On the 7th of May, University of Essex Students Union held its annual Union Conference. Whilst the Conference itself was uneventful, the afternoon was dominated by the Keynote speakers and the following discussion.
Bernard Jenkin, Conservative MP for Harwich and North Essex, and Bob Russell, Liberal Democrat MP for Colchester both spoke to students on the issue of the role of Student Unions in society and the impact of the Tuition fee increase and the cuts to Higher Education.
Bernard Jenkin took the opportunity to provide the students with his vision for higher education. He praised the American system of Universities, detailed the role of private companies and their input to University funding and management and stood firm in his defence of the huge rise of Tuition fees and the 79% cuts to teaching budgets. He saw the role of Student Unions as mediators between the students and Universities; to provide services and to ensure employability.
Furthermore Bernard Jenkin MP, attacked the TUC March 26th demonstration, where 500,000 workers and students marched against his Governments’ proposals and repeated the argument that Britain is about to default on its debt and in order to ‘clean up the mess left by Labour’, we need 30% cuts across all Government departments.
Bob Russell MP, whilst making clear that he voted against the £9,000 fee rise in Parliament largely agreed with what Bernard Jenkin stated. He made emphasis on the Government proposals to ‘widen participation’, but effectively stated the matter of funding and cuts to Higher Education institutions was closed.
Students were vocal in their criticisms of the MPs, in terms of the cuts to Education and the rising fees, but also critical of the austerity measures pursued by the Coalition government. As one student pointed out, ‘It didn’t work in Ireland, so it won’t work here.’
We need to be clear, the proposals of the Government will stop thousands of working class students from attending University; the cuts to EMA will be a barrier to thousands more 16 year olds being able to attend college or FE institutions and the cuts will mean job losses across the entire sector. These proposals are not progressive, fair and nor will they lead to more opportunities for the poor to attend University. The proposals are an ideological move to make Universities the stomping grounds of the rich and so, we need to fight them.
This year has seen the movement against the Education cuts build and the wider opposition to austerity is continuing to gather momentum. The student walkouts in November, the 50,000 on the National demo on 10.11.10 and the 30,000 students and lecturers in Parliament Square on the night of the vote on the 9th of December, were inspirational and led directly to the 500,000 that marched on the 26th of March. We need the student leaders and activists that built those demonstrations and walkouts speaking at our Union events, not Tory MPs who have shut the door to Education for thousands of young people for an entire generation.
On May 10th, Mark Bergfeld NUS NEC will be speaking at the Essex Education Activist Network AGM. Let’s make sure that the AGM is both bigger and also provides activists with the tools to continue to fight the Education cuts and higher fees over the coming academic year.
Where next for the Movement? w/Mark Bergfeld NUS NEC
Essex EAN AGM
LTB1, 6:30pm, 10 May 2011