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View from the NUS

Oct 27 2006 13:23
Gemma Tumelty
NUS President Gemma Tumelty gives her reasons why Imperial should join the NUS.
Gemma Tumelty

Gemma Tumelty is the NUS National President and the first NUS President from a post-1992 University. She was previously a sabbatical officer at Liverpool John Moores University and graduated with a BSc (Hons) in Applied Psychology.

I've been president of NUS since July 2006, and already since then, I?ve spoken as the voice of students over 100 times. I?ve got the right to speak on behalf of UK students because I lead the National Union of Students UK, a democratic organisation where policy is decided at our Annual Conference, the largest democratic conference of it?s kind. The NUS National President speaks on behalf of the largest democratic student movement in the world. I?ve spoken to Ministers, to Government officials and to numerous broadcast and print media, including appearances on BBC News, ITV, Channel 4 News, Sky News, More 4 News, Radio 1, Radio 4 and 5Live. When I?m asked to speak, what I say reflects and represents the ?voice of UK students?, the sad thing is, when I?m thinking of what to say, I never think about Imperial?s words, what Imperial students want, what Imperial students need. I?ve no way to hear your voice, you don?t talk to me, you are not my member. You can change that, you can speak to me, so that I can speak for you?. How? Just VOTE YES to NUS.

I want to say how much I am looking forward to the upcoming affiliation referendum at Imperial. It will give this generation of Imperial students a chance missed by the generations before - the chance to sign both themselves and their union up to the wide range of benefits that NUS offers. It has been 5 years since students at Imperial last had the chance to decide on their membership to the National Union, and a lot has changed in those 5 years, both in the education sector, but more importantly inside NUS.

When I had my first interaction with NUS as a part time women?s officer in my students? union 5 years ago, I found it hard to engage with the processes, the structures, and really struggled to understand how NUS made an impact on me as an officer, but most importantly on my members at Liverpool Students' Union. It was because of my less than positive experience that I decided to get involved, to see if I could make a difference. And, I think I, and many others involved in NUS since 2001 really have.

The last few years in NUS have been spent making the work of the National Union more relevant to the needs of our members (students? unions) and our member?s member?s (students) ? just like you. NUS is widely recognised as the leading educational pressure group representing students throughout the UK. We talk weekly to the government on behalf of students, we talk daily to the media on behalf of students, and we talk hourly to a wide range of national bodies and organisations such as Universities UK on behalf of students. We are the recognised national voice of students across the UK, and right now, not only are Imperial not part of that national voice, the concerns and views of Imperial Students are not considered. This is your chance to change that!

So, you might ask, what is NUS? NUS is a national membership organization for UK students? union and has around 750 constituent members - virtually every college and university in the UK - through which we represent over 5 millions students. We have such a wide membership because unions across the majority of universities and colleges realise that key decision makers pay attention to NUS. Students believe in a national voice that can campaign on their behalf and make their voice heard by those in government and amongst society in general.

NUS campaigns and represents on all issues that affect students as students and students as members of society, but we also do much much more. I would recommend that those of you who want to know more look at our two websites and For those whowant the highlights, here they are:

We campaign

  • We carry our campaign work on a variety of student issues including fairer funding systems, better student housing and healthcare.
  • We have active liberations campaign teams: LGBT, Black Students?, Womens and Students? with Disabilities.
  • We provide official representation to government and national bodies including Parliamentary lobbying.
  • NUS representatives sit on governmental committees and provide evidence which is used to shape policies and inform legislation.
  • We produce research on student issues for publication, to raise public awareness of issues affecting students today

We strengthen local union activity

  • We have a Development Projects Unit, allowing your student activities to benefit from key skills training, to network and share ideas through Stadia and even train students to train clubs and society officers, course reps and council reps though the National Student Learning Programme.
  • We provide research and information, support and advice for your union officers on virtually any area of education and student life, from housing to franchise courses, student funding to women's issues. There are also special projects on accommodation costs and student health.

