The National Union of Students (NUS) has decided to withdraw its support for a demonstration in favour of Free Education, which is due to take place on November 19th. The National Executive Committee of the NUS initially voted on September 16th to endorse the demonstration and encourage unions to mobilise for it. However, the organisation’s President Toni Pearce, alongside five NUS Vice-Presidents has since overruled this decision, due to “an unacceptable level of risk that this demonstration currently poses to our members”.
The withdrawal of support by the NUS follows OUSU’s decision in 1st Week to provide £200 in funding to provide transport and sell coach tickets to the demonstration. 15 JCRs have also expressed support for the demonstration.
The demonstration was initially organised by the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts (NCAFC), the Student Assembly Against Austerity and the Young Greens, but subsequently acquired NUS support.
The statement lays out concerns about the accessibility of the demonstration to disabled students, “inadequate measures” in place to mitigate against unspecified significant risks, the lack of public liability insurance and concerns from NUS Liberation Officers about whether the protest would be a safe space. It is further stated, “We do not believe there is sufficient time between now and the demonstration for these risks to be mitigated.”
The release of the statement has been timed in order to give students’ unions “the minimum period” to review the situation and make decisions about whether to participate in the protest.
In the penultimate paragraph, signatories state, “The reality we are confronted with is that this demonstration presents an unacceptable level of risk, is not accessible, and does not meet the minimum expectations our members would expect for an action that carries NUS support. NUS has policy to support free education, and we will continue to lobby and campaign for this, but no action that we take should be put above the ability for all our members to be safe. We have gone to considerable lengths to help change that position, by working with the organisers, but that time has now run out.”
The statement concludes by saying, “I now hope that student officers across the country understand this decision and make their own decisions about whether to attend the demonstration.”
In response to the NUS decision, Beth Redmond, organiser for the NCAFC, told Times Higher Education that the NUS’ stance was “a ridiculous position to take, and directly contradicts the democratic mandate taken by conference and the NEC. We are doing our absolute best on a tiny shoestring budget, and we have been working hard to ensure the demonstration is organised properly.”