Finer details of NUS affiliation have been discussed in a live televised debate and by a small group of highly involved individuals across repetitive Facebook posts.
Whatever their opinion of the president-elect, on ‘victories’ over tuition fees or the role of the national union of students in the Israel/Palestine debate, both campaigns seem to agree on one thing: the NUS needs to change in order to work better for students.
While speaking at a student journalism event at Lougborough Richard Brooks, NUS Vice President: Union Development, admitted he knows the NUS is broken. He described the politics of NUS as difficult, admitted that the NUS is not seen as credible, is not seen as the authentic voice of students and understands that many students don’t buy into the NUS ‘as a thing’.
This week on the live NUS debate he again stated that he still shares the views of many disgruntled students and sabbatical officers of the now disaffiliated Lincoln SU. These issues have kick started a democratic review and a new NUS strategy looking into student issues.
Richard’s solution: “If you want change something, be a part of it.” He promises a new democratic model for the NUS, to be presented at conference in 2017.
I’ve been involved with the NUS as a delegate and as a student journalist for a few years. The organisation is out of touch with the people it’s supposed to represent. Loughborough’s engagement with the NUS has therefore been poor, especially when it is well known that LSU is a key buyer in the purchasing consortium, that legitimises and funds much of the NUS ‘work’, and that our Union Director is a board member.
We have limited representation in cliquey zones, and at NUS Conference each year we’re often sidelined as ‘that sporty lot’ and most of our submitted policy on key student issues is simply sent to the National Executive Council for debate. There is a huge democratic deficit in the NUS.
LSU often refuses to back party-political national action from the NUS and the great working relationship with the university that exists is despised by many ultra-politicised ex-students that still populate the movement. Calls for boycotting the NSS directly fights against hard work our exec team are doing, to name but one example of NUS personal politics over pragmatism.
As students are turned away from the extreme politics of the NUS, the inward facing, out of touch circle perpetuates. I’ve experienced conference where the majority of ‘moderate’ Labour students were finally ousted by their more extreme NCAFC (National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts) counterparts, further pushing the agenda of the NUS way beyond the reach of most students.
The crux of the matter
The affiliation argument for me doesn’t come down to whether or not we’re a few pounds better off if we’re in or out, a £10m budget is flexible enough for whichever way we go. It doesn’t come down to an individual elected at a conference, she’s an example of the deep rooted issues within the union.
The argument for me comes down to how best to spark the change that the NUS needs at its core.
I admire Richard and believe he’s fighting the right battle for a students’ unions led campaign in a union of students’ unions. That’s why at conference I was proud to not only vote for him, but actively support his reelection campaign.
What I also see is that he is now in an ever shrinking minority. The NUS of old, of respected pragmatic victories on rail cards and council tax, is gone. The hard-left approach to everything in the NUS is alienating students and had former leader Wes Streeting publically denounce them:
NUS is lost I'm afraid. It's had good leadership from Megan Dunn, but it no longer represents students well. https://t.co/LkeXh1XCkr
— Wes Streeting MP (@wesstreeting) April 20, 2016
The lack of real accountability in the organisation is frightening. Many students simply want focus returned to fees and student housing, not on more CV building #hashtags and debates on issues far beyond the union’s influence.
The opacity in the NUS has inflicted itself upon Loughborough Students’ Union. A confusingly worded ‘financial student’ from the SU as part of the debate only raised tensions while giving no clear cost/benefit answers, such as those given by other Students’ Unions like Warwick.
I believe the only way to successfully and seriously kick start the change the NUS needs to survive is for Loughborough Students’ Union to join those unions disaffiliating from the NUS, and with it remove financial legitimacy taken for granted, until the NUS is actually fighting for students, not the political careers of a few ex-students.
Whether you agree with me or not, what’s important is that you vote on the future of your students’ union.
When questioned on the referendum, Loughborough MP and UK Secretary of State for Education, Nicky Morgan, didn’t take a side but commented:
Loughborough Students are passionate about their University about what they do in the Students’ Union so I encourage them to have their say on this important vote. I want them to have their voices heard.
-A comment piece from Dan Leedham
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