We Make Commercial Sense

  • We Produce the NUS Extra card, which gives students access to a range of high street discounts from clothing to music and computers. The Extra card will bring in an additional £1,000,000 to students? unions across the country, with 40 per cent of the profits of the Extra card being channelled directly back into local students unions to be spent as each local union deems best.

The list goes on?. but I?ll leave it there. I believe that students at Imperial College will benefit enormously from joining with hundreds of other unions to campaign for those things that affect us all. As we set up and develop the London Student Assembly to ensure the voice of London learners is articulated directly to the GLA, as we continue to meet with TfL to enhance and sharpen the discount package for London students and as we continue to lobby locally and nationally on behalf of students, I?d be delighted to be able to speak out for you too. Not only that, but as NUS President I know more than anyone, that my organisation can never reach its full potential until we can truly claim to speak for every student, in every college and university. I hope you will use your vote in this referendum to bring that vision closer to reality.

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Discussion about “View from the NUS”

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.
1. snob   
Oct 27 2006 13:57

BSc in applied psychology from some ghastly northern poly? i suppose if i was her i'd rather work in pretendy politics than start work in a call centre or flipping burgers.

2. cynic   
Oct 27 2006 14:57

she missed out her most important reason..

"we believe we at the NUS could benefit greatly by you giving us money to help rescue our poor financial status"

3. n/a   
Oct 28 2006 19:25

"I?ve got the right to speak on behalf of UK students because I lead the National Union of Students UK, a democratic organisation (...) The NUS National President speaks on behalf of the largest democratic student movement in the world."

Democracy? Yeah, right. Average student union election turnout for their own sabbaticals at any uni: about 10%. Election "irregularities" common at virtually all unis. Almost no chance to kick the sabbaticals out of office once they're in - and they tend to campaing on popularity rather than policy at most unis. These useless cheats then elect an uber-honcho, the most "popular" and useless of them all, to head the organisation. Then that NUS president claims to speak on behalf of 5,000,000 students, even though only a few hundred voted for him/her, and only a few thousand elected those hundreds. It's a scam.

As for caring about Imperial's voice? Well, frankly, an ex-polytechnic psychology graduate is extremely unlikely to give two thoughts to students studying difficult/technical/useful subjects at proper universities. Would Imperial's 10,000 students matter to an organisation that claims to represent 5,000,000 (of which about 4,000,000 are oh-so-hard-working media students at ex-polys)? Would it be in the interest of the NUS to take anything out of Imperial apart from money?

Oct 28 2006 19:57

One small correction, you'll find that most members of the NUS are in fact at Further Education colleges and not at any form of university.

5. n/a   
Nov 05 2006 16:53

Hmmm. Found out yesterday that ICU was one of the founders of NUS... and left the year after it was founded.

According to Wikipedia, ICU has joined and left NUS twice since then. To me, this suggests the NUS doesn't have a history to representing IC interests at all....

Nov 05 2006 21:49

"members' members"...

There are plenty of sensible reasons not to affiliate to the NUS (I'll certainly be voting no), but the self-satisfied "snobs" who attempt to disparage it because it lets in the ?ghastly? ?oh-so-hard-working? oiks are even bigger idiots than I am. Grow up, you're not as special or superior as you think.

8. tut   
Nov 05 2006 21:53

Ms Tumelty's grammar is rather dodgey. And her piece was so rambling and repetitive I wonder if she's ever written a decent essay in her life...

9. arse   
Nov 05 2006 22:58


You really are a grade A t**t. How many articles have you ever written for the Guardian? And how many times have you addressed 8000 people?

The standard of debate on this forum is disgusting. If Imperial really is that much better than some ex-poly then I would expect people to be capable of holding a reasoned debate. Instead you have to resort to petty mudslinging and pedantry.

Grow up.

10. arse   
Nov 05 2006 22:59

And it's spelt dodgy - no 'e' you idiot.

Nov 06 2006 07:54

Tumelty's grammar has little to do with the NUS debate itself - particularly as that article was probably checked by various PR people on several occasions before being submitted.

The issues here are important - save the pedantry for when there's less at stake.

