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A Lost Voice?

Oct 05 2006 13:30
Daniel Sauder
Daniel Sauder asks whether the NUS is really the right choice for our voice, and if it is worth £50,000.
Daniel Sauder

This article originally appeared as a letter in Felix issue 1358.

In his opinion piece on joining the NUS, Mr Guite argues his case in favour of affiliation, but he completely fails to consider the other side of the issue. Mr Guite talks about a free ICIS card and discounts one can get with the NUS card; however, he fails to mention that the NUS card itself is no longer free but costs £10. No NUS card, no discounts. This is in addition to the substantial affiliation fee the Union will have to pay.

In the last referendum on NUS affiliation at Imperial in 2002, 72% voted against affiliation. This large majority is even more impressive considering that at that time the NUS card was free for students.

We just did not want to affiliate to a body whose politics are so far removed from ours. ICU has always been an apolitical organisation, focussing their efforts on issues directly affecting Imperial students as students and not getting encumbered with general politics. According to the their website, the NUS spends quite some time in front of embassies, demonstrating against wars etc, which is fine in general but really not their job, instead of concentrating on student issues such as tuition fees which they spectacularly failed to prevent.

Things like this happen when people are only interested in climbing the political ladder and see the NUS as a first step to do so, as has been the situation for quite some time. Mr Guite himself agrees that the NUS needs reform. However, I think that he is somewhat overoptimistic when he says that we would be at the forefront of reforms if we joined. We would be the new guys, with little influence. We would be just one voice, lost in the noise.

Now, let me assume for a moment that the NUS did offer the benefit of lobbying at the highest political levels on student issues, disregarding for a moment the question of whether it is effective at this or not. Do we really need to spend £50,000 for this to happen? The NUS would campaign on the most important issues anyway, and we would reap the benefits whether we are affiliated or not. And for the rest we would not have the power to push them in a direction they did not want to go. So why join and spend all that money that could be put to better use increasing the funding for our clubs and societies, directly benefiting all students at Imperial?

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Discussion about “A Lost Voice?”

The comments below are unmoderated submissions by Live! readers. The Editor accepts no liability for their content, nor for any offence caused by them. Any complaints should be directed to the Editor.
Nov 11 2006 20:49
 

Since I have written those lines to Felix, the NUS has done little to change my view.

Rather than trying to negotiate student discounts with retailers that would benefit all students, the NUS is actively trying to prevent stores from giving discounts to students who are not members of the NUS. So far, it has largely been possible to get student discounts with just your college ID card, partly due to the lobbying of union and faculty presidents, partly due to the retailers only caring about whether you are a student or not. The NUS is trying to take that away from us. Do we really want to join an institution that allegedly works on behalf of all students, but then tries to stab them in the back? Do we want to pay them to regain benefits we should have in the first place, but the NUS worked hard to deny us, trying to force us to affiliate? Do we want to support, by affiliating, their push to deny benefits to other students who are not members of the NUS, in our name?

On a different note, it has been said that the NUS is the only body to represent our views and lobby for us at a higher level. But do they actually represent our, i.e. Imperial students', views? And would we simply disappear off the face of the earth if we did not join them?

No, we would not. There is, for example, the Aldwych Group, and we are already part of it. It is an association of the student unions of the Russell Group, the association of the 19 top research universities in the UK. In the past it has been said that the Aldwych Group lacks the infrastructure to properly lobby on our behalf. However, that infrastructure is currently being improved. This group is ideologically much closer to our views and interests, and we have a much clearer voice in it. It is also much cheaper, and they do not get sidetracked by non-student related issues.

Then there are the opinion pieces from Camilla Royle and the NUS president, Gemma Tumelty. Miss Royle is defending the NUS against being ?lefty loony?. Oh, the irony. She also seems to be suggesting that the NUS is the answer to the war on terror. Enough said, really. And if the NUS president?s letter is the best she and her PR department can come up with, it is no surprise that the NUS is ineffective.

Also, do we need the NUS to run campaigns? No, we don't. Our own campaigns against for example the introduction of top up fees and the dress code were high profile and covered nationally. What Imperial students think of NUS campaigns became obvious a few weeks ago when about a dozen Imperial people turned up to the NUS top up fees march.

A recurring theme seems to be the benefit of advice from the NUS on how to run our clubs and societies, etc. Do they think we are incompetent on our own? We have done quite well in the past without the NUS, thank you very much. ICU has been running their own in-house training sessions for clubs officers, which is working very well, and we have competent people running our clubs and socs. Do we really need advice from an organization that almost went bankrupt from mismanagement?

The most worrying thing in this debate is in my opinion the propensity of the YES campaign to build a lot of straw man arguments, not to tell the whole story and generally spread a lot of fear, uncertainty and doubt. They are masters of spin, I give them that. The options they present are not the only ones, especially about what would happen to the money if we did not join the NUS. And they are overplaying the benefits we have received from ULU until now.

Also, what is going to happen once this highly political set of Sabbs and hacks have managed to leave their mark at ICU and have left the building? They themselves say that we would have to spend a lot of time on the NUS, basically completely restructuring it, to get any benefits. So if future Sabbs prefer to spend their time working directly for us rather than wasting it on the NUS, we won?t get much in return.

Joining the NUS would be a bad idea.

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