NI election spurs students to embark on anti-fees campaign

October 24, 2003

Student leaders in Northern Ireland have launched a campaign urging political parties to pledge to abolish student fees and reject top-up fees in the run-up to the Northern Ireland assembly elections next month.

Northern Ireland's devolved administration was suspended a year ago, following allegations of an IRA intelligence-gathering ring operating in Stormont.

Within hours of this week's election announcement, the National Union of Students-Union of Students in Ireland wrote to all party leaders urging them to prioritise the needs of students in drawing up their election manifestoes.

Ben Archibald, NUS-US... convener, said: "Students constitute a large section of the electorate and yet we feel local parties don't take our concerns seriously enough.

"In the upcoming election, we are calling on party leaders to promote the rights of our members and the community at large by taking on board the democratically informed views of students across Northern Ireland."

Student leaders will ask their members to vote for parties that best represent and advocate the needs of students.

As well as an end to fees, the NUS-US... is calling for more bursaries, rising from £1,500 to £3,000 each. It wants to see students regain their entitlement to claim social security benefits, particularly during the summer vacation, free travel on trains and buses and an increase in the minimum wage to at least £1 an hour.

The union said student organisations must be treated as a social partner by government, with more opportunities for students to take part in community relations programmes.

It is also calling for an increase in student places, at least matching the proportion in Scotland, and wants an academic ombudsman to be appointed.

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