NUS tuition fees policy under fire

October 17, 1997

STUDENT leaders are struggling to hold their troops together as campaigning hots up over tuition fees.

Demonstrations organised by the National Union of Students will take place in 15 regions throughout the country on November 1 followed by a week of lobbying MPs.

While all student unions are likely to support these demonstrations, breakaway groups have organised their own events in an effort to push other agendas.

The Campaign for Free Education, which opposes tuition fees, is organising a local demonstration in Newcastle on November 5, followed by a national London demonstration on November 26.

Both will defy official NUS policy by campaigning to keep maintenance grants, as well as oppose fees.

A number of student unions have also called for an emergency conference to examine the NUS's response to the threat of fees and loss of the maintenance grant.

Motions on this issue are now circulating around student unions. More than 25 institutions will have to agree before the conference can be called.

Meanwhile, Sunderland University students' union has already passed a motion of no confidence in the NUS leadership.

What caused the NUS most difficulty was a speech by education secretary David Blunkett to the Labour party conference in which he thanked students for their support.

Phil Rhodes, president of Sheffield Hallam student union, said: "It is embarrassing to hear Blunkett saying he has the support of the NUS. He doesn't have the support of the NUS; he has the support of the NUS leadership which is a different thing altogether."

James Montgomery, president of Huddersfield student union, where the Campaign for Free Education started last year, accused the NUS of appearing confused about where it stands on tuition fees.

He said Huddersfield was more worried about abolition of maintenance grants.

Sarah Bonnett, president of Cambridge University students' union, which also opposes the loss of the maintenance grant, said: "There is a real worry that not enough has been done by the NUS."

But an NUS spokesman said the national union was as upset about Blunkett's words as everyone else. "There is no way he could thank the NUS on tuition fees," she said. "We are going flat out on organising the regional demos and they can be a real success if everyone is united behind them."

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