The National Union of Students executive has voted to support calls for a national “student strike” in opposition to the government’s education policies, and has instructed officials to prepare for a possible nationwide ballot of student unions on the issue.

At the most recent meeting of the NUS’ National Executive Council (NEC), members backed a motion which instructed the NUS to support a ‘Yes’ vote in a proposed referendum on holding a student strike. In order to go to a referendum, the proposal must first be put forward by 30 student unions. It will then be voted on by student unions around the country.

According to the pro-strike National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts, a student strike would involve students refusing to attend lectures and seminars. Picket lines would be set up on campuses and university buildings could be occupied by activists. Sahaya James, the NUS NEC member who proposed the motion, said: “With five years of the Tories ahead of us we risk completely losing education as we know it, from brutal attacks to an increasingly inaccessible system that shuts out the most marginalised and vulnerable, epitomised by the scrapping of maintenance grants.

“The student movement needs ambition, vision and a long term strategy that educates, empowers and importantly wins. An NUScalled strike beat Thatcher in the 70s, we have a duty to try every tactic and assert our power to save education.”

However, the proposal for a student strike was criticised by other NEC members, including Megan Dunn, the President of the NUS. After the meeting, she posted on Twitter: “Today [the] #nusnec voted to ask students to walk out of their classes for a yet undecided purpose.” She added: “a strike is when workers withdraw their labour. It builds power. If students don’t go to class it makes no impact on anyone but them”.

The last student strike in the UK took place in 1971, in protest at policies being enacted by then Education Secretary Margaret Thatcher.

If a referendum is called, student unions will vote on the proposed strike, which for UEA would take place at Union Council.