Independence not for sale

30 October 2008

Does one have to be certifiably left-wing, feminist, unionist, and anti-capitalist to fight for free Higher Education? ‘Education Not for Sale’, a student campaign to fight for Free Education, and its supporters seem to think so.

Taking a glance at their web site will illustrate the plethora of ideals being fought for in a lengthy 11 bullet-points: “withdrawal of troops from Iraq and Afghanistan”, “black, LBGT, and disabled liberation”, “left unity”, “climate change, global justice, and anti-capitalist movements”.

Wide-ranging mission objectives will render ineffectual any organisation – doing one thing well is a much better idea. But also, if Free Education is their ultimate goal, then their posturing will just put off anybody who is not 100% confident of their entire range of political beliefs – like most students who are still considering their views on this range of topics.

The Left Tea Party is a prime example of how political views like these differ, even amidst the self-selecting group of lefties that turn up. How, then, can a campaign with so much unnecessary ideological baggage hope to attract the interest and support of the student-on-the-street?

Leave broad political mandates to the national parties, they do not need to be included in campaigns such as ‘Education not for Sale’. Single issue groups, be they ‘Fathers for Justice’ or ‘Save the Whales’ have a clear objective, devoid of compromise. They do not need to address every contemporary issue to make a clear statement of their position or what they want to achieve. Other issues will merely serve as a distrac

It’s clear in fact that ‘Education not for Sale’ is a left-wing clique. Though they are honest about this – “ENS is proud to be a ‘faction'” – I’m afraid that honesty doesn’t prevent them from alienating the vast majority of students who believe in Free Education, and oddly ENS is still surprised at how “apathetic” we are.

Among its many goals, ENS is keen to unionise students, though you may be asking what happened to our own National Union of Students?

The NUS, of which you are likely a member, in recent years has taken no effective action whatsoever in curtailing the loss of control we have over how our education is funded, and has resorted to pathetic, token stances.

The future promises nothing better: the leadership of the NUS is still trying to push through extensive constitutional reform that were rejected by students earlier this year. Regardless of your opinions on the plans, I’m afraid that this ongoing situation will create significant barriers to the NUS representing students effectively in any capacity any time soon.

Neither the NUS nor ENS can claim to represent the student-on-the-street, and as far as I am concerned, neither the NUS nor ENS are the answer. Their campaigns will only have credibility or success if they can garner the support of a large base of students who believe in Free Education. And at this rate, they never will.

Free Education needs a lightweight political campaign that allows students to unite on education funding whilst allowing individual political beliefs outside of that remit.

Free Education needs an independent campaign that does not rely on waiting until Wes Streeting and his cohort have secured cushy careers. And Free Education needs a strong campaign to help all students who believe in the idea to fully inform themselves, and actually do so something about it .

Fergus Ross Ferrier is reading Psychology at Selwyn.