Save ULU, defend student unions: demonstrate outside the University Board

On the 22nd May the University of London’s Trustee Board is meeting to decide on the future of ULU. This will be the last point at which the University can voluntarily reverse its decision to get rid of ULU; whatever the outcome, we will refuse to be abolished.

We are calling a demonstration to fight for the future of ULU and defend student unionism on that date.

We invite students, staff and alumni from London and across the country to come to ULU, and take the fight to the University.

We will assemble at 2pm outside ULU on Malet Street

In the meantime, sign and share the petition to save the University of London Union:https://www.change.org/en-GB/petitions/the-university-of-london-save-the-university-of-london-union-3

Below is the letter which we have sent to student unions across the country.

—–
Dear student activists, officers and education staff,

We write to you for support. The University of London is threatening to close its students union, ULU, which represents more than 120,000 students across the city and been at the heart of student life in London for many decades. In the recent period it has revived as a focus for pan – London campaigning. This proposal is to close ULU from summer 2014 and replace it with a management-run student services centre.

The proposal is the culmination of a review, on which no student sat. Students’ union responses to the Review were largely positive. ULU submitted a wide-ranging response to the Review to increase its representative capacity (which was cut almost entirely in 2007) and form the nucleus of a pan-London union.

ULU has made progress in the last year. It has transformed and opened up its democracy; more than tripled the number of officers; introduced a full-time Women’s Officer and autonomous Liberation Campaigns; and put in place measures that could increase its elections turnout tenfold in the coming year. This year alone it has been central to defending international students, set up a London-wide tenants union to fight astronomical rents and dodgy landlords, overhauled its clubs and societies work, been key to the fight of university cleaners campaigning for better rights, called major anti-fees demonstrations, and developed lobbying channels and relationships with the Greater London Authority (GLA) and Major’s office.

We believe the attack on ULU is important for the whole of the student movement. ULU’s federal position is unique amongst students’ unions but that if a precedent is set that university management can unilaterally shut down a union and remove its sole building this could have very serious consequences in the medium- to long-term. We believe student activities, representation and services are best when they are run by students’ unions, under democratic student leadership.

There are many reasons why ULU is an easier target than most but we believe that the situation here today could be the situation tomorrow for many. We can see some key trends:

1. The marketization of education is leading some universities to try to expand their student numbers rapidly. This requires additional space. We do not want to create a precedent where institutions can expand into valuable student union space.

2. Some universities are not expanding but are trying desperately to cut costs. Again, the student union is an easy target for this – particularly services considered ‘non-essential’ like bars, gig venues, and society and activity space.

3. Students’ unions can provide commercial services for cheaper through NUSSL. Universities increasingly run their own commercial services which compete with the students’ union, but without this cost advantage. Senior managers may struggle to understand or why the University should encourage or allow competing commercial ventures.

4. University management may think that university-run services are necessarily better than those run by the students’ union. This completely ignores the important benefits that SU-run services provide: generating turnover for the union, creating goodwill towards the union, providing a safe democratically-run space, pushing the campaigns and messages of the union.

Across the board the marketization of education poses risks to students’ unions. Principals and Vice-Chancellors are increasingly coming from the private sector where the principles of student unionism are not so well understood or valued. Private providers coming into the higher education sector are creating weaker shallow unions with no commercial services, little autonomy and far poorer funding. Marketisation Moreover, a marketised higher education system lleads to considerations of cost and price over value: the undermining of students’ ability to decide on their own Union’s affairs could be a green light to other Universities – in your college or in your university – that want to either reduce spending on the SU, regain control of services or take back buildings.

The combined salaries of the Vice Chancellors of the University of London – the people who have the power to attack ULU and take away its resources – is £4.1m. ULU’s block grant is under £800k, most of which goes back to the University in rent.

We believe that what is happening at ULU right now could be used as a blueprint for the future elsewhere in the country: removal of democratic student oversight of services, curtailing of student autonomy, massive funding cuts.

On the 22nd May the University of London’s Trustee Board is meeting to decide on the future of ULU. We are calling a national mobilisation to fight for the future of ULU – but also to defend students’ unionism – on that date. We invite students, staff and alumni from London and across the country to come to ULU, and take the fight to the University.

In the meantime, sign the petition to save ULU: https://www.change.org/en-GB/petitions/the-university-of-london-save-the-university-of-london-union-3

2 comments

  1. Simon O'Kane · · Reply

    There’s a crucial difference you’ve missed in your argument: most students’ unions are protected by the 1994 Education Act, which legislates that all universities should have students’ unions.

    1. Hi Simon,
      There are no legal requirements on the University of London to continue to provide a federal students’ union. With the exception of the c250 SAS students, and the 54,000 remote learners registered with UoLIA, all students are registered in and physically based at Colleges that provide for their representational, social, welfare and sporting needs.

      For this reason ULU is unique, and the litigious argument can only go so far. You would be right to say that successive governments have undermined student collective organisation, and this has been extended by the ‘new’ VCs, who because of the erosion of the post war consensus, don’t value SUs in any sense.

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