Archive for NUS

Scapegoating students…again

Last week, John Healey, Housing Minister and MP for Wentworth, launched one of the vilest attacks on students yet.

Healey announced plans to grant local councils the power to minimise highly populated student neighbourhoods. The plans will allow councils to license and regulate landlords letting to students in problematic cities.

The Minister for Housing said: “I am giving councils more local powers to crack down on the worst landlords and stop the spread of high concentrations of share homes where it causes problems for other residents or changes the character of a neighborhood.”

These plans to restrict the number of multiple occupation of properties has met opposition from the British Property Federation, director of policy, Iain Fletcher, said: “Clearly, ‘studentification’ is an issue on some areas, but the private rented sector provides far more than student accommodation and any interventions need to be balanced against the impact they could have across the wider sector.”

Already, Liberal Democrat councillors in Canterbury have seized upon the issue. Jo Calvett-Mindell, Lib Dem councillor for St. Stephen’s ward, has long been in favour of a cap on student homes. In 2007, she tabled a motion calling for a 20% limit on the number of student homes per road. She made the exaggerated claim that some streets had “90% student occupancy” without citing any data or evidence of this. This weekend, in a tiny article in the free Canterbury Times newspaper, Cllr. Calvett-Mindell repeated her calls for a cap on student homes in the city.

 The plans are a horrendous attack on students from a Government incessant upon getting 50% of young people into higher education, having committed themselves to narrowing the gap of opportunities for young people after mandatory education, making university an unfair default option for many young people who wish to aspire in other disciplines. How does the Government expect cities to cope with an increasing number of young people attending universities, when it narrows access to decent and fair housing?

It’s bad enough that students have to expect delays in their loans, even when the loans fail to cover the cost of rent for one term. It’s bad enough that students have to accept near poverty wages in jobs with non-flexible work hours. It’s bad enough that time and time again students are scapegoated by local authorities for being the root cause of anti-social behaviour in large towns and cities with a significant student population.

Students can expect to become fodder for negative campaigning in local elections. In cities such as Canterbury- where most students often return home between mid-April to mid-May before the start of the exam season- students are deprived of their opportunity to vote, losing their say and local councillors are fully aware of this. Students can expect local, mainstream politicians to use language usually reserved for the xenophobic BNP. There is already evidence that this is the case.

Under Labour, students have become an easy target. The decline in student activism, aided and abetted by the National Union of Students (NUS), has made cheap political attacks possible. Without the promotion of a culture of activism, students are more likely to be ‘benched’ by their elected representatives when it comes to organising against savage Tory cuts in higher education and the prospect of un-regulated student fees. Permanent campaigning is no longer a fixture for NUS bods and union careerists, they’re far more interested in governance reviews and the re-structuring of their bureaucracies.

Until we see the emergence of grassroots, activist-candidates in student union elections who care more about delivering for students than winning, many students will continually be subjected to a brutalisation that will be surgical, painful and ugly.

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Brighton Pavilion: The Student Vote

I think it would be fair to say that I’m not a fan of the NUS. I consider NUS a talking shop for bureaucrats who have been party hacks since their late teens (I’ve been a hack since my early teens). That said, I’m chuffed to see Vote For Students. It seems that for the first time in a long while there will be a systematic effort to register students to vote however, I still have my doubts.

The burden of registering students to vote will fall to full-time officers in student unions around the country, some of whom will work harder than others at getting out the student vote. I for one have little faith in the current full-time office team at my former university who, if I’m being honest, would struggle to organise a piss up in a bar (but that’s probably more to do with financial mismanagement anything else). What really worries me though is the loss of an activist culture on many university campuses. Student unions have conceded this ground to the far-left (which the organised bureaucracy has continued to marginalised as much as they can) who act as the unofficial spokespeople of student activism on campuses, often shouting about one thing or another which gets ignored by most students.

The truth is that students don’t really care about Iraq or Afghanistan, many of them don’t really give a toss about Palestine and, what may surprise some, students would probably stick two fingers up at climate change and say “bring it on!” I don’t want to sound defeatist, but it’s pretty much the truth, most students don’t care about the ‘big picture.’

However, what they do care about are immediate and personal issues. Issues such as fees, students can’t stand them, most don’t want to pay them, and many of them would rather they had free university education. Yet, how many of the mainstream parties recognise this desire? Well, certainly not Labour (not even the student wing), definitely not the Tories (who haven’t really said anything particular on higher education besides cuts and an emphasis on ‘business models’) and the Lib Dems have thrown away free education and rank it as an ‘aspiration’ to be implemented some way down the line (although who can really trust a politician’s timescale?).

In Brighton Pavilion students have the opportunity to vote for a candidate that stands resolutely against fees, I am of course talking about the Greens’ very own Caroline Lucas. I admit that the existing Green policy is not perfect, and could certainly do with a re-vamp e.g. making it clear who would cover the cost, I for one believe the majority of it should come from a progressive tax on the private sector, after all, they’re the ones who’re going to benefit from a constant stream of well-trained graduates. But it is certain that the Greens will be the only party in Brighton Pavilion with a clear policy opposing fees.

But fees aren’t the only issue that plague students, accommodation costs, greedy landlords upping rent prices despite a drop in mortgage rates, a living wage for student workers and a guarantee of university accommodation for first year and returning students, are some of the many issues that affect students at a local level. All candidates in Brighton Pavilion should address these concerns and offering solutions. If they want students to vote for them, then they need to make overtures to the student community. They need to engage with students as often as they can, they need to make the effort to visit the Sussex and Brighton campuses, as well as Brighton College and other sixth forms. Not all students will live in Brighton Pavilion, but a strong voice that speaks for all of Brighton and Hove’s students would have a profound affect on the kind of services students receive, whether they’re getting a fair deal from landlords or letting agencies and whether or not going to uni would be worth it, by that I mean setting out a coherent vision on creating  modern jobs for Brighton’s graduates by attracting the right kind of investment in Brighton, either from the Government or from honourable sections of the private sector.

A candidate that can promise a fair deal for students on the issues above deserves the student vote.

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