12. n/a   
Nov 06 2006 18:59

As someone who has two undergraduate degress, (MEng and BA) from IC and one of the better ex-polies, I feel safe to make the following statements from personal experience and observations:

1) To get a 2:1 at IC requires hard work

2) To get a 1st in a creative subject requires hard work

3) to pass at IC requires work

4) to get less than a 2:1 at a creative subject requires extraordinary lack of skill / intelligence. To fail is nearly impossible.

5) every single media deadline I have ever heard of has been extended because students did not submit work on time, and knew that the media department would rather extend deadlines than be embarrassed and fail them.

To me, this suggests that there are cultural differences between degrees, subject areas, and institutions - and with cultural differences come different student expectations, needs and demands. The NUS is dominated not by IC style students and their needs, but by soft subject students. Joining the NUS would be a perfect way to lose an individual union's voice, and become a small minority in a majority that is very different from IC.

As for the NUS stance on things, this I've learnt at an NUS affiliated institution:

1) The NUS says plagiarism is unacceptable, but understandable. Among other things, when research suggested that students were buying essays on ebay, then-NUSWales-president James Knight made a statement demanding that universities adapt coursework requirements to the needs of overstressed students.

In my opinion, this devalues education: Plagiarism is not merely unacceptable, it is also inexcusable, and universities should not dumb down their requirements, nor encourage a culture of extended deadlines and unreliability among students, just to avoid people plagiarising.

2) The NUS has interests in conflict with IC interests: For instance, the NUS is broadly aligned with the 50%+ in higher education target of the government - which devalues university degrees as a whole. Furthermore, the NUS has an active policy that suggests university lecturers should be paid the same wages as school teachers (and, AFAIK, all teacher wages to be the same, regardless of subject specialization)- something which would not be attractive to world class researchers and academics, and, if it ever became a reality, would devalue university education. Do you think any IC lecturer would want to work there for the same salary as a secondary school psychology teacher?

3) The NUS as purchasing consortium is restrictive: They have exclusive deals not just on beer and other alcoholic beverages but on everything from sandwiches (Gingsters! overpriced soggy rubbish!) to soft drinks (the Coca Cola company - talk about ethical purchasing strategies).

4) The NUS does not listen to its membership, nor to individual institutions' unions. Take the lecturers' strike for example: No consultation with any union or member was undertaken before they voiced unconditional support to the action short of a strike.

5) Freedom of speech is not inherent to NUS culture. Apart from its "no platform policy" to views they disagree with (admittedly, I wouldn't want to hear the BNP speak at my uni, either), I have found that any criticism of union / NUS policies was likely to be deleted from union administered forums, any links to criticism edited out and replaced with gibberish words by an automated system, and student media were under direct editorial control of the student union rather than editorially independent. Whether this is broad NUS policy or just the institution I was at is not clear to me, but the constitution used by my NUS affiliated uni was an NUS standard document, which apparently included statements to the effect that no union affiliated entity would be permitted to publicly lower the union's reputation (which they took to mean "voice criticism"), and no union affiliated student society was allowed an independent website on threat of dissolution (because they felt the need to be editorially in control of any affiliated organisation's public output).

After three years of watching the NUS operate, from a boycott on KitKat bars (but no other Nestle product, not even KitKat special editions or chunky), to frequent conferences that resulted in nothing but p***ups for the delegates and multi-hour debates on which vocabulary to use (and expensive roadtrips for a bunch of self-important wannabe politicians), I can say with some degree of certainty that I do not consider NUS membership desirable, nor in the best interest of IC, nor of any student who has his/her own political views and does not wish to be spoken for by a bunch of upstart political popularity contest winners.

And those that do wish to be spoken for can always rest safe and secure in the knowledge that the buffoons will speak whatever they want to speak, with or without IC's 50,000 quid. After all, does anyone really believe that 10,000 students will matter to a student politician claiming to speak on behalf of 5,000,000?

Nov 06 2006 19:40

She's quite fit though?

Nov 07 2006 02:06

Worth a squirt...

15. Nah   
Nov 08 2006 20:48

She's fit in a queen-of-the-chavs kind of way. Buck teeth and gold loops don't really float my boat.

