It cost £155,000, but only 4% of the public even knew the student protest DEMO2012 was happening. In the end, it made the National Union of Students (NUS) “less credible” and failed to “achieve any national policy change.”
This is the damning conclusion provided in the NUS evaluation into their own student demonstration, in which around 5,000 protesters – one tenth of the 2010 turn out – arrived in London to fight against fees and cuts last November.
The NUS evaluation was released following feedback from over 1,000 students, exec officers, Students’ Union staff, and members of the general public.
In a series of embarrassing conclusions, it admitted to generating only “small” and “limited” media coverage that focused less on the issues and more on the contentious planned route to Kennington Park, which at the time led to the chant: “NUS, shame on you, where the fuck have you brought us to?”
Students angered by the choice of venue will be shocked to hear that the use of Kennington Park cost £5,738.
So disillusioned were the protesters with their own union that NUS President Liam Burns was egged off stage and forced to retreat to LSE Students’ Union.
Despite the enormous energy put in by Students’ Unions – including our own – only 16% of the student population had heard of DEMO2012 before it took place.
Fewer than 10% of Students’ Unions felt it was easy to promote the event to students, with feedback suggesting it was “really hard to sell” and “difficult to tell students the reason for marching.”
But despite this lack of widespread interest, NUS still forked out large sums to support the action.
Over £8,000 was spent on banners and placards, while steward staff time totalled a whopping £24,000. Rally/march costs came to £18,000 and ‘legal and professional fees’ added up to £6,000.
The costs do not include the money individual Students’ Unions spent promoting and supporting the demo.
Manchester University’s Education Officer Luke Newton alluded to this, tweeting: “If you add up how much unions spent it’s probably a heck of a lot more then that!”
The message ‘Educate, Employ, Empower’ was kept deliberately broad to accommodate for different issues and encourage unions to use the demo as a catalyst for local campaigning activity. While in some cases this occurred, the summary admits the unions’ campaigns “would have happened anyway.”
The key point stressed in feedback was that the demonstration lacked any clear mission and fought no obvious policy.
The result was a vague campaign which, according to one survey response, had a “more negative effect than positive message.”
Responses further complained there was “no ‘tangible’ outcome.” Another added that because there were so many agendas, which ranged from anti-cuts messages to calls for peace in the Middle East, students got “slightly lost in the message of the day and what we were for.”
NUS acknowledged this in their conclusion, admitting they need to “practice what they preach” when it comes to “effective campaigning.”
In the NUS Demo2012 review based on the evaluation, they admit: “The impact of the demo on NUS appears to be limited to an audience whose engagement with NUS was high anyway.”
There were few positives to take from the evaluation, although the Twitter account @nusuk did gain 340 followers, while #demo2012 tweets reached an estimated audience of 2 million.
But since this evaluation, most #demo2012 tweets have been negative.
19 year old University of York student Shakti Shah wrote: “What did the NUS expect? #demo2012 had a terrible route, a terrible slogan, and was generally poor in comparison to actions in 2010.”
Zahid Raja, Swansea Students’ Union Education Officer, said: “The evaluation of #demo2012 is actually hilarious.”
As for our own Students ’ Union executive, who at the time publicly supported DEMO2012, only Education Officer Luke Newton has spoken out on Twitter, calling for “Delegates at #nusnc13” to “vote against #demo2013.”
Last year’s event was organised in response to a National Conference mandate in 2012.
Should Demo2013 go ahead, the NUS are likely to have similar problems recruiting protesters as following DEMO2012, the number of students saying they attend demonstrations on student issues fell from 16% to 7%.