The upcoming elections for UCLU’s NUS (National Union of Students) delegates have slipped under the radar of many, if not most, students. A passing glance at the Union website reveals nothing but a repeated invitation to join the gym at a discounted price. ‘But hurry,’ it implores against a backdrop of biceps, ‘don’t miss this opportunity to resign yourself to the lack of municipal sports facilities by paying an inordinate sum for the privilege of exercise!’. Voting for a whole host of Union positions from Faculty Representatives to Student Trustees, on the other hand, starts in a week but unless you’d caught the two second window where this information is displayed on the home page, or fished the leaflet out of your information pack, you’d be none the wiser. This, a cynic might say, is emblematic of the Union at present- more focused on its profit making activities than democracy, transparency and activism.
In fact, it is vital that we vote in these elections to ensure that UCLU brings a clear socialist message to the NUS conference. At present, the NUS‘ public image is as a means of access to the lucrative student market, the NUS discount card being many students’ only contact with the organisation. Students are being targeted by big business, banks and supermarkets in particular, as a hard-up section of society ripe for exploitation. Bank bosses are salivating at the prospect of a generation of students struggling with living costs taking out overdrafts in order to continue in education, adding to their significant student loans and with the potential to fuel a credit bubble similar to that whose contagion caused the global financial crisis. We need a more active NUS which is not complicit in businesses’ capitalisation on students’ precarious financial situation and one which links up with trade unions to act. It must campaign not only against the continued onslaughts of austerity, but also to reject and reverse the neoliberal trend not on its own, but in conjunction with the organised labour movement. The recent agreement with the TUC (Trades Union Congress) is promising, but unless it involves large-scale action, a clear political programme and the revival of the union as a serious political force we risk continuing down the same path towards blithe acceptance of the status quo.
Higher education is a public good and students’ contribution to society far outweighs its cost, university should therefore be free and grants should be given to allow students to focus on their studies and not their finances. The NUS’ position against the privatisation of existing student debt does not go far enough: students should not have to pay for the capitalist crisis through university fees. Campaigning to improve the working conditions of university support staff whose jobs have been outsourced, such as the ‘Tres Cosas’ campaign at the University of London, is insufficient, as the creeping privatisation of university services must be opposed in itself. The lack of transparency and democracy caused by a proliferation of private interests at the highest levels of university management is already manifest. The Bloomsbury Masterplan which proposes, amongst other things, to merge the Main and Science libraries to make way for retail space is already being implemented without student consultation, and similar schemes threaten universities up and down the country.
The Marxist Student Federation opposes all education cuts, fees and actively seeks to campaign for free education for all. It stands for the abolition of student debt and a living grant for students. No half-way measures or reforms (tax the rich!) are possible under capitalism, which is seeking to roll back all the achievements of the working class for the past 50 years. Even the most modest reforms can only be realised, and sustained, by taking over the commanding heights of the economy and putting them under democratic workers' control. This means linking up the students in support of the developing movements of the working class, the only force that can effect a socialist transformation of society.
As Marxist students we should support Marxist candidates in the upcoming elections to ensure that these positive developments translate into mass mobilisation for the working-class cause.