Source: PA Photos
Student leaders have denied accusations that they are out of touch with the grass-roots activism that inspired a national day of protest.
Although the National Union of Students endorsed a day of campus demonstrations against alleged attacks by police and university management on the right to protest, there are criticisms that it could do more support the movement.
Several protesters in a 1,000-strong rally outside the University of London carried placards urging the NUS to call a national demonstration against what many believe is a heavy-handed crackdown on student protests.
Others claimed that student groups, such as the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts, which organised the London rally, had responded more dynamically to the alleged intimidation of university occupations.
But Sebastiaan Debrouwere, president of King’s College London Students’ Union, which voted to support the demonstration, said the NUS had responded well to a situation that “came up on the radar very quickly”.
NUS officers had held an emergency debate on the issue on 5 December, the day after the eviction of students from the University of London’s Senate House, Mr Debrouwere said. “We are supporting the cause but also supporting student unions to take action,” he added.
Claims that the NUS had become too corporate or overly focused on engagement with university management at the expense of defending students’ rights were wrong, he added.
Ellie Williams, vice-president of the University of Bristol Students’ Union, who attended the London demonstration in support of those arrested after the Senate House occupations, said she believed that the NUS had played a major role in the day of action, albeit indirectly.
“A lot of people involved in grass-roots activism have been involved in the NUS,” Ms Williams said.
“If it can help to pass on skills to help people organise safe, peaceful rallies like this, then that’s great,” she argued.
With so many interests represented in the London rally – students held banners in support of the University of London Union, against privatisation and alleged police brutality – the NUS was right to support the march but not take a lead role in it, Ms Williams said.
“Trying to represent all people and all things is not the best use of our resources,” she added.