Left lifted by surprise win for Free Education motion at NUS conference

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Amy Gilligan from Cambridge University rs21 reports from NUS conference

LEFT ACTIVISTS were happy after a surprise win after a tense NUS conference vote this morning. A motion supporting free education passed, committing the union to campaigning against all methods of charging students for education. The vote went to the count, but was passed comfortably – 280 in favour, 231 against.

This surprise victory is a solid step forward for the NUS left after lean years. The union has supported a “graduate tax” for some years now, and votes for free education at previous conferences were lost. NUS leaders spoke against the motion, marshalling at times ridiculous arguments. Free education would mean those from the poorest backgrounds would be paying for university places for Eton boys, apparently.

These arguments make little sense. A free education system would open doors to many more students than one where we are saddled with tens of thousands in debt. Education is a right not a privilege. Free education is a principle that students should not compromise over.

Last night NUS voted to support staff who strike. Earlier yesterday there was a vote in favour of campaigning against the student loan book sell-off. NUS is supporting the TUC demo in October, but a motion calling on the union to organise its own a national demo was narrowly defeated.

Toni Pearce has been reelected NUS president with 454 votes. Left candidates Aaron Kiely pulled 150 while Dan Cooper got 90. Jack Duffin, a UKIP member, won just 18 voted. Many left inclined delegates expressed little enthusiasm for any of the candidates on offer and frustration at the lack of a unified left campaign.

Policy alone means nothing. Activists now have to take the formal votes as a licence to turn words into reality on campuses. Let’s hit the streets and build solidarity between staff and students.

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