NUS

An Open Letter to Liberal Democrat MPs


Dear Sirs/Madams

Today, as you are no doubt aware, is a hugely important day. It is also the biggest test of your moral fibre that you will undergo, I suspect, in this Parliament.

This is the pledge, clear and unambiguous, which you all signed. It meant something then. Does it not now?

You have been considered the “party of students” since the Blair government introduced tuition fees in 1998 (Teaching and Higher Education Act 1998, c.30), and since then you have campaigned relentlessly on this. I’d point out that in elections following this, you gained 17 seats (before the 2010) election, something in which I posit your student-friendly stance played a large part in.

 

And at the election in May, you took it one step further. Every one of your Prospective Parliamentary Candidates signed the NUS’ “vote for students” pledge. Maybe I should remind you what it said:

“I pledge to vote against any increase in fees in the next parliament and to pressure the government to introduce a fairer alternative”

It’s a remarkably clear political promise, don’t you think? And for every one of your party’s candidates to sign it sent a powerful message to students: ‘Vote for us, and we will fight for you. We will oppose any attempt to raise fees as our principle concern’ And it worked. You might have lost seats at the 2010 election, but I can assure you that you were viewed by students as the best choice, and they voted for you en mass, precisely because of your pledge.

Now, I understand that coalition means compromise. I understand that you weren’t going to be able to get all of your policies. But what sticks in the craw is that despite the fact that you were elected on this promise (I’ll be honest with you, only the real hardcore of Lib Dem supporters, and people with an active interest in politics care about electoral reform- most of the general public just don’t care) you didn’t press for it.

Your party has meekly and quietly accepted the rise in tuition fees, and I would highlight this passage in the coalition agreement:

If the response of the Government to  Lord Browne’s report is one that Liberal  Democrats cannot accept, then arrangements  will be made to enable Liberal Democrat MPs  to abstain in any vote.

I honestly don’t see how this is a victory. What it says, is if the government decided that they were going to raise tuition fees, Lib Dems would still have to break their promise, only through abstention rather than actually expressing their views. You have been, in other words, gagged. The agreement you signed was not to not vote for an increase, but to vote against an increase.

The end result of this will be that prospective students will be dissuaded from university by the prospects of massive debts. It makes no odds that you’re giving token gestures to make the repayment less harsh, people will still look at £27,000 worth of debt and think “No thank you”. Hence a great many capable, brilliant, but poor students will be put off the higher education that could be the gateway to their future success, and the country will lose out as a result. We benefit nothing from higher education becoming the purview of the rich and privileged.

If you look outside Parliament this afternoon, you will see thousands of people there protesting. If you go to any of the major university towns and cities, you will find their centres besieged by protesters. They aren’t there because “they don’t understand” the measures. They aren’t there because the NUS has misled them. They are there because these measures are massively unpopular, and yet you who promised to oppose them are lining up behind the Conservatives on this. Motions have been proposed to delay the vote, in order to give time for a proper investigation into the impacts, and the possible alternatives. You have even voted against those.

Today, as I said above, is a hugely important day, for you especially. This day, and your response to it, will be long remembered. Some of you will vote for the increase, and be remembered as turncoats and spineless opportunists. Some of you will abstain, and be remembered as cowards who let others walk all over the promises they had made. Some of you will vote against the measures, and be remembered as heroes.

It’s not often that a chance to be a political hero comes along. I hope that you will make the correct choice.

 

Yours faithfully

 

Matthew S. Dent

Student

An Open Letter to Students


My fellow students,

 

Those who attacked Millbank Tower were thugs and cowards, who took advantage of students' anger, and who have damaged the cause that they claim to believe in.

Yesterday I marched with you in London, protesting against the Coalition plans to cut the Higher Education budget by 40%, treble tuition fees, abolish EMA, and a host of other ill-advised and regressive policies. For the most part it was a pleasure to be a part of. We marched from LSE down towards Parliament, shouting slogans (and general verbal abuse of Lib Dems/Conservatives) and waving placards (some of which were a bit mental, but hey, it’s a protest- you’re allowed to be a little mental).

Then, after about 2pm, it all went wrong. The attack on Millbank Tower (regardless of whether it was or wasn’t Tory HQ) was a stupid move. It turned what was a respectful, peaceful demonstration, into a riot. And maybe some of you are looking at today’s headlines and realising what a mistake it really was.

The fact is, that most of the 50,000 students gathered behaved completely respectably, and didn’t engage in stupid acts of aggression and violence. The ones who attacked Millbank Tower and tried to occupy it were a minority, hailing from certain factions of the left and of the student community. I won’t specify who, but I’m sure that all of you who know anything about this are aware of who I mean. And I suspect that a good deal of that minority went to the demonstration spoiling for a fight.

I can understand the anger and frustration that led to it. Everyone there was passionately against the unfair moves being taken by the government, and in particular at the broken promises of the Liberal Democrats. I’m sure that if Lib Dem HQ wasn’t hidden down an anonymous sidestreet they would have seen much more aggression than they actually did. In the end, students were angry about policies that would disproportionately hit the poor, and that anger both boiled over and was taken advantage of by certain elements.

The end result is that the protest has been sullied. The focus is on the minority of violent individuals who acted unacceptably, not the overwhelming majority who behaved more reasonably. I think it’s exemplified by the fact that David Cameron was able to give a statement on the performance of the police and the unacceptability of rioting, and completely ignore the issues that we were protesting against.

