This summer marks the rebirth of a national Labour students organisation. Its predecessor, marred by factionalism and disagreement, was abolished three years ago. Now, with the possibility of a general election around the corner, a new National Labour Students (NLS) committee will be elected to oversee a fresh and improved institution. There is natural scepticism surrounding NLS from all wings of the party. Moderates are worried it will become another leadership-criticising platform with little serious input and left-wingers fear it will return into an undemocratic clique. That is why a Labour students organisation steered by the right committee, dedicated to openness and willing to take its role seriously is vitally necessary.
For years now, students have been let down by more than a decade of Tory rule. Educational grants and bursaries are being scrapped, maintenance loans are plummeting in value and the cost of staples is soaring. Support for students from the poorest backgrounds has been made inaccessible by redefining the meaning of poor. Successive Conservative Education Secretaries have reduced the financial safeguards of degree seekers, driven by a privileged misunderstanding of university life; a misguided expectation that parental support is both sufficient and reliable.
The consequences of this assault on living standards are shown by the extraordinary number of students who use food banks as well as part-time jobs that are a necessity for far too many. These jobs are insecure, unfulfilling and fail to even earn the national living wage. No wonder students know better than anyone how to make a pound last and the right places to go for the cheapest pint.
Even after graduation, the attack doesn’t end there. The latest government plans to reform the tuition fees repayment scheme are diabolical. Putting aside the astronomical interest rates on the loans – which reached a record 12% this year – the threshold for repayment is dropping to a mere £25,000. Tories complain about Britain’s productivity gap while doing nothing to promote, improve nor expand higher education.
As the possibility of a general election looms, it is critical that we organise students against this onslaught and mobilise their support for the Labour Party. NLS organisation will need to do this, but it can only be done effectively and sustainably if the new organisation conforms to certain key guiding principles – and, with the right committee, it can.
First and foremost, NLS must fight for the things that truly matter to students. Too often, elements of the Labour Party talk about and campaign on things that have no relevance to the people they represent. For too long, Momentum-led Young Labour has been committed to trivial campaigns and pointless foreign policy debates. NLS needs to focus on real issues: poverty, graduate opportunities, housing and the climate crisis. These are what students care about and what they wish to see NLS campaigning on.
Secondly, NLS needs to actively stop bigotry in all its forms. Antisemitism is an infestation in this party that must be fought. NLS must have a zero-tolerance policy on bigotry and be willing to stand up and call it out. Finally, the organisation must be a space free from the petty factional battles fought by some in the party. It ought to be a place where every student Labour member can find friendship and comradery, an inclusive group bereft of factional demonisation and childish squabbles.
The National Union of Students (NUS) presents a prime opportunity for a serious and open NLS to have an impact. The NUS has failed young people during a time of unprecedented crisis. The recent conference was marred by inaction on the real issues and antisemitic bigotry. Over recent years, antisemitism has been ripe within the top brass of the union and it is high time a coordinated NLS campaign stamped it out. At a time when student poverty rises rapidly, and the UCU undergoes a bitter industrial dispute, we need a serious NLS to return control of the NUS into the hands of those that truly care about the real issues affecting young people.
Ballots to elect the new NLS committee will have dropped by now and we recommend lending your votes to the amazing group of Open Labour and Labour to Win candidates, as they are the ones who are serious about setting up an open and inclusive organisation that is committed to standing up for the real issues facing students in Britain today.