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Ryan Henson: The Coalition is making progress amongst students in the university tuition fees debate

Picture 1 Ryan Henson is currently studying History at Queen Mary, University of London.

Two events in the last fortnight suggest the Coalition is making progress amongst students in the university tuition fees debate.

First, Clare Solomon, President of the University London Union (ULU) and representative of the more radical student protesters, was defeated in her attempt to win re-election. Second, industrial action taken on Tuesday by the University College Union (UCU) failed to gain any substantial support and was unsuccessful in its attempt to cause widespread disruption on campuses.

You may remember Clare Solomon from the student protests last year when, appearing on Newsnight, she refused to condemn individuals who attacked police officers and vandalised public property. Solomon's defeat was a clear rebuttal to those college intellectuals, liberal commentators, and the more militant trade union leaders who believed (or hoped) that students would provide the lead in violently opposing the Coalition's deficit reduction plan.

Contrary to her claims; there was no right-wing alliance against Solomon and her opponent made little impact on the student electorate. Rather, Solomon was defeated because students rejected her aggressive tactics, support for violent protests, and felt her politically motivated leadership to be out of step with mainstream student opinion. Solomon's defeat does not herald a reversal in student opposition to university spending cuts. It does, however, suggest that more moderate voices are starting to prevail.

Similarly, that unsuccessful industrial action by the UCU is a sign of how the tuition fees debate is changing. Although it was officially due to a dispute over pensions, a cursory glance at the UCU website reveals an organisation dedicated to political protest with a clear anti-government agenda. Tuesday's unsuccessful strike clearly demonstrates how most students and lecturers are no longer willing to accept the long held trade union policy of using education as a political tool, to further an ideological agenda.

Clare Solomon's defeat should be welcomed by all who reject violence. However, the vast majority of students remain opposed to the Government's policy on university tuition fees and opposed to cuts in public spending. Nevertheless the defeat of Clare Solomon and the UCU's unsuccessful industrial action demonstrates a new willingness within the student community to turn away from the aggressive rhetoric and class-based union propaganda, and move instead towards a grown up debate on the issues which are affecting them.

The trade unions and liberal college professors, who wield such influence on campuses, must now accept that the tide of the debate has turned. The events of the last fortnight suggest that furious, extremist rhetoric is no longer good enough. If the Coalition's arguments have yet to be accepted, they do, at least, now stand a chance of being heard.

A fair minority of those in higher education recognise that the recent increase in university tuition fees, and cuts to the universities budget, are essential if we are to maintain, and build upon, the high standards of university education in Britain. Furthermore, the raising of the student loan repayment threshold means that applicants from less privileged backgrounds are more likely, not less, to participate in higher education.

Sadly, moderate voices are often shouted down by professional protesters within trade unions and extremists like Clare Solomon. Let us hope that more moderate voices are now allowed their say, and that the Coalition can make more progress still, in winning the debate amongst students on university tuition fees.


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