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Live report from NUS National Conference Day 1

Photo: Dan Green

This year the National Union of Students (NUS) is holding its National Conference in Brighton, and the Badger has sent Dan Green and me to report. We are live tweeting at @TheBadgerNews.

Today is the first day of Conference, and it opened with key note speakers stressing the importance of remaining in the European Union (EU).

According to an NUS spokesperson, “research published yesterday (April 18) has shown students overwhelmingly (76 per cent) back the campaign to keep the UK in the EU.” Indeed, a recent University of Sussex referendum saw a majority of students vote in favour of Sussex Students’ Union (USSU) campaigning to stay in the EU.

Today the NUS addressed its national campaign to stay in the EU. In her opening remarks, NUS national president Megan Dunn said students must stand together for a progressive Europe built on human rights, co-operation and freedom, and that the NUS is looking forward to campaigning for this Europe over the next two months.

Watch the speech here

Conference then heard the Priority Campaign Report and the Higher Education Report, and after lunch this afternoon will begin voting on Higher Education motions.

The Priority Zone discussed ‘working for students’ unions’ and ‘winning more power for students’. This theme fed into the Education Report which followed, in which Education Vice-President’s speech highlighted the issues facing Further Education (FE) colleges and the need to include those students in the NUS.

She mentioned that the NUS are currently preparing a report “on how recent education cuts have effected student parents, investigating if this disproportionate.” She says: “the FE sector is on life support”. The Association of Colleges has calculated that overall funding for colleges has decreased by 27% in real terms since 2010.

She got a standing ovation for her impassioned defense of the End Racism, End Fascism campaign, saying that all racism must be tackled by students’ unions.

The Education Zone:

The Education Zone started with the a motion against ‘the marketistion of education’ called ‘Divorce our courses from market forces’ (Motion 201).

Ammendment a has been withdrawn, but  b proposes sabotaging the Government’s Green Paper and new Teaching Excellence Framework through ‘sabotaging the National Student Survey’ in the words of the Warwick delegate who spoke in favour. Further speeches discuss the uses of ‘sabotage’. Another Warwick student says that it ‘needs to be done nationally and coordinated by the NUS’ but the opposition argues that it would not be effective. A delegate from Cambridge says that the NSS sabotage could mean that students’ unions would not be able to get certain funding options from their universities.

The motion passed.

Then a procedural motion for no confidence in the chair was raised. The issue was that people at the back were not being given a fair chance, according to the delegate who proposed the motion of no confidence. The chair said: “I’m doing my best and it’s genuinely not on purpose.” The motion failed.

Motion 201 amendment c) proposed not engaging in the Green paper consultation in order to oppose the raise in tuition fees which the proposition suggests will come from the Green Paper. The delegates arguing against say that the Green Paper will become a White Paper even if people refuse to engage. Amendment 201 c) passed.

Motion 201 amendment d) calls on SUs to organise protests and provide resources for students to actively counter the Green Paper reforms and protest outside Parliament in the run-up to votes on the HE reforms. A delegate from Oxford argues against, saying that SUs should dedicate funds to those things which ‘actually affect people’ such as welfare. A delegate in favour says that the issues which truly effect people are indeed part of the Green Paper, since there are postgraduate students who also teach and are effected. The amendment passed.

Motion 201 amendment e) is called ‘Education not for sale’. The amendment proposes a ‘campaign of escalating direct action’, rather than one single demo, and to “call for free education at all levels  at all levels, funded by taxing the rich and big businesses, not by cutting other services or further squeezing those who can’t afford it”.

This amendment was voted to become part of the main motion – but the motion was close, and a vote count ensued.

Amendment 201 e) also passed.

All of the amendments having been passed, Conference then returned to the main motion, as amended.

A speaker from SUARTS, the delegates who proposed the motion, says: ‘We have just voted one of the most radical strategies that NUS has voted for’

Motion 201 as amended passes. In essence, Conference has voted to boycott the National Student Survey next year, to pressure the government to stop the Green paper through direct action, and to advocate for a free education system funded by the government and taxation. 

 

Conference moved on to Motion 202, “Area Reviews – Colleges are on life support; don’t pull the plug!”

Shakira Martin, Further Education Vice President of NUS, says that this is a motion ‘to save Further Education, to save our communities and to save our futures’. Motion 202 a) is successfully amended with the resolution: “To launch a major campaign to Save Our Futures with the aim of fighting all the cuts to further and higher education“. Motion 202 as amended passed. Several people could  be heard loudly clapping and whooping, and one person cried”Oh my days!” The NUS will pass the NUT’s Save our Colleges campaign.

Conference moved on to Motion 203: “Employability isn’t working”. The motion argues that “NUS must lead in the development of a new language of employability, one which is not tied
into the government’s marketisation agenda and the short-sighted pursuit of higher scores in the
Destination of Leavers from Higher Education (DLHE) survey.” The motion proposes the NUS gathering more reliable data and offering better advice than currently exists. The motion passes.

Motion 204:  Free Education, Further Education, For Everyone. The motion is to campaign for free education at every level. The speaker who opposes it urges people to vote against not on principle, but in order to ‘come up with a costed plan’ before they start campaigning. Motion 204 passed by a majority.

Motion 205: Liberate my Degree. Proposed by NUS Black Students’ Campaign. Malia Bouattia , who speaks in favour of the motion, says that there is an attainment gap and that the curriculum is still not equal enough. She says ‘we must ensure that no-one is ever forced out of education because of who they are.’

Amendment a) says that ‘Liberate My Degree’ needs to be extended to FE as well as HE. No-one speaks against the amendment, and it passes. The motion, including the amendment, passes.

Motion 506:  Qualifications – Once the golden rule…now just pieces of paper. The motion proposes NUS campaigning for more support for students having to take English and Maths at GCSE. The motion passes.

Entering into the evening session at 7 o’clock there was another conference address, also focussed on the ‘Remain’ campaign. It was given by Jane Sarpong MBE from Britain Stronger in Europe, who said: “you are the generation which makes sure Britain continues to punch well above its weight” and that we are those who “stand to lose the most if we lose, and the most if we win”.

The chance was given to ask questions of the current Vice-President of Union Development. Asked how he fulfilled his committment to train more activists on each and every campus, he talks about how the NUS has involved more people in volunteering, and saysbthat more has revolved around liberation and inclusivity than ever before. However, he acknowledges that it ” depends on how you define an activist” and that the traditional definition is too narrow.

Although the Zone had started, the Badger reporters noted that a number of delegates had not yet returned to the auditorium, including the Sussex delegates.

Asked if he has fulfilled his commitment to make sure there are paid officers at every FE College, he admits that he has not been able to fulfill that exactly but “in FE we are struggling to keep our heads above water”. He says that ” we have done a lot and there is a lot to do, and I have to be honest about that.”

Another question is what he has done to protect the Freedom of Information Act, which has comeunder threat from the HE Green Paper. He says that NUS has called out the hypocrisy of the government claiming to want greater transparency within institutions and yet threatening the Freedom of Information Act.

When the vote is carried out on whether or not to accept his report, the Sussex delegation has not as yet returned.

Union Development Zone:

Motion 301.

You can follow our live tweets of the event here: https://twitter.com/TheBadgerNews

The most useful document to help you follow along from home is the comprehensive list of all motions: http://s3-eu-west-1.amazonaws.com/nusdigital/document/documents/23606/CD10_final_proposals_v8.5.pdf

Freya Marshall Payne

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