David Miliband spoke to activists from Cambridge on Wednesday to lend his support to the campaign to force universities and colleges to pay the Living Wage to their staff.

The meeting, which was organised by the Cambridge Universities Labour Club (CULC), was attended by representatives from the many groups that have lent their support to the campaign, including staff and students from the university.

Miliband said that since much of the politics was about "thinking and feeling", but that the Living Wage campaign excited him as it was about "doing". He spoke of the parallels between the campaign to stop Oxford University investing in South Africa, which he was involved in as a student, and pointed to the fact that the university only chose to take action when enough colleges began to do so.

The ex-foreign secretary spoke at length about the ways that this campaign linked with his plans for the Movement for Change, a group set up by Miliband to encourage Labour activism at a local level.

He said that it was wrong to speak of empowering people, since people already have power but need to know how to use it. He also encouraged direct action, though said that "We should be imaginative about how we [do so."

At times, though, these general points meant that Miliband overlooked the specific practical obstacles, such as the collegiate system, that have stood in the way of Living Wage campaigns in the past. During the meeting, he was often more keen to stress the importance of the campaign as a way of getting people involved in, and doing, politics, than to discuss the ways that universities and colleges could be encouraged to adopt the policy.

Before Miliband's entrance, activists involved in the campaign at a number of levels spoke about their experiences with the campaign, and how they felt success could be achieved. Those present raised concerns that many workers paid below the living wage are afraid to speak out or even join a union, and that – since the university refuses to officially recognise those unions anyway – doing so might not be very successful.

The figures, printed in Varsity last week, that were retrieved through the Freedom of Information requests by CULC were also discussed. Some concern was expressed that – since they do not account for jobs that have been contracted out – the figure may even be conservative, meaning that even more staff are paid below the living wage than originally thought.

After the meeting, Miliband spoke to a representative from the university about the Living Wage campaign, before giving taking part in a question and answer session with Professor Andrew Gamble at the Union.