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The View Against

Oct 26 2006 09:04
James Fok
Leader of the NUS 'No' campaign James Fok provides his reasons why we should stay out of the NUS - and some reasons why we might want to join.
James Fok, Leader of the 'No' Campaign

Live! asked the leaders of the NUS 'Yes' and 'No' campaigns to provide us with some reasons to join the NUS and reasons why we should not, even where this would oppose their own views.

James Fok is leader of the 'No' campaign - you can see the response from the 'Yes' campaign at [|]

Reasons for joining

The NUS is a large body which claims to represent all students in the UK, which in theory makes it a powerful campaigning force. On issues which have an effect on every student in this country, there should be no better way of getting our voice heard. One of the most important achievements was the NUS campaign on council tax in 1991, where they successfully lobbied the government winning exemption for students. The NUS also provides support and advice and opens up a network of unions which may have encountered a problem before. Then of course, there is the NUS Extra card which gives you access to a wide range of discounts for £10.

Reasons against joining

In reality, the NUS has only achieved small victories while the Labour government has been in power. Most of the leading figures in the 'Yes' campaign are supporters or members of the Labour party, as are a large number of those on the national committee. A lot of them probably want to be Labour MPs, so its hardly surprising the NUS is ineffective. Former NUS Presidents Charles Clarke, Jack Straw, Stephen Twigg, Jim Murphy, Lorna Fitzsimmons and Phil Woolas all voted in favour of tuition fees.

Does the NUS actively help and represent students? It spends a lot of its time discussing foreign affairs, but when it comes to the issues that really matter ? the recent exam marking boycott, for example ? they barely discuss them at all. Do we really want to join an organisation who?s priorities are so different from our own? One which recently had many members threatening to disaffiliate because its views were different from them too? Imperial is not a political union, so the "united voice" we would be joining is not our voice.

Summary - Pro NUS

  • A potentially powerful campaigning force
  • Access to a greater range of student discounts
  • A united voice
  • Access to support and advice for union officers

Summary - Anti NUS

  • The NUS has had no big successes while the Labour government has been in power
  • Self-serving and underhand ? campaigning against discounts for non-NUS students
  • The "united voice" we would join is different to what "our voice" would say
  • It will cost somewhere in the region of £50,000
  • There are non-affiliated unions, including Southampton and most in Scotland, which we could turn to for support and advice
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Discussion about “The View Against”

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.
Oct 30 2006 16:20

This is spot on. NUS national conference (I've been three times folks) is a true sign of how utterly dreadful NUS is. It is dominated by issues of marginal importance to the "average" student, is overwhelmingly self-obsessed (much of the time is spent procedurally bickering between factions) and largely impotent.

Regional conferences again show the incompetence of the NEC (National Executive Committee), when time and time again (I?ve been to five of these things) the regional observers (people elected by regional conference to check on the NEC) would report back in an exasperated state and the ridiculousness of NEC meetings and the way money was wasted.

NUS does not provide a platform for Imperial?s voice for two very key reasons ? its voice would likely be very different from Imperial?s, and more critically, it is terrible at having a voice at the best of times. I am not even about to expand on the dismal state of NUS finances.

A much, much better way of obtaining representation on national issues is to get involved directly (going to Parliament etc) and, although this often isn?t done around student unions, working together with other likeminded student unions ? they?re not hard to find.

Oct 30 2006 19:31

You mention 'Student Discounts' as a benefit, but when the card costs you £10, and most places (like Amazon) only give you a 5% discount, you would have to spend £200 to recoup the benefits if you went in on an economical argument. Not to mention the £50,000 or so joining fees our union will have to sift through.

Oct 31 2006 20:22

OK - let's bring in the other side of the argument to add some balance to this debate:

"working together with other likeminded student unions"

Like Sunderland and Northampton? With the exception of Southampton, all of the other top universities in England and Wales are NUS affiliates.

"going to Parliament"

We tried that once for the notorious 2003 top up fees vote. Our President got to meet his anonymous local back bench Tory MP. The NUS officers involved were speaking to Cabinet level MPs and leading rebels from across the UK's political and geographical spectrum.

"and most places (like Amazon) only give you a 5% discount"

I have seen it as high as 20% in places.

"Not to mention the £50,000 or so joining fees our union will have to sift through."

£50,000 (by the way it's actually £35,000 for the first year and £44,000 for the second) is considerably less than the £79,000 we give to ULU each year and represents less than 1% of ICU's turnover. Many of ICU's clubs and societies spend more than 1% of their annual budget on affiliation fees to their national bodies.

