The election of Rebecca Bridger to the National Union of Students’ Executive Committee is something that we should all congratulate her for; it is a great achievement and says a lot about the success of our Union and the calibre of our most senior sabbatical officer. We should not, however, overestimate its significance. The NUS has multiple issues that it must look to tackle in order to regain its credibility and one appointment is unlikely to have any substantial impact.
In response to the tuition fee increase, the NUS has been loud in its rhetoric. There is a difference between being loud and being listened to however, and under the leadership of Aaron Porter and now Liam Burns it is fatally disengaged with exactly the people it claims to represent.
The organisation that claims to be a ‘union’ of students is nothing more than a launch pad for aspiring Labour Party frontbenchers. Former Presidents include Jack Straw, Phil Woolas and Stephen Twigg. Porter himself tried and failed to get the Labour candidacy in Leicester South.
The advocation of a graduate tax was schoolboy economics, the accusation that the coalition lacked a mandate was laughable considering student union voting turnouts across the country struggle to surpass 20% (Loughborough’s is much more respectable at 36%) and the London demos that descended into militancy were hugely divisive for what should have been a legitimate mass protest.
In my opinion, the NUS does not represent students. It represents Student Unions and their sabbatical officers, which is a shame considering the potential an effective Union for students would have. Seven unions are disaffiliated from the NUS, one of which being Imperial College London. It’s President in 2002 said: "the NUS is dominated by Labour students and this diminishes the ability to address student issues in an impartial fashion."
Nobody will claim that Loughborough would be better off disaffiliated; primarily because it would be financially suicidal. Many will want to try and reform the organisation from within though, for the good of every student in the UK. Legitimacy, democracy and maybe a little bit of pragmatism are required. Let’s hope the NUS welcome the debate and actively participate in the quest for change.