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NUS to Charge 5.5p for Democracy

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Jun 10 2008 11:57

The NUS is to start charging students' unions for its "Democracy" card, the previously free alternative to NUS Extra.

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1. ren   
Jun 10 2008 18:09

I must say, I'd never even heard of this card. And you say we could get them for free from somewhere? Perhaps this point should have been better advertised by the union.

2. Andy   
Jun 10 2008 19:18

Anyone else get the impression of rats fleeing a sinking ship? The fact they can't afford to swallow the costs of these any more shows just how bad the NUS's finances are.

Jun 10 2008 19:42

I'd bet it has very little to do with them not being able to afford the cards, and more to do with making much more money from Extra.

Smaller unions, faced with the prospect of paying for Democracy cards themselves, will push the Extra card instead, for which the union receives ?4.

Jun 10 2008 23:53

I woudn't pay 5.5p for that! Look at the picture, it's rubbish - you can't even read the text !

Jun 11 2008 01:32

Democracy? This is anything but. The whole NUS affiliation is a complete scam. The sooner we break free, the faster we can disassociate ourselves from the rest of the unintelligent masses!

I also think that ICU should be doing more to find and offer special discounts to students in around the south ken area, cf. cambridge nus in google.

Jun 12 2008 13:28

Having been sent this way here's a few background details on how the Democracy card (did whoever picked the name have no sense of irony or PR?) came about:

Up until a few years ago there was one and only one "NUS card" which was available to all unions for free. It was intended to serve three purposes:

* A student id

* Access to discounts

* A means to prevent electoral fraud - it had a strip of numbers on it (carried over to the Democracy card shown above) and the idea was that in union elections a specified number on the card would be clipped when you voted, so you couldn't vote again at another polling station

Oh and the card was hard cardboard until the last few years when it went plastic, with a cut out photo laminated in. (In the last few years it did, however, gain a magnetic strip that could be swiped at places like HMV.)

Now this may have worked many years ago but over time the cards were becoming increasingly redundant. More and more universities produced their own ID cards which are a darn sight more secure than the NUS card, using features liking printing the photo onto plastic, magnetic strips, barcodes and smartcard technology. Unions also often co-operated and combined their card in as they wanted to reduce the number of cards in people's wallets. In turn this created a convoluted situation for student discounts where nobody was 100% sure if another student card was valid for discounts and reports varied wildly in all fields (cards used, chains, branches, even individual cashiers were inconsistent). Meanwhile many unions were finding other ways to do their elections.

Some retailers were reported as reluctant to give a generic discount when they didn't get anything back and wanted a standard card they could swipe to build up customer profiles, similar to club cards. (And no, I'm not sure what the issue was with the magnetic strip on last few years of NUS cards unless the lack of compulsory database registration was a problem.) Meanwhile the uptake of the card was poor with many unions having significant stockpiles throughout the year, and resenting having to devote valuable staff resource time at the most critical time of year to distribute cards they couldn't see the purpose of. Indeed some stopped distributing it, adding to the problems. There was also a burgeoning black market in the cards which could have derailed discounts.

NUS did a study several years ago looking into the possibility of a paid for card that had better discounts available only to that card. The market research suggested the students would be *more* likely to take out the card if it had a clear monetary value. Also income for cash-strapped unions that would not only cover the distribution costs but give them a much needed new revenue stream. Meanwhile the paid for card could be more secure and have a better database.

The one problem was that a number of unions, particularly in Further Education and smaller universities, were still using the NUS card for id and/or electoral purposes and were naturally opposed to the idea of paying for a card for basic membership rights. There was also opposition to making *existing* discounts only available to those who paid. So it was agreed to create a second card that would fulfil the membership/democracy issues as well as carrying the existing discount arrangements.

A lot of unions have not bothered with the democracy card at all for the same reasons they had problems with the NUS card, and the Democracy card still costs to distribute. Furthermore with no discounts officially on it the Democracy card becomes more expensive to produce and distribute for NUS.

In terms of the discounts themselves it's my recollection the ones on the old NUS Card were to be carried forward onto Democracy but only until those discounts were renegotiated. The introduction of Extra was a fierce political battle in NUS with the extreme left staunchly opposed (and it's always extreme left run unions that are the places cited as having dire take-up) and this has resulted in trying to run a commercial product by convoluted constructed conference resolution which isn't exactly best business practice.

7. Haha   
Jun 12 2008 21:30

"Extra was a fierce political battle in NUS with the extreme left staunchly opposed"

Just imagine if ICU had been part of the NUS then, introduction of Extra would probably have been a walk in the park. The left would have been "Damn those imperialist Tories are against Extra we'll have to vote for it instead".


Jun 16 2008 11:40

Retailers provide student discounts not because of customer profiling or other such bollocks, but because it is in their interest to do so to capture marginal sales and to build brand loyalty. I certainly wouldn't be as addicted to buying The Guardian on a daily basis if I had to pay 80p.

The NUS is in the ridiculous position that the only real power it has over the average student is the NUS discount. Their power is thus dependant on building a monopoly of NUS discounts over generic 'student' discount, so the NUS really has to campaign against student discounts. The challenge the NUS faces is not to spread student discounts, which businesses will do of their own accord, but to persuade businesses to make their discounts NUS exclusive.

Jun 17 2008 17:00

As I said the issue about customer profiles was what was reported at the time NUS Extra was proposed, mainly in relation to the lack of student supermarket discounts on the card. Yes retailers may have other purposes in mind for offering discounts but, quite apart from swipe cards becoming increasingly standard as the means to do discounts, the chance to build a customer profile database isn't something they're going to say no to.

You're right that it's in NUS's best interests for the student discounts to be exclusive to NUS, but in one sense it's also beneficial to retailers who find it easier to have a strictly limited number of cards (or symbols on the cards...) to honour with rather than having to identify all manner of different cards and train their staff in this. (And even a few years ago I had a student ID card from another college that was official but looked so fake - still using laminated cardboard and a cut-out photo - I doubt anywhere would have honoured it.) Now obviously generating chain loyalty is a significant benefit that can weigh more heavily than this and the extent to which one overcomes the other will vary at different levels, with annoyingly inconsistent results.

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