Leaked NUS memo calls HE reforms ‘progressive’


1:52 am - February 17th 2011

by Sunny Hundal    


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The Times tonight has published extracts of a memo leaked from the National Union of Students that will cast an even deeper shadow over its embattled leader Aaron Porter.

The newspaper reports (paywall) that the memo, circulated to NUS officers, appears to contradict its own stance of opposing the government’s Higher Education reforms.

Curiously however, the Times has not posted the full memo online.

The article states:

A memo from the National Union of Students (NUS), seen by The Times, advises its elected student officers that campaigning against high fees could backfire and that they should hold talks with their universities instead.

The NUS has publicly opposed any rise in tuition fees but the briefing note appears to contradict that stance, calling the Government’s higher education reforms “progressive”. It also admits that funding cuts are not as drastic as the union has claimed.

The five-page briefing note was aimed at NUS officers on campuses and focused on discussions on increasing fees.

The article goes on to say:

Aimed particularly at universities in the Russell Group and the 1994 Group of smaller research universities, it cautions NUS officers against trying to stop universities setting the maximum fee. It says that “simply campaigning for a low fee might not generate the results you require (especially inside the Russell and 1994 Group)”.

On the reforms of student finance, with a high repayment threshold and payments spread over 30 years, the note says that “the vastly increased numbers of graduates that will never pay the loan off are in fact what makes the system relatively progressive”.

Bizarrely enough, Porter himself has been highlighting in the news that most universities will end up charging the maximum £9000 amount.

In the Times article, Porter defends the memo’s advice saying he only called the loan repayments system “a small progressive element within a deeply regressive package”.

There is no official statement by the NUS however.

It also points out that many radical student groups have decided to back Essex university graduate Mark Bergfeld to challenge Aaron Porter at the NUS elections in April.

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About the author
Sunny Hundal is editor of LC. Also: on Twitter, at Pickled Politics and Guardian CIF.
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Reader comments


So everything is regressive apart from the rate that graduates pay their fees? Sorry but isn’t that the only thing that defines whether it’s progressive or not? That whether better paid graduates pay more or less than graduates who aren’t as well off?

9% of everything you earn over £21,000 (£30/month from somebody on £25,000/year; £82.50/month from somebody on £32,000/year; £0/month from somebody on <=£21,000/year) and a cancelled debt after 30 years, seems progressive to me. I think all the scare stories about "regressiveness" will do more to put off kids from poor backgrounds going than the actual figures.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jvw9W42wzsQ just google Mark Bergfield and stumbled upon this stonking interview by him after Day x. That is the kind of person we need on talkshow sofas at a time like this

NUS delegates take note. Radical students – swallow your anti-bureacratic pride and make it to NUS conference this year

After the promotion of selectively edited material on Murdoch’s FNC coming from the likes of Andrew Breitbart, anything other than full disclosure from one of Rupe’s papers is not A Good Thing.

Let’s see the whole memo before drawing conclusions.

@1 – please, you don’t think this is actually about the *details*, do you?

You don’t think the left cares whether poorer students are scared off by inaccurate information, do you?

The five-page briefing note was aimed at NUS officers on campuses

Students’ Unions are independent bodies which affiliate to the NUS. Their officers and policies are their own, not NUS’s.

I’m unsurprised when journalists get this basic point wrong, of course.

(It’s more than a pedantic point, since the level of control the NUS actually has, implies it has, explicitly says it has, and wishes it had, over the activities of its member SUs are four very different things)

Aaron Porter is either lying to his members or lying to the public. I sure wouldn’t want to be writing the case for the defence.

Still convinced that the student body should be backing Porter, Sunny?

Oh come on. Journalism, please! The briefing is on their website:

http://nussl.ukmsl.net/asset/News/6010/Briefing_Note_on_University_Fee_Setting_Discussions1.pdf

Have a read. Mostly, it’s helpful advice for sabbs, though there is some dodgy stuff in there, mostly politically insensitive rather than the stuff that the Times are implying.

Now, I hope that a good lefty candidate beats Aaron at the next election, but let’s not allow The Times to make out they’ve got a big scoop when the info is all in the public domain. And, there is no such thing as ‘an NUS officer on the ground’. There are student officers at autonomous buy affiliated student unions. NUS doesn’t have the power to tell them what to do.

…just to be clear, I’m not defending NUS – they’ve been pretty terrible for the last while.

I don’t see any inconsistency with calling the reforms progressive (because they are) and still opposing them (because you are not progressive).

Broadly Labour-aligned people have been supporting regressive policies for 13 years. Why would they stop now?

And in particular, the NUS represents students, who are largely middle class, and who will largely go on to be higher earners. It is a union’s job, surely, to represent the interests of its members. In this case that would be transfers of wealth from largely poorer non-graduates, to themselves. Not really very different to what every other union does.


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  87. NUS hits back at ‘leaked memo’ claim | Liberal Conspiracy

    […] NUS hits back at ‘leaked memo’ claim by Sunny Hundal     February 18, 2011 at 4:47 pm The National Union of Students president Aaron Porter has today hit out at claims made by the Times yesterday over its alleged “leaked memo”. […]

  88. Why Aaron Porter’s departure is a loss for the student movement | Virtually Naked

    […] released on the day of the tuition fees vote, would leave me unable to go to university. The leaked memo revealing that the NUS found some parts of the tuition fees policy to be ‘progressive&#82…, despite publicly claiming otherwise leave me similarly unimpressed. I do not believe, however, […]

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