By Alan Clarke and Sally Murdock
Although nothing was confirmed when Solidarity went to press, it looks likely that the Third Reading of the Higher Education Bill will take place on 31 March - the last day before the parliamentary Easter break, and also the third day of this year's Conference of the National Union of Students. The Higher Education Bill introduces "top-up fees" for university education in place of the current flat-rate fee.
The Labour Students-"independent" leadership of NUS is extremely nervous about the possibility of an anti-Blairite backlash at the student conference. It looks likely that they will rejig the agenda in order to transport delegates down to protest at the House of Commons.
This is the right decision. We need to ensure it does not become an excuse to violate conference democracy. With the gradual narrowing down of NUS's democratic structures, National Conference is now virtually the only forum left for the representatives of rank-and-file students to shape the national union. This conference will see major debates on education funding and democratic reform as well as many other issues; the student movement cannot afford for those debates to be postponed.
Whenever it begins, whenever it ends, and whatever the interruptions, this conference provides an opportunity to remove the current leaders of NUS and put in their place a leadership willing to lead students in a real fight. It provides an opportunity to reaffirm NUS's (currently largely theoretical) support for free education and win a leadership that will really fight for it, by electing Campaign for Free Education candidates to the presidency and other positions on the National Executive.
Remove the Blairite NUS leadership; ensure a massive turnout at the House of Commons in order to defeat the Higher Education Bill; and go on to raise a storm of protest and action on the campuses.