NUS ditches its call to scrap fees

'Pragmatic' focus will give union more influence in tuition debate, new president tells Rebecca Attwood

April 10, 2008

The National Union of Students has voted to shift its focus away from demanding free university education.

A motion passed at the NUS's annual conference in Blackpool last week supports the principle of free education but says that in 2009, when the Government is due to review tuition fees, the union must concentrate on opposing any attempts to lift the current £3,000 cap.

Wes Streeting, the newly elected president, said the union was not "selling out". He argued that the more "pragmatic" approach would give the union more influence in the debate.

The new policy means the NUS will be willing to discuss a system of graduate contributions.

It will argue that any graduate contribution should be income-contingent and linked to earnings, not prices, and that student loans must not have commercial interest rates.

A motion passed at the conference said: "While the NUS should retain a principled commitment to the notion of free education, the focus for the 2009 review must be to secure a fairer funding system for all students, to defeat any attempts to lift the cap and further the destructive marketisation of higher education."

The "marketisation" of education lies at the heart of the existing variable fees model and "must be stopped at all costs", the policy argues.

It says the bursary system is "complex and deeply inequitable" and that the NUS will fight for a national bursary scheme.

Mr Streeting told Times Higher Education: "Although the NUS remains in principle committed to the notion of free, publicly funded education, last week delegates from across the country recognised that in 2009 the debate will be held on different terms. Our membership has made the conscious and proactive choice to do the right thing, the radical thing, and be engaged with the debate that will actually be taking place."

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