Manchester student societies offered up to £1,000 to send members to NUS demonstration

21 November 2012

Manchester University Students’ Union has been criticised for circulating an email telling student societies that they could be offered up to £1,000 in funding if their members attended a National Union of Students’ (NUS) rally against government spending cuts.

The email was sent last Wednesday by Tommy Fish, Activities and Development Officer at the Students’ Union, who informed societies: “In order to be sure of a silver or gold award, societies will need to send ten members to buy tickets (£8.50 to London is an absolute steal!) and thus show support for the national student movement.”

His message refers to Manchester SU’s ‘awards’ system, wherein a basic ‘bronze’ award worth £300 is given each year to the societies it funds. Those who fulfil certain criteria can raise this figure to £600 for a ‘silver’ award and up to £1,000 for a ‘gold’ award, as well as other benefits.

Andrew Williams, a student at Manchester University, argued that “student societies must be allowed to reserve their right to exist as politically neutral organisations”, and accused the Students’ Union of “holding societies to ransom by using funding as a coercive tool to force societies to adopt particular political agendas that their members may or may not agree with.” His online petition to urge the Union to rethink the statement currently has 506 supporters.

Mr Fish has since sent another email offering a ‘sincere and unreserved apology’. He said the email was ‘poorly worded’ and that sending members to the demonstration is just one way for a society to secure ‘silver’ or ‘gold’ status.

Nick Pringle, the students’ union’s General Secretary, clarified that it would continue to favour societies which backed ‘core union activities’ such as the demonstration.

Titled ‘#demo2012: Educate, Employ, Empower’, the event is due to take place in Central London today. Demonstrators will assemble in Temple Place on the Victoria Embankment, where a range of political speakers will address the crowd. The group then plan to march through London to a rally in Kennington Park.

It is expected that around 10,000 students will take part in the march, and Manchester Students’ Union are currently taking eight coaches of demonstrators.

The official #demo2012 website claims that it is protesting against the Coalition’s higher education reforms, including the increase of tuition fees to up to £9,000 a year, the stopping of the Educational Maintenance Allowance, and cuts to funding for post-graduate students. The event website also cites the fact that 1 million young people are now unemployed in the UK and says that the march will empower ‘a new generation of activists’.

Jenni Reed – Deputy News Editor

Photo: Jess Touschek