The National Union of Students has withdrawn its support for a demonstration against university tuition fees scheduled for the 19th of November over safety concerns. The march is expected to be the largest student demonstration since the riotous march against fees in 2010. The protest which has been organised by the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts in conjunction with the Student Assembly Against Austerity, will march on Westminster, reportedly with thousands of students from around the country expected to join.
The campaign looks to Germany for inspiration, as last month the German government scrapped tuition fees. The campaign organisers suggest that this is a prime example of the possibility of free education, and that though we are told there is no alternative to huge hikes in tuition fees, it is ‘just a matter of the government’s priorities.’
Although the NUS inherently supports the principle of free education, as highlighted in their ‘new deal’ manifesto released last month, President Toni Pierce said in a statement released regarding the planned demonstration that it possessed an ‘unacceptable level of risk to our members.’ The demonstration was overwhelmingly backed during a meeting of the National Executive in September of this year, however the NUS have made a U-turn due to the supposed lack of risk assessment, public liability insurance, and lack of provision for disabled students.
The loss of backing from the NUS has unsurprisingly been met by an angry response from NCAFC and SAAA organisers, with some labelling the decision as ‘ridiculous’. The NCAFC have even gone to the length of releasing screen shots of email communications between the organisers and NUS officials to prove that the NUS were fully supportive of the risk assessment procedures put in place for the demonstration.
Speaking to the Guardian, Beth Redmond, an organiser for the NCAFC commented that ‘we are doing our absolute best on a tiny shoestring budget, and we have been working hard to ensure the demonstration is organised properly.’ Moreover Fiona Edwards of the SAAA added that ‘there are no legitimate safety concerns, so I can only guess it’s a political objection.’ Fears have hence been raised that the demonstration could emulate the riotous behaviour of the infamous 2010 march, which took credibility away from the message of students who demonstrated peacefully.
The organisers of the campaign still expect thousands of students to join the march despite the loss of NUS backing. The demonstration is expected to mark the first in several student led events in the run up to the general election in 2015.