Oct 31 2006 20:23

Sorry, I meant 2004 top up fees vote (not 2003).

5. Seb   
Nov 01 2006 13:19

"Like Sunderland and Northampton? With the exception of Southampton, all of the other top universities in England and Wales are NUS affiliates."

Sorry, does NUS affiliation mean that other student unions cease suddenly to exist as independent entities that we can work with? Indeed, many of the UL Unions are NUS affiliated, and I believe one of the "stronger" arguments for NUS affiliation is that having relied on ULU previously we need the NUS.

It's still possible to work with the NUS and likeminded unions in the NUS without affiliating.

"Our President got to meet his anonymous local back bench Tory MP."

We also got to attend the meeting of rebel MP's and students in a committee room. It is true our president missed out on one on one meetings with cabinet level MPs.

However, it is rather disingenuous to claim this has a significant impact, as these are the ones least likely to shirk the whip. Indeed in the final vote, the motion was carried by the defection of a few of the rebels. It was precisely why we decided to try and target rebels.

Now if the NUS had done more to ensure that more students registered to vote in the rebels constituency had turned up and lobbied them directly, making it clear they stood to lose votes in future elections, that would have been far more effective than going to ego stroking one on one meetings with the people that were proposing the motion in the first place. But that isn't really the NUS's style: the officers like to talk to power, and the rank and file members are to stand outside waving placards.

And then there is the fact we had other unions using our material, and IIRC some of the pamphlets on other options did get circulated at some point amoung senior politicians who mistook it for NUS stuff.

6. Ben   
Nov 01 2006 18:09


You keep harking back to the top-up fees debate of 2003/2004. ICU was able to garner some attention then purely as a result of College's behaviour. It was a paper to our College Council which was leaked to the media. It was our Rector who first came out publicly in favour of top-up fees. It was our College which led the national debate. Without College pursuing their agenda so vigorously ICU would have been relegated to the sidelines yet again - and we can't always rely on College being so utterly rubbish (which they were if you oppose top-up fees) to provide us with publicity.

For 99% of the time we, as a Union, simply don't get a look in, and that's why we need the NUS.

7. goat   
Nov 01 2006 18:16

At the minute the NUS is pretty useless at opposing top up fees. Is Ben suggesting that if ICU pay them an extra £50 000 a year and add an extra 12,000 students to the 5 million they already have (representing 0.24% of their membership) then suddenly they will be brilliant and the government will take them seriously?

8. Seb   
Nov 01 2006 20:01


"You keep harking back to the top-up fees debate of 2003/2004."

Largely because it keeps being brought back as the perfect examplar of why we need to join the NUS. Indeed someone at some point went as far as to suggest that the choice was between joining the NUS or being the college that support fees.

It's a totaly false argument, and indeed being involved heavily with the fees campaign, it was the classic example of what is wrong with the NUS. The motion fell by three votes, and asside from some NUS execs, and a few ULU and ICU people, there was no one inside parliament. If the NUS had got it's act together and stopped thinking in terms of "important people" in high powered one-on-one meetings and the rabble outside with placards, they could surely have had ten student constituents of each rebel lobbying their MP in Parliament on the day. I think that would have been far more effective.

As Iain Gibbson pointed out in the meeting that our then President now mysteriously is claimed not to have attended, the important thing at that point was to prevent rebels from switching back.

Yet it's considered a terribly relevant point that the NUS President was talking to the Education secretary while ours was talking to rebels.

Indeed, the real nonsense here is that if we joined the NUS, it would STILL be the NUS President ineffectively trying to get consessions out of the Education minister who's bill is being presented, seeking consessions in line with the same NUS policies, and ICU's president would still be outside talking to rebels.

It's not a national voice we are getting here: If you join a choir you don't get to decide what you are singing.

If you think the NUS is ever going to pass policy supporting differential funding via HEFCE for lab based courses you are on a hiding to nothing.

Do we seriously believe that it is in IC's best interest to campaign for 50% participation in higher education without any means to fund it?

"It was a paper to our College Council which was leaked to the media."

Yes. By people in ICU. Followed up rapidly with a media grabbing protest. Once outed the Rector threw caution to the wind, and it scared other universities.

