semitism and overt left-wing politicisation, with universities like Lincoln voting to disaffiliate from the Union. Lincoln has since re-joined the organisation.
Ms Vieru said that there would always be “repercussions” when a “Muslim woman” holds office, in reference to the controversial election of NUS President Malia Bouattia. But she asserted the democratic, pluralistic nature of the Union, and emphasised a need for “greater connection with Student Unions” across the country, and that the November demonstration was a way to make the NUS “relevant to the current struggles of students.” She also justified the left-wing nature of the Union, saying “the work of diversity, and the promotion of values of collectivism and empowerment are more relevant than ever.”
Natasha Barrett, President of Education and Campaigns at the SU, called the work of the NUS “invaluable”, and showed her support for the November demo. She hopes the protest will “make a statement” as she believes that the government was“continuously screwing over students” and that “both students and staff are worried.”
The Higher Education and Research Bill is due for its third reading in Parliament after amendment by a Parliamentary committee.