Militant march

June 2, 1995

The hard left are no doubt celebrating this weekend. As they see it they have won two famous victories, one in respect of strike ballots in further education, the other in respect of students' grants and fees.

What they have done in fact is undermine Natfhe's position as national negotiator in further education, and ensure that students will have no formal representation in talks about restructuring student finance as party policies are drafted for the next election.

How depressing that students and lecturers should allow themselves to be marginalised by people who are exploiting no doubt real grievances for political ends which have more to do with destruction than with securing an effective education system.

In the students' case, the selfishness of the demands endorsed again at this week's special conference is breathtaking. The NUS itself puts the cost of returning to the 1979 high point of student affluence, when tuition fees had just ceased to be means tested and grants were more generous, at Pounds 8.68 billion. And that is not counting the cost of extending the same deal to students now excluded. Who do those who voted for this think should pay?

What can Jim Murphy and the NUS leadership do now? They have belatedly recognised that in addition to inveighing against student poverty, something must be done to end today's gross inequities and ensure that there is more money to produce decent education. They must now stick with it. They have lost their chance to present in public a reasoned case against the solutions they hate most - top-up fees and privatised loans. But they have at least salvaged agreement that their review should continue. They can still work behind the scenes and they will have somewhat more authority than in the past since the 45/55 split in this week's vote represents substantial support for reform.

It will now be campus unions which have to negotiate with vice-chancellors locally to ensure that students' interests are taken into account as new systems are introduced, as they will be. What the militants have achieved, with students as with lecturers, is a weakening of national negotiators and a charter for local confrontation.

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