And the worst part, for me, was that we had the moral high ground. For the most part, we weren’t protesting for ourselves. The impact of these cuts and policies on present students will be minimal. It’s the future generations who will be disadvantaged, and it was for them who we were marching for.

Please understand that my criticisms were aimed at those who perpetrated the attacks on Millbank Tower, and not to the rest of the students. In particular, those who broke windows, tried to occupy the building, and unbelievably dropped things off the top of the building. I am a student. I am a left winger. But I like to think I’m not an idiot. This hasn’t helped anyone, and has hurt our movement and our aims.

Those who gave in to violence, vandalism and thuggery make me ashamed to have been there. However, all of you who didn’t disgrace yourselves, who peacefully demonstrated to make our voices heard. All of you make me proud to be a student, and to have been on the march which will unfortunately be remembered for the idiocy of a few.

 

Sincerely

Matthew S. Dent

(3rd year LLB student, University of Sussex)

This Day…We March!


Marching for the rights of future students

Tomorrow, we march on the capital.

Tomorrow, thousands of angry students will descend on Parliament to protest the crippling cuts and fee rises proposed by the Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition government. Thousands of voices will be heard crying out for our politicians to hear our voices and listen to them. And for the Lib Dems especially, to remember what they promised in the election.

I will be there. So will over three hundred students from the University of Sussex. I have no idea how many people will be there from other universities, but I know this is going to be something spectacular.

I’d like to point out something in particular: we are not doing this for us. The tuition fee rise will not affect present students. The cuts to the Higher Education budget will, for some of us. But not for me, and not for thousands of other final year students who will be there. We are not marching for ourselves. We’re marching for the generations of students who will bear the brunt of this.

The rises are not progressive. They will dissuade the very poorest members of society from going to university, and transform Higher Education into something reserved for a rich elite. And the massive cuts to the Higher Education budget will decimate universities, resulting in students paying massively more for massively less.

This is why I’m going to London tomorrow. This is why thousands of others are doing the same. This is why I’m asking you to come.

Whether you’re a student or not doesn’t matter. You could be someone who will be applying to university in the next couple of years. You could be the parent of someone who will be applying. Or you could just care about the state of education in this country. Whoever you are, come along and show your support. If you’re interested, take a look at the NUS website for details, and get involved.

Thank you

Tuition Fees and Broken Promises


"We will scrap unfair university tuition fees so that everyone has the chance to get a degree, regardless of their parents' income" The Liberal Democrat Manifesto 2010, p32

Does anyone else remember the Lib Dem manifesto?  I know hardly anyone read it, but presumably most of you were aware of it’s existence? Well, even if you weren’t, you won’t be surprised to hear that it contained this particular gem on page 32: “We will scrap unfair university tuition fees so that everyone has the chance to get a degree, regardless of their parents’ income”.

This has been a staple of Liberal Democrat policy for years. They have built their voter base on it, attracting idealistic students who don’t want to graduate university in mountains of debt. Everyone knows this, just as everyone knows that the Conservatives attracts the rich, and the working classes vote Labour.

It seems, however, that the Lib Dems themselves have forgotten this. In anticipation of the Browne Review publishing its findings tomorrow, speculation is rife that it will recommend that tuition fees be dramatically raised. The current figure that seems to be being batted around at the moment is somewhere in the region of £7,000. Now, I realise that whilst I may be many things (a law student, a writer, a lay political ranter and Labour Party member), I am not a mathematician. So if I’m wrong on this, someone please correct me, but I don’t think that raising them to £7,000 constitutes “scrapping unfair university tuition fees”.

The obvious ramifications on this are those for the Lib Dems. It was their one policy that won serious support. Students are a massive voting sector, who on mass tend to swing towards the Lib Dems. And now they have, as part of the coalition, agreed to allow those people to take a massive hit.

But this runs deeper than that. Very few people at the moment are arguing that free university education is possible. But what is clear is that the increasing debt that graduates are leaving university with are not a good thing. More than doubling that debt is going to radically alter the educational landscape, and be a serious dissuading factor for those from poorer backgrounds, against going to university.

The rich will still be able to attend, and get their degrees. They can afford to shoulder the debt, if not the hiked tuition fees themselves. And when you add to this the speculation that universities will be able to charge over that amount, for those who can pay it.

Which is just brilliant, don’t you think? All the progress we’ve made towards equality, away from elitism, away from the idea that those with money deserve better than those without. All the progress we’ve made towards a fairer society, and the Lib Dems get into government at it’s immediately started to be unpicked.

So here it is. This is what we’re faced with. If students thought that they were going to be immune from the cuts and chaos that’s going around at the moment, we were wrong. We need to find our voices and stand up. We need to tell the world that, no, we’re not just a drain on society, we’re going to be contributing to the economy by paying higher rate tax after we graduate and get jobs. We need to say that education shouldn’t be the purview of the rich, it shouldn’t be exclusive to the privileged.

And to Clegg, Cable, and the other Lib Dems who sold their souls for seats at the Cabinet table, know this: the British electorate will not be forgetting your broken promises any time soon. You keep justifying your cooperation with the Tories as “liberalising” what would otherwise be a harsh conservative government. So do some goddamn liberalising.