Tuition fees top of NUS agenda

March 12, 1999

Thousands of students will descend on Blackpool next week for the first National Union of Students conference since its members started paying tuition fees.

The impact of fees and new maintenance arrangements brought in by the government are likely to provoke stormy debate in the union, which remains divided over whether to continue fighting for maintenance grants or to concede their loss and concentrate on opposing fees.

Students from the Aldwych Group, which mirrors the Russell Group of research universities, will also be pushing for action to prevent top-up and differential fees.

Jo Scaife, president of the University of Warwick students union, said: "We are very keen to keep this high on the agenda and make sure everyone is talking about it because now is the time for students to make their views felt rather than wait until it has happened."

Union reform will be another hot issue as democracy in the NUS comes under the spotlight in a priority debate.

One camp sees NUS as primarily a provider of services to students, the other as a body which must be politically active.

Up for debate are motions to devolve powers away from the annual conference to smaller and more regular councils.

Student union leaders across the country are also predicting a tough election battle as president Andrew Pakes, a Labour student, stands for a second term, against independent Eric Brooke, Tory further education vice-president Nathan Heywood and Left Unity candidate Kate Buckell, who was beaten into second place last year by only 15 votes.

A member of Marxist organisation Workers Liberty, Ms Buckell is calling for direct action to oppose fees and an escalation of non-payment campaigns, while Mr Pakes puts more emphasis on student hardship, improving student services and other campaigns such as anti-racism, environment and unionisation.

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