Students use web for fees lobby

October 10, 1997

Students at the University of North London are continuing their tradition of acerbic left-wing lobbying via the Internet.

The Students' Union, organiser of several vociferous anti-government demonstrations in the past few years, has given up its militancy in favour of unrestricted politics in cyberspace. Its new website, The Big Fish, began operating last week with a call for the Government to "deliver on Dearing" and will shortly conduct an email poll on the issue of Higher Education funding.

Aidan McDonald, this year's union president, hopes the site will encourage this year's freshers, at UNL and elsewhere, to become politically active: "Technology removes the need for students to have skills of public speaking or roar over the crowds at a union general meeting," he says.

"This is the Stakeholder Society in operation and if 7,000 students vote, we'll feel we have a mandate to oppose tuition fees."

At the core of the union website will be a public noticeboard area, opening later this month, where students can offer any point of view to other members of the university. Obscenities, threatening or discriminatory remarks will not be published, but political comment will remain untouched, Mr McDonald hopes that this will allow the union executive to assess opinion among UNL's 14,000 students more effectively and provide better representation.

"Previous executive committees have tended to dictate the political direction of the union without consultation," he says. "Students were finding out what was being said in their names on the Six O'Clock News rather than through their own representatives or publications, but now students can deliver their views instantly by email."

Control over union assets at UNL was removed from the hands of sabbatical officers two years ago, making expensive campaigns a thing of the past. But The Big Fish is run from the university's Janet server, making it affordable. Internet training is compulsory at UNL, and with a link to The Big Fish via the main university homepage, the union is hoping to raise political awareness. The Big Fish http://www. unl.ac.uk/su/index.htm

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