NUS criticised by Students’ Union for lack of communication over maintenance grant abolition

Photographer: The Weekly Bull
• Welsh Students’ Unions left unaware of changes to voting in Westminster despite alleged NUS knowledge • SU sabbatical officers pushed for emergency motion in shadow cabinet • Cardiff Central MP describes cuts to grants as “ideological attack” on student

The National Union of Students (NUS) has come under criticism from Cardiff’s Students’ Union elected officer team, after allegedly failing to provide important information about last week’s vote to cut maintenance grants.

Last Tuesday, the government rejected Labour’s opposition day motion to stop the cuts to maintenance grants for English students. In a controversial decision, only English MPs were allowed to vote following the debate regardless of the thousands of English students that attend Welsh universities.

According to a sabbatical officer, despite NUS’s knowledge of the situation, Students’ Unions and politicians across Wales were left unaware of this development. Talking to Gair Rhydd, Vice President for Societies Hannah Sterritt explained that the news was only revealed through Twitter by a message written by NUS Wales President Beth Button, and not by NUS UK.

In her tweet, Button explained that approximately 50 per cent of students in Welsh universities are funded by student finance England and would be directly affected by the decision. She also explained that she had talked to the House of Commons speaker John Bercow to contest the decision.

According to Sterritt, although the NUS are usually reliable at providing important information, Cardiff Students’ Union were unable to procure further details from the institution on the day of the debate.

As a result, the officer was left with no choice but to single-handedly inform other students’ unions and Welsh MPs of the news via social media, phone and email.

Like Button, Sterritt also contacted the Speaker at Westminster to lobby against stopping Welsh MPs from voting, encouraging others to do the same.

As a result, thanks to the work of Cardiff Students’ Union, the MP for Cardiff Central Jo Stevens was also notified of the situation and was able to create an emergency motion in the shadow cabinet opposing the decision.

In response to these suggestions, NUS Wales explained to Gair Rhydd that the Speaker’s decision to create an English-only vote was made “at a very late stage in a fast-moving process, with minimal communication and little precedent as to how it can be challenge.”

It was also noted that as the government’s original Committee vote included MPs from Wales and Scotland, the Union “had been working on the premise that this would also apply to the vote”.

The NUS Wales President none-the-less praised Cardiff Students’ Union for their hard work and described the officers as “crucial in bringing much-needed scrutiny and pressure on the UK Government’s ill-thought out decision to scrap student maintenance grants in England.”

Button continued: “The lobbying of Welsh MPs by students’ unions was a mark of the incredible strength of the student movement in Wales”.

The UK NUS President Megan Dunn has since spoken out against the “underhand tactics” used during the government debate and vote, including the failure to release a inequality impact assessment of cutting English maintenance grants.

In response to the cuts, Cardiff University students have organised a protest to take place on Wednesday outside the Students’ Union.

Organised by the Cardiff Labour Students society, the event encourages people to gather with banners.

This is not the only protest held since the vote. On Tuesday, hundreds of students blocked Westminster Bridge in a day of demonstrations.

The bridge was reportedly closed for an hour and a half as protestors made their way to Parliament Square.

Meanwhile, Cardiff Students’ Union has released a statement condemning the decision, as they stated: “We, as your Students’ Union, cannot express how disappointed we are by this decision.”

The message, which was written by all the elected officers, stated that the “discriminatory” cuts would discourage the poorest students from applying to university and “leave many of our current students short-changed.”

Jo Stevens, MP for Cardiff Central, also voiced her opposition to what she described as an “ideological attack on students”, as she told Gair Rhydd that she spoke against the Conservative government’s decision during the debate on Tuesday.

Representing a constituency with one of the highest densities of student populations, Stevens condemned David Cameron’s party for failing to consult with students or universities about the decision and citied the case of the Student Welfare VP Kate Delaney as an example of the damage that the cuts will cause.

During the debate the MP explained that without the maintenance grants, Delaney would not have been able to attend university or subsequently “give her voice to represent 30,000 students”.

Stevens criticised the government for failing to provide “any real reason or justification for why they are making this change.”

Gair Rhydd contacted the Conservative MP for Cardiff North Craig Williams but did not receive a response at the time of print.

Prior to the debate, Cardiff Student’s Union President Claire Blakeway encouraged students to contact both their local MP and their representative at home to show their opposition to the cuts. This included providing tools for students to phone, email and use social media to do so.