LS interviews: Liam Burns, President of NUS
Would you encourage individual students unions, like ours, to implement the living wage?
If it was possible, then yes – but it’s not as if people just get it overnight. There might be perfectly legitimate reasons such as finances as to why that isn’t happening at the moment, but I would certainly hope that student unions would want to work towards living wage.
How would you respond to accusations that the national demo last year had little impact, no one listened and that there was no student ‘movement’?
It is simply factually inaccurate to say that we didn’t get lots of good coverage, interestingly, all before the demo itself. We worked really hard to try and broaden and build sympathy with the public. I have been loathed to dwell on 12 people that thought it was ok to speak over speakers who had come to [to the rally], to say they have movements that are sympathetic to what we are doing.
What do you think of criticisms that the route and rally point weren’t visible enough?
It was visible; we did go past Parliament. We needed a large enough rally point and weren’t allowed Hyde Park so we had to go for another large space. I feel the march route itself was a good one. I’ll be perfectly honest, you would be rightly haranguing me if I’d picked a route that went down Whitehall and past Millbank, went past areas that artificially increase tension and meant that we had a repeat of what happened last time because that would have been deeply irresponsible.
After the action of NUS officers attempting to force Leeds Student to withdraw its interview with Nick Griffin, overriding the decision of the Union’s elected Editor, are you going to apologise?
Do I think it is right that people can challenge platforms we give to fascists and racists? Yes I do. Do I think that the BNP should come to a debating union? No I don’t. Do I think LS should have published that article? No I don’t. I certainly think it isn’t right that an NUS officer would tell a students’ union what to do. For that I certainly would apologise for the NUS. If it’s on the fact that we would question printing that article, no I certainly don’t apologise. That is our policy voted upon by students unions across the country.
It has been suggested in the press that the Lib Dems and Labour may be considering a policy of reducing fees to £6k after the next election. Should students trust them?
If you reduce fees to £6,000 without re-injecting public money into teaching, then that’s certainly not a good thing as you’re not funding the act of education. The terms and conditions of loans state that if you don’t pay it off after 30 years you just don’t pay it off. So, in policy terms, you would be putting public money into the richest in society. It’s not a good policy for Labour as much as it’s not a good policy for the Liberal Democrats.In terms of Nick Clegg, I honestly don’t believe that students are going to trust a pledge on higher education that he makes.
Why should students have to pay for NUS extra cards to get discounts?
Research shows that they save far more than they pay for the card. Remember that nearly half of that money goes back to students’ unions i.e. your societies, your sports clubs, your campaigns. So if the question is ‘should you buy NUS extra cards?’, the answer is ‘if you will save more’ because you shop in places the card gives a discount.
Words: James Greenhalgh