If I had been around during the last referendum, I would probably have voted ?no?. Back then there were serious concerns about the structure and finances of the NUS, along with unanswered questions regarding ICU?s ability to pay the affiliation fee. However, since then the financial and political climates within both the NUS and ICU have changed. This is why I have changed my mind about the NUS and I am now backing the ?yes? campaign.
In spite of these changes, I am still seeing many of the old arguments against the NUS resurfacing, even though most of them no longer apply to this debate. So, even if your mind is set, please allow me to guide you through some of the myths that I personally believe no longer apply to this debate.
"We can?t afford the affiliation fee"
We currently pay £79,000 each year to affiliate to ULU. When we leave ULU next year, we could, in theory, use this money to pay for the £52,000 NUS affiliation fee, leaving plenty of money spare.
Due to transitional agreements with ULU and the timing of this vote, the finances are more complex, however, the key point to grasp is that, unlike last time, clubs funding and beer prices would be completely unaffected if we affiliate to the NUS.
"If we don?t join then we can use the £52,000 for clubs"
If we don?t join the NUS then we would need to use the "spare" £52,000 to pay for services that ICU used to receive from ULU and would have received from the NUS. We would need to pump money, time and resources into drawing up reciprocal arrangements with neighbouring London student unions, training our officers, employing staff with legal, public relations and research expertise, strengthening the Aldwych Group and running our own campaigns. All of this would cost more than £52,000. Furthermore, coordinating and administering all of these extra activities would increase the workload on Sabbaticals and Staff, reducing the amount of time they could devote to other Union matters (such as clubs).
"If we join then I won?t be able to buy Kit Kats from the Union shop"
The ICU Executive has categorically ruled out affiliating to NUSSL (the NUS buying consortium that imposes these restrictions) so we will still be able to sell Kit Kats, Pepsi, Real Ale and anything else that takes our fancy.
"The NUS is in debt"
Thanks to major restructuring in recent years, NUS finances are now sound and the organisation is no longer in debt. Dun and Bradsheet, who specialise in risk assessment, named the NUS "one of the most financially viable organisations in the sector" last year.
"The NUS is dominated by political factions"
The majority of NUS students and officers, including the current President and several Executive committee members, do not overtly support any political party and stood for election as ?Independents?. Furthermore, although there are political elements within the NUS just as there are within Imperial?s student body, the consensus within NUS is that there has been a shift towards the centre-ground within recent years.
"The NUS conference is dominated by discussions on foreign policy."
Thanks to recent changes, the vast majority of time at conference is allocated to issues that affect students as students. The reforms introduced last year require 75% of conference debating time to be devoted to students? unions, welfare, education and the NUS itself (source Vic Langer?s letter). The remaining time is used to discuss other issues that students wish to raise (e.g. Climate Change, Make Poverty History, the fair-trade movement and so on).
If you still don?t believe me, then why don?t you check out this list of the motions that were passed at the last NUS conference (March 2006):
Strong and Active Unions
- Campaigning and Inclusive Unions
- Student Voice
- NUS Extra
- Further Education: Vocational Courses
- Further Education: Finding and EMA
- Higher Education Funding: Fighting for Free Education
- Higher Education Funding: Long Term Policy to Fight Fees
- Inequality: Tackling Inequality in Education
- Inequality: Part-time Student Inequalities
- Inequality: Tackling Plagiarism
- Inequality: Equality in Marking
- Access: Fair Access, OFFA & Bursaries
- Access: Post Qualification Admissions
- Support for Students
- Sexual Health
- Anti Racism
Society and Citizenship
- Holocaust Memorial Day
- Trade Unions
- Fair Trade
- