The president of the National Union of Students, Aaron Porter, secretly proposed an £800m cut to maintenance grants – which go towards helping the poorest students pay for their living costs at university – in order to avoid a sharp increase in fees.
The plans were put forward in an email to the Business Secretary, Vince Cable, in October, before the release of the Browne review.
Porter defended his position in the Telegraph. “We were asked by Dr Cable to demonstrate how fees could be kept at current levels and on the basis of his request we produced modelling to show how that could be done.”
Porter’s suggestion to take from the poor to subsidise the middle classes does not sit well with the NUS’s attempts to portray coalition plans as an attack on the poorest in society. While tuition fees are now paid back at an affordable rate over 25 years, living costs have to be paid upfront, making maintenance grants absolutely vital to many students.
It is the latest in a string of blunders by the NUS president, who has been marginalised as the movement against increased tuition fees has widened.
When student groups launched a string of occupations last month, Porter dithered before offering his support to them. This support was exposed as lukewarm when the UCL Occupation called on the NUS for legal support and was refused.
In this week’s New Statesman, Porter hits out at his critics in the NUS and calls for unity.
“It is disappointing but sadly predictable . . . that in the weeks leading up to the parliamentary vote, focus has shifted to petty squabbles and internal criticism rather than directing all our efforts on applying pressure to influence policy,” he writes.
After these revelations, Porter can expect a lot more “internal criticism”.