9. Chris   
Nov 07 2006 09:44

Personally I think all this politics is dull. Most students just want to get cheaper cinema tickets and clothes. More and more places are saying NUS only now as evidence of proof of student. £44,000 / 12,000 students is £3.67 per student, less in the first year. (this would be made up by 2 visits to my local cinema which only accepts NUS) Why not just add it to the tuition fees? ;) and then cooperate with other university unions to challenge how NUS represents students.

Nov 07 2006 10:40

Which cinema would that be Chris? I've successfully used my IC card in Fulham, Shepherd's Bush and Park Royal (Vue), Leicester Square, Uxbridge and High Street Kensington (Odeon), Kings Road (Cineworld), Yeovil (not sure..), Manchester (Odeon?). The only place it hasn't been accepted was the UGC in Hammersmith, but that's a bit of a dive anyway.

It would actually be £4.30 per student (affiliation is £52k), but then you only get the benefit if you pay another £10 for the card. Estimates have put the likely takeup of cards here at 1,000-2,000. So if people want discounts we should charge £40 per person for the NUS Extra card and use that to pay for affiliation.

Of course if you really want cheap cinema tickets - and to bring beer into the cinema - you should visit ICU Cinema during term time, normally on Tuesday and Thursday (

11. Chris   
Nov 07 2006 11:08

It was a UGC cinema also. But its not just cinemas, its nightclubs and shops. I had problems with HMV a few years ago also, but they changed their systen thankfully. Chavs in Swindon haven't heard of Imperial College, most havent heard of university. I have had no problems either using IC card in London but in the sticks it is more of a problem. I just think its a bit pants that Scunthorpe polytechnic with an annual budget of 37p signs up, yet IC, about the richest uni in the world has issues with it...

Nov 07 2006 11:54

Well, it seems that Cineworld was previously UGC. I understand the 'No' campaign has a good relationship with the Cineworld PR people so could get them to phone the branch in Swindon.

The issue here has always been one of return on investment. When you can negotiate discounts by yourself, then membership gets you a small number of discounts and representation. The politics people don't care about at Imperial becomes the driving force for joining, so we haven't bothered. £52k is the entire budget of the RCC (which manages Gliding club, Caving, various other outdoor adventure sports etc) and people would much rather have more money go to something like that instead. You can often just boycott places that are being rubbish, or explain why you don't have an NUS card.

13. Seb   
Nov 07 2006 13:38


One of the reasons IC is rich is because we havn't blown our budgets affiliating to dodgy political organisations.

£44K is a lot of money. Generally, what most students consistently seem to care about at IC is not discounts, but clubs and societies activity. Part of the reason IC has such a strong clubs and society base is because we have a union which tends to focus on providing that rather than political campaigning.

Nov 07 2006 16:00

In reply to John Collins' reply to a previous comment, he mentions that Southampton was the only other top-flight university to not feature membership with the NUS. Perhaps he'd missed University of Glasgow, University of St Andrews, University of Dundee and the Open University.

Dear readers, St Andrews is widely considered the top university in Scotland (although they don't offer Engineering as a course) and the Open University is the largest academic institution in the UK by student number.

So obviously, in one fellow swoop of mis-logic, if we weren't in the NUS we would automatically be shunned to only being in association with Northampton and Sunderland. Oh of course, because we're down in their league. Not.

Collins also mentions that our president Arif managed to only speak to 'his anonymous local back bench Tory MP'.

Well pehaps it hadn't occured to Collins that some Tory Shaddow Cabinet members at that time also were "anti-top-up fees" (see ) and some of them even send their children to the college. Having been in the NUS would still have given us the same results. Speaking to one more backbencher is perhaps better than some NUS hack only speaking to one or two members of the cabinet (who also consist of former NUS presidents) who have already made up their minds to support Blair. I do not think that if Imperial were members of the NUS we would have been able to persuade these notorious cabinet ministers to vote otherwise.

To the comment:

"and most places (like Amazon) only give you a 5% discount"

Collins replies:

"I have seen it as high as 20% in places."

So have I. There is also this wonderful thing called 'Negotiation' (although I don't think they teach us that in Skempton) which is when you ask for things that aren't written in some leaflet you got given. You sometimes have to haggle with store managers, sometimes stores give their discounts to all students, regardless of NUS membership. I think Amazon was named because it is an Online retailer, often not up for personal negotiation, and because you specifically have to type in your NUS number.

Personally I have managed reasonable discounts at Topshop, Rymans, Cass Art stores, several other art stores (bearing in mind art colleges are often not in the NUS) Virgin and HMV.

