Student protestersWikimedia Commons

Last Monday, CUSU Council passed a motion allocating £300 so that Cambridge students could attend the “National Demo For Free Education” being held in London this November. The headline writes itself: ‘Student Union demonstrates against tuition fees’. Fairly innocuous, it seems. The truth is far more complicated. In passing this motion, CUSU Council has revealed both a lack of scrutiny when determining where our finances go, and a shocking ignorance of the politics of the National Union of Students.

The more straightforward point is that CUSU is going to be spending £300 on an initiative that is likely to do very little to advance the cause of free education. This Conservative government will not back free education, as it will blow a hole into the state’s finances, and it is naïve to think that one day in November will have much of an impact whatsoever. I raised this point on Monday at the Council meeting, and the response I received was not reassuring.

National demos had somehow ‘put and kept free education on the agenda’, ignoring the fact that the only reason we’re talking about it at all is due to Theresa May’s shocking election campaign. If electoral politics had turned out differently in June (i.e. had resulted in a Tory landslide), this issue would be dead and buried. As far as I can tell, demos are little more than a chance for student activists to get together and yell a few slogans.

“By giving this money on behalf of the entire CUSU Council, I fear we have provided legitimacy to an organisation that is well and truly out to lunch”

Regardless of these reservations, it is also striking that CUSU parted with £300 so easily. In what appears to be a recurring theme at Council, expenditure decisions are made and passed with relatively little oversight whatsoever. There were three people who spoke on the motion to spend £300 – myself, the President, and the original mover of the motion. That was it. In these times of fiscal restraint, such indifference does not bode well for next term’s budget. I hope Council will pick up its game.

Secondly, in passing this motion, I fear that CUSU has aligned itself with a hard left faction in the National Union of Students, of a distinctly unsavoury nature. The National Coalition Against Fees and Cuts (NCAFC) is organising the National Demo, and it is also the NUS ‘faction’ aligned with the hard left and the Socialist Workers Party. It also has very close ties to Jeremy Corbyn, has backed Malia Bouattia (the former NUS president accused of being anti-Semitic) and in general represents all the worst aspects of student politics.

I have a good friend who ran for a position on the NUS a couple of years ago. NCAFC spread a rumour that she was a ‘right-wing hack’. Their proof? She was a member of the National Organisation of Labour Students (the ‘Blairite’ faction in the student union). Members of NOLS, as it’s called, are known as ‘Nolsies’.

Incidentally, our recently (and dearly) departed CUSU President, Amatey Doku, finds himself on the other side of all these factional disputes, as he is a ‘Nolsie’. So, to put that in context, CUSU is currently funding students to go a demo organised by the same people who are trying to obstruct our previous CUSU president on a daily basis. Not ideal.

NCAFC also uses these demos to prove that they have the backing of the student body. Given that this £300 is likely going to be used to transport at most 150 students out of 10,000 you could plausibly say that support isn’t widespread. But by giving this money on behalf of the entire CUSU Council, I fear we have provided legitimacy to an organisation that is well and truly out to lunch.


Mountain View

CUSU should focus less on factionalism, and more on making a difference

Again, this demonstrates the sometimes-painful ignorance of CUSU Council and its members. Not only have we failed to properly scrutinise what I consider to be a prima facie questionable expense, but we’ve waded into some pretty byzantine student politics without so much as a second look.

While minor in the grand scheme of things, the National Demo episode reveals an underlying and worrying trend of how CUSU Council operates. Council is generally populated by well-meaning and engaged JCR pols, many of whom simply don’t have the time or the interest in University-wide politics to make Council worthwhile. Thus, the room gets dominated by a small number of voices ‘in the know’, who are invariably of a hard-left persuasion and not representative of the wider student body. Any proper scrutiny of motions or decisions is left up to the press (who are bizarrely engaged in this sort of thing – one suspects it’s a way to get out of their degrees).

This partisan and careless spending is representative of a wider problem. If we want to avoid a repeat of last Monday and make the system relevant and useful, we need Council to get more engaged in the University-wide and national issues that concern students, and that they have the power to do something about

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