At a meeting of the NUS’ national executive committee on 16 September, union representatives voted to back a rally in central London on 19 November, which has been organised by a coalition of student groups.
These include the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts, the Student Assembly Against Austerity and the Young Greens.
The demonstration, which will take place under the banner of “Free Education: No fees. No cuts. No debt”, is designed to raise awareness about student debt ahead of the general election, said Kirsty Haigh, vice-president of NUS Scotland.
“With a general election in May, we will be putting free education onto the political agenda, not by softening our position but by making our ideas impossible to ignore,” Ms Haigh said.
It was part of a “fightback against privatisation and attacks on living standards”, she added.
Beth Redmond, of the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts, claimed that “whole areas of higher and further education are now off limits to anyone without rich parents”.
She added: “We are calling this demonstration to take the fight to the government and to demand a public education system that serves society and is free and accessible to everyone.”
The demonstration is the first national rally backed by the NUS since it held a march through central London in November 2012 – an event opposed the organisation’s leadership, including president Liam Burns.
Opponents claimed the money spent on organising the demonstration, which attracted about 10,000 people, could have been better spent on supporting student activism at their own universities.
Others were also worried that a repeat of the violent scenes seen in 2010 when students clashed with police over tuition fee rises could damage the student movement.
Free education has also proved a vexed issue for the NUS. Last year’s national conference in Liverpool voted narrowly support to free education, though there remains significant support for a graduate tax within the NUS. Supporters of a graduate tax see it as a more progressive policy than funding higher education through general taxation.
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