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By Megan Crockett, News Editor
The National Union of Students (NUS) pulled its backing from Wednesday 19th November’s “Free Education: No Fees, No Cuts, No Debt” demonstration. Despite the withdrawal of support, ten thousand students from across the country took to London to march for Free Education.
This demonstration would have been the first national demonstration backed by the NUS since it held the march through central London in November 2010. The withdrawal may not come as a huge surprise as the Free Education motion has been constantly problematic within the NUS; as it was only supported by a narrow majority at last year’s national conference in Liverpool.
Toni Pearce, the NUS president said it was with “huge reluctance and regret” that she had to explain that “NUS is not in a position to support this [the Free Education] demonstration”; despite passing a motion in September stating that they would formally endorse the demonstration organised by a coalition of student groups including the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts (NCAFC), the Student Assembly Against Austerity and the Young Greens.
Pearce said that the decision was made “with the NUS Vice President and Liberation officers who hold significant concerns regarding an unacceptable level of risk that this demonstration currently poses to our [NUS] members” as the “plans that are in place do not give … confidence that the demonstration will be accessible to all students – in particular disabled students”. In addition, they believed “there were inadequate measures in place to mitigate against significant risks” which was made worse by the fact that “there [was] no public liability insurance in place”.
Regardless of the withdrawal of support, the NUS state they still have “a policy to support free education, [and] will continue to lobby and campaign for this, but no action that we take should be put above the ability for all … members to be safe”.
Beth Redmond, organiser for the NCAFC, said that the NUS’ stance was “a ridiculous position to take, and directly contradicts the democratic mandate taken by conference and the NEC”. Redmond added that those organising the demonstration had “worked hard to ensure the demonstration [was] organised properly” which was especially hard on their “shoe string budget”.
Despite the NUS’ withdrawal from Wednesday’s demonstration, many students believe the march was still a “great success”.