Unions unite to fight fees

May 28, 1999

Students in England and Scotland have condemned the Scottish Parliament's three-month inquiry into tuition fees and are threatening a non-payment campaign.

"The inquiry is just a way of side-stepping the issue, so we are stepping up our campaign," said Kate Buckle, president of student pressure group Campaign for Free Education.

Up to 20 student unions have already promised support for the campaign, including Oxford, Sheffield Hallam, Ulster and Leeds, where anti-fees action has already taken place.

"We think that non-payment alongside direct action is the only answer," said Ms Buckle.

Direct action includes supporting Glasgow Caledonian Union's march to the Scottish Parliament on July 1. Oxford University Union also launched its non-payment campaign this week by distributing pledge cards to current students, freshers and teenagers.

Josh Bell, president of Oxford University's student union, said: "This year's campaign has to be more homogenous. We hope to work with unions all over the country."

Early indications suggest that the Scottish fees inquiry panel will include a student representative. Sources add that this could also be extended to the Association of University Teachers and the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals.

"The composition of the committee is for parliament to decide," said a government spokesman.

NUS Scotland is determined to ensure that it gets a member onto the panel. "Our lobbying has already ensured that tuition fees stayed top of the agenda," said NUS Scotland's Women's Officer, Rachel Cashman. "We are fighting very hard to ensure that we are heard. The inquiry gives us a chance to do this."

The CFE is more sceptical about the NUS's acceptance of the inquiry. "The student representative on the Dearing inquiry was hand-picked by the leaders of the NUS, who are known to be very closely tied to the government," Ms Buckle said. "We don't know how they will pick this one, but what is most important is that the newly elected MSPs heed what the people in Scotland voted for."

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