This is not a good time to be a student in college or university. Stories about soaring youth unemployment and scarce opportunities for graduates pepper the news bulletins. People living and working longer inevitably puts a squeeze on opportunities at the other end. Perpetual 'reform' and ministerial meddling shifts the skills and qualifications goalposts before we can even start paying back the loans that fund them. Ours is a generation with less of an idea of how our lives will pan out than any before us. No wonder we feel cheated.
Back in 2010, some 50,000 of our members took to the streets of London to make clear that they would not accept being "bought" for electoral gain and then sidelined in favour of political ambition. The betrayal by the majority of Liberal Democrat MPs - who had made individual pledges and commitments as a party that they would stand up for students - damaged not only themselves, but our own faith in the political process as a whole.
But there is good news. Thousands of the inspiring activists that came to London that day carried on campaigning. They were out trying to halt the removal of the EMA, they've been lobbying for a living wage and they've been trying to stop the introduction of student loans for FE college courses. That march - a major milestone in the tradition of student protest that goes back beyond NUS' formation 90 years ago - mobilised and engaged a new generation of student activists who want a better future. So this autumn, on Wednesday 21 November, we will march again, recruiting the activists that will define the next general election.
We will come together with a clear message - we own the future and we need an education that prepares us for it. We have a right to protest against politicians who seem distant, over-privileged and self-serving. David Cameron and Conservative MPs face an uphill struggle to prove to us they're on our side. We have a right to protest at betrayal at the hands of MPs, and the Liberal Democrats as a party will need to show that they've learned their lesson. And Labour cannot be a party of crude opposition but must instead prove they have the necessary radical solutions to offer our generation. Today's student leaders grew up learning more about a Labour government that introduced fees than opposing them. If Ed Miliband wants our votes he needs to listen to us and be bold in reshaping education and opportunity for a generation that feels abandoned. Tinkering around the tuition fee edges will be nowhere near enough.
We want a radical new vision for education at the heart of society, one that recognises that education after the age of 16 cannot be neatly divided into colleges and universities, into further and higher, or into timelines that end at the age of 21. Such a vision will take us to the next stage beyond primary and secondary: we increasingly need to see tertiary education as a whole. By doing so, we accept that learning is never done and should extend throughout our lives.
Young people know that the world they are growing into is not the same one as their parents did; that they won't earn as much money as those who currently hold power, that they may never own a house or have a retirement in the traditional sense, or be able to rely on a state pension. But they are not content to be told to accept their lot and get on with a less fulfilling life. Of course an education in and of itself is an important part of our future; generating knowledge, analysing history, creating art, developing our individual collective understanding of the world around us enriches us all, but for most education serves a simple purpose - to create opportunity.
We'll be building our vision for tertiary education over the year, and I want to involve students, school pupils, families and politicians of all party colours in that process, but as well as policy, it is protest that will inspire the next generation of activists. That's why on Wednesday 21 November we want to see students, young people, their friends, their families, the tutors, their lecturers, their vice-chancellors, their employers, and their politicians, come together to say: we deserve a stake in the future and we need better. I look forward to seeing you on the streets of London.
Follow Liam Burns on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@nus_liam