OUSU’s Trustee Board is to decide whether a sufficient risk assessment has been conducted by the organisers of a demonstration in favour Free Education for students to be safely sent to the event.
The review follows concerns raised by the NUS about the event due to “an unacceptable level of risk that this demonstration currently poses to our members”. The NUS has since withdrawn its support. OUSU is now gathering the necessary information from the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts (NCAFC), NUS and risk assessors, before the decision is made.
The NUS decided to withdraw its support for the demonstration, in a statement made on Tuesday by NUS President Toni Pearce and all NUS UK full-time officers. This reversed a decision made by the National Executive Committee of the NUS on 16th September to endorse the demonstration and encourage unions to mobilise for it.
The Free Education demonstration has already gained the support of OUSU and 15 JCRs, with many JCRs also pledging money towards transportation to the event. The demo was organised by the NCAFC, the Student Assembly Against Austerity and the Young Greens, and 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 timing of the statement gives students’ unions “the minimum period” to review the situation and make decisions about whether to participate in the protest, according to the NUS statement.
The NCAFC have rejected the claims made by the NUS in the statement, claiming that they met every deadline laid out by the NUS and risk assessors, and have published anonymised emails of their interactions with the organisation. Furthermore, the NCAFC has claimed that “the biggest safety threat to students on a demonstration is the police”, which they say will be made greater by the NUS distancing itself from the demonstration.
Several NUS groups have also seemingly decided to continue to support the protest, in defiance of the national leadership, including the NUS Black Students’ Campaign and the International Students’ Campaign. NCAFC national committee member Beth Redmond commented, “Student unions are very supportive of the demo, and we are building a mass, sustainable movement for free education.”
NUS Scotland President Gordon Maloney said, in contrast to NUS UK, “I can’t understand the decision that some members of the NUS leadership have taken. The demonstration is going ahead, and all that pulling out of the demonstration can achieve is putting students in danger: when they mobilise, they need their national union to be there for them, not abandon them.”