by Lucy Auger
Content warning: Article mentions suicide.
The political transition we have seen in NUS over the last 12 months would have been unthinkable this time last year. The student movement has risen to the growing need for radical action this year, building groundbreaking, vital campaigns, presenting a powerful response to the many crises modern students face.
Our collective debt is growing. Student suicides are on the rise. Hundreds of students are dropping out of education due to the pressure of rising debt on their mental health, or because they simply cannot afford to live whilst remaining in education. Student debt is tearing students’ lives apart, but this year NUS has shown that our desperation has only made our movement stronger.
Yesterday, NUS National Conference opened with an address from Sally Hunt, General Secretary of the University and College Union, declaring that NUS’ bond with the trade union movement has been “stronger in the last 12 months than it has been for many years”. When NUS President Malia Bouattia welcomed delegates to conference, she reminded us of the recent past, when NUS did not back free education, when trans students had no formal representation in NUS, and when our relationship with the trade union movement was far from strong. In her own words, NUS had “a very different type of politics”.
Since then NUS has made huge leaps in tackling the marketisation of education. Vice President (Higher Education) Sorana Vieru has worked tirelessly to campaign against the HE Bill. The NSS Boycott has shown that NUS will not be complicit in the government’s blatant attempts to raise fees once more. In her time as President, Malia has drastically reshaped the way we think about free education. Free education no longer simply means the absence of fees. This year NUS has campaigned for free and fully accessible education for all students, an education that is free from institutionalised racism and sexism, and an education that does not shut out the poorest in our society.
Our liberation campaigns are stronger than ever before. After years of opposition, for the first time in NUS history we have a full-time, paid Trans Officer in NUS. We have a Womens’ Campaign at the forefront of the fight against deportations, that stands up for international students without fail. Malia’s election as ‘the first refugee, the first muslim, and the first woman of colour’ to be NUS president is reflective of NUS’ unwavering support for students facing great oppression.
while students continue to face the ever-present threat of deportations, these issues are student issues
We are finally in a position to stand opposed to the rise of the far right as a strong, united union. And now that we stand hand in hand with our allies in the trade union movement we are stronger than ever.
Some would argue that NUS has a tendency to focus on issues like deportations, conflict, and systematic oppressions that aren’t deemed relevant to average students. But while students continue to face the ever-present threat of deportations, these issues are student issues. While some of us are shut out of education, out of attainment, out of teaching and out of our curricula along lines of race, gender, sexuality and nationality, that is everyone’s problem. I sincerely hope that, in the coming year, NUS continues to stand up for the most marginalised students in our movement, and that we do not regress to times when radical action was seen as a luxury and not a necessity.
Featured image credit: Lucy Auger