NUS tactics under fire as Porter bows out

24 February 2011

The National Union of Students (NUS) has again been criticised for being out of touch with students’ interests by opponents to rising tuition fees after a recent memo recommended student leaders “engage” with university leaders as opposed to solely campaigning.

This comes in the wake of President Aaron Porter’s announcement that he will not be seeking a re-election.

Concern was raised over the description of the new fees system as “relatively progressive.”

CUSU President Rahul Mansigani said: “It is disappointing that anyone views as progressive a scheme that the NUS, CUSU and students up and down the country campaigned against.

“The cuts to teaching grants that began under Labour have been continued with even greater speed and recklessness under the coalition. With such incredible cuts, Cambridge and other universities are being forced to charge £9,000 just to replace public funding.”

He added: “CUSU and our students are outraged and disappointed that this is the situation the government has put us in.”

Vice President for Higher Education, Usman Ali, defended NUS’ “progressive” claim: “We have consistently acknowledged that the loan repayment system proposed by the government has progressive features, mainly because graduates with low lifetime earnings will have large debts written off after thirty years.  This is almost universally accepted and backed by the Institute of Fiscal Studies.”

However, he stressed “the system overall is – in our view – deeply regressive as those people with the highest lifetime earnings will pay the least as a proportion of all their earnings” and “the variable fee system will distribute funding towards more socially exclusive universities and away from those with high numbers of students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

“Just because a few aspects of the system act progressively, doesn’t make the system a good one, or the right one.”

In an open letter to the NUS membership, Porter said the “new regime brings with it a new landscape, and NUS “now needs reinvigorating into the next phase of this campaign”. The new leader needs a “fresh outlook” to “move beyond the tired rhetoric and redundant tactics of some factional group”.

Although Mansigani was critical of the cuts, he was sympathetic to Porter’s handling of the situation: “whilst there has been criticism of his leadership, he has done his best in a difficult role in an extremely difficult year, leading one of the largest demonstrations in years, and dealing with a range of other issues.

“We look forward to the elections for the new NUS President, and appreciate the need for a fresh perspective.”

Judith Welikala – Deputy News Editor

Photo Credit: Jess Touschek