In a year leading up to a general election, the stakes could not be higher for the UK’s seven million students.
When I was growing up, it was an accepted truth that if you worked hard, went to school, did everything you were supposed to do, you’d get a job. Coming from an ex-mining town in a rural area (Camborne in Cornwall), that might not have been the career that many people were looking for, but nonetheless a job that would help you to achieve a reasonable standard of living and support a family. Now, for many, even that is out of reach.
In an era of government attacks on young people’s futures – the trebling of tuition fees, the scrapping of both the education maintenance allowance and the Future Jobs Fund – we find that the blame is somehow being levelled at young people. We are blamed by the government for being lazy, by businesses for not being “work-ready”.
There is no evidence to suggest that as a generation we’re lazier, less intelligent or less aspirational than our parents, and yet we bear the distinction of being the first generation in history to be worse off than them.
I was yesterday elected for a second term as President of NUS at the national conference in Liverpool. I’ll do everything I can to fight for a new deal for the next generation. That means winning a new deal for education: a single, publicly-funded education system.
We will also campaign for student support that actually covers the cost of living. Students’ unions are being forced to open food banks.
It means forging a new deal for work, turning “solidarity” into practice by working with trade unions on issues of mutual concern to our members: graduate unemployment, zero-hours contracts and poverty pay for apprentices, for whom the minimum wage is £2.68 an hour.
In the 393 days until the general election, we need to try to register every student to vote when they enrol at college or university, lest this generation be silenced. If students are to be a force too powerful to ignore come polling day, it is a future that we have to fight for.