Nov 08 2006 13:15

And remember, the No campaign team have an email from Amazon indicating that the NUS agreement is only a trial and that they plan to roll out discounts to *all* students in the near future. Amazon state the current discount regime as "for 14 months".

Nov 08 2006 14:41

On St Andrews etc:

The University of Glasgow, University of St Andrews and University of Dundee

are in Scotland.

Higher education is a devolved matter that is governed from Edinburgh.

Higher education matters in England are governed from London.

If were were to form a coalition with St Andrews then we would need to lobby two governments.

On back bench MPS:

The NUS were talking to the leading back bench rebels too (not just their own constituency MPs). The NUS lobbies all three major political parties, not just the government.

Nov 08 2006 15:25

John your a bag of contradictions. One minute the Yes campaign is banging on about how it represents "5 million students". Now you are saying (quite rightly) that the Scottish ones don't really count. Why on earth do the Scots still send delegates to conference then? It's either beacause the NUS needs their money or they just see the Scots as more people to join in the fun. After all, if you are going to play pretend politics the more people you can get involved the better.

18. Seb   
Nov 08 2006 15:45

"Higher education matters in England are governed from London."

John, the top up fees bill would have failed were it not for Labour's Scotish MP's votes!

Higher education matters affecting England are governed from the UK's national government (yes it's based in London but it contains representatives from Scotland who vote on the issue). There *IS* no English Government.

"The NUS were talking to the leading back bench rebels too (not just their own constituency MPs)."

So was the IC delegation. So what is the difference? The main difference is that the top up fees bill was lost at the last minute by five votes due to the defection of three back bench MP's, a defection that occured in negotiations the morning of the vote, while Telford was talking to the Education Minister (of all people!). At the very least they ought to have had at least ten constituents of the most wavering rebels green carding them.

A bus load of students from Newcastle telling Nick Brown what would happen if he defected back to the Government might have convinced him to abstain rather than vote for the Government. Anything Mandy Telford would say is merely an empty threat compared to Gordon Brown and the Whips Office.

Surely the NUS could have organised that?

At that particular point it was not a matter of negotiation for concessions in any way that could be affected by delegates from something like the NUS. The only way to stop an individual MP from voting against the whip if his conscience is not enough is to make it very clear to him or her they will face repercussions in their next election.

Conservatives and Lib Dems opposed the bill as a matter of policy (rather opportunistic of the Conservatives, but no matter). Only one Tory voted for the bill, and two abstained. One because he was Scotish, thereby highlighting the importance of working with those Scotish SU's.

Even if they had all voted, the bill would have passed by one vote due to the Labour defectors. The leading rebel was Ian Gibson, who is of course Labour.

Lets face the facts, the Fees issue was far from the NUS's finest hour. They failed to oppose the introduction of the £1000 fee, and their campaign platform for not increasing top-up fees was incoherent and reactionary rather than progressive. The campaign message was too easily portrayed as being selfish, I don't think they made spectacular use of their opportunities in the media, and to cap it all off they fluffed the vote when they ought to have been able to carry it off.

Lets move on from the fees and talk about something else.

Nov 14 2006 09:38

Such a large national union can never represent opinions of every student - or even every university - within it. Motions in meetings will rarely be reflective of student opinion.

We are a specialised college, in a location which also lends specialsed needs. If ULU can't represent our opinions when it shares so much with us, how can NUS even hope to?

Below is an example of the petty quabbles this diversity-division leads to.

20. Mr. No   
Nov 17 2006 10:44

Stop complaining about the NUS card!

This magical super-duper discount card - the "NUS Card" - which entitles the holder to UK wide super savings (at a one off charge of £10), you'd be mad not to want to join, seeing as we're all poor students.

Stop Bitch*ng! I have never, and I mean NEVER, been denied student discount on account of not having an NUS card. (I should point out here, to save myself from the anally retentive that I dont shop on Amazon). So amazon aside, all UK retailers/cinemas/pubs/clubs etc. will give you student discount if you simply tell them the reason that we dont have an NUS card (I won't go into reasons here, if you read this mini-site, they become apparent pretty quickly!).

We're supposed to be highly literate and clever students here - strap a pair on and get out the chat!

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Also In NUS Debate

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See Also

  1. To Influence, Or Be Influenced?
    23 Oct 06 | Parental Guidance
  2. ICU Join NUS for Fees March
    22 Oct 06 | News
  3. NUS Student Discount Confusion
    18 Oct 06 | News

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