This article has already convinced me to vote NO, and I haven?t even read the arguments from the detractors. The thing that concerns me most is Gemma?s first paragraph, which reveals an authoritative manner that is almost arrogant:

?I've been president of NUS since July 2006? ? ?I?ve spoken as the voice of students over 100 times? ? ?I?ve got the right to speak on behalf of UK students? ? ?I lead the National Union of Students UK? ? ?I?ve spoken to Ministers, to Government officials and to numerous broadcast and print media? ? ?what I say reflects and represents the ?voice of UK students?? ? ?When I?m thinking of what to say, I never think about Imperial ?? ? ?I?ve no way to hear your voice ? you are not my member.?

(Like Nah) The prospect of being Gemma?s ?member? doesn?t appeal to me, especially if she (and future ?leaders?) will use this as further endorsement of their presidential authority.

Nov 12 2006 22:32

fit, but does not represent me or anyone in the thinking world (IC)

18. who   
Nov 12 2006 22:41

The only people to wholy benefit from the NUS remain its elected officials and that small number of people in the country who stand by its agenda.

If we join, we are doomed to have an ineffectual union which follows a hard left wing agenda and seeks to serve itself and those within it.

Nov 14 2006 03:51

I heard her speak on the radio this summer before the NUS referendum even had its petition to call it signed, and migh gosh she sounded like an embarrassment to everything I've ever stood for.

I also love it how she says "When I?m asked to speak, what I say reflects and represents the ?voice of UK students?, the sad thing is, when I?m thinking of what to say, I never think about Imperial?s words, what Imperial students want, what Imperial students need. I?ve no way to hear your voice, you don?t talk to me, you are not my member. You can change that, you can speak to me, so that I can speak for you?. How? Just VOTE YES to NUS."

I really can't see that if she can't represent Imperial Students now, how she or any other NUS president would be able to represent us when we join. Is it just me or is the less than 20,000 of a student body we have only a splash in the ocean of the 5 million students that supposedly make up the NUS?

Honey, if you write with a tone like that, I can't see how you'd ever convince me.

I think you'd be better off going to go fetch a Proper Degree (capital P and D) and get a Proper Job.

For goodness sakes, even pole dancing is more respectable these days.

Also Pet hate: Bragging about which TV stations you've been broadcast on. I know people (personally) who have had more television exposure before they even leave prep school (and it goes out on Xmas eve every year and has the moral purpose of being started in 1918 to keep old drunk men out the pub). And yet they do not bragg about it. I know people whose parents are presenting on television daily, both on satelite and local terrestial, and yet they have more modesty. Seriously, this woman needs to get off her soap box otherwise they'll never let her onto Primeminister's Questions.

20. James   
Nov 14 2006 23:48

"when I?m thinking of what to say, I never think about Imperial?s words, what Imperial students want, what Imperial students need."

That fabulous statement is almost enough alone to make me vote no.

21. Alex   
Nov 15 2006 15:27

One of the worst written articles from a 'president' I've ever read, including Bush. It echoes of a GCSE project for sociology, probably one of the entry requirements of her uni. Awful.

Nov 15 2006 21:12


23. Mr. No   
Nov 17 2006 10:30

You know when you look at a picture of someone, and read something they've written and you just can't help but think... You're an idiot!

24. NO!!!!   
Nov 19 2006 18:30

I cannot believe that we have joined the NUS !!! Every single student in IC give yourself a tight slap on the face for not doing enough to stop this from happening. And if you voted YES, give yourself a few more.

I knew I should've taken that damn penguin down...

Nov 20 2006 20:12

How soon can we effectuate an appeal, another referendum, or any required process to withdraw from this mess? Top-down economics is a failure, and only a pain to most until it fails.

Nov 20 2006 20:30

Leaders of the campaign have signed off the referendum as fair, so the result stands. The only option would be to complain to college if the referendum had not been run fairly, however there is an independent scrutineer from college who has presumably signed it off.

Earliest a referendum could be called would be October next year, although I'd recommend that anyone considering that waits until January 2008 to call a referendum, as we're more likely to disaffiliate once the freshers have had the enthusiasm knocked out of them.

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