14 October 1969
In Guild Gazette today, Ian Rathbone reports on Jack Straw’s speech to the mass meeting last Wednesday, in which he stated that the big issue now is the conflict between students and university administrations:
Mr Jack Straw, President-elect of the NUS, said at a mass meeting in Mountford hall on Wednesday that the basic issue that was of paramount importance at this time was the conflict between staff and students, and the university executives.
“The NUS exists to fight for the individual,” he commented, “though students find it difficult to identify themselves with such a large organisation. Over 7,000 people in difficulties were helped last year by the NUS”
Quoting the case of the leader of the Guildford School of Art sit-in last year (the longest in educational history), whose grant was later withdrawn by his local authority, Mr. Straw explained that “definite action was threatened against his local authority. The point was reached where high court witnesses were called in readiness and lawyers engaged. I am pleased to say that last week the local authority relented.”Mr Straw then outlined the many other benefits accruing through membership of the NUS, including commercial services such as cheap insurance and inexpensive holidays abroad.
National issues were also part of NUS policy, said Mr Straw. Grants from local authorities are better here than in other countries, but were only gained by the NUS fighting for them.” We hope to continue fighting for grant increases,” he added, much to the approval of those present.
He criticised the notorious Black Paper II, published by the Conservative Party, which proposed to replace the grant system by a loans scheme. This entailed the repayment of a local authority loan to the student, which Mr Straw castigated as “abhorrent and detrimental”, particularly for women students and students with parents in the lower income bracket.
The Select Committee investigating the whole system of grants and relations between university executives and students would be publishing, Mr Straw hoped, a satisfactory solution to the situation, in two weeks time.
Mr Straw was particularly concerned about what he termed ‘licensing laws for immorality’, referring to restrictions imposed on men visiting women’s rooms. “Up until two or three years ago, the bed had to be placed out in the corridor when a man visited a woman’s room and,” joked Mr Straw, ”I knew a college principal who banned visiting after 8 pm
“I suggested to her that if people really wanted to behave in an ungentlemanly manner, they would probably do so before 8 pm. She replied, ‘I know, but they might do so twice!’.”
Mr Straw emphasised that although the NUS was criticised as an amorphous organisation, it was far from so, being run democratically through the delegates and representatives from all the students’ unions. “You only get as much out of the NUS and indeed, your own students’ union, as you put in,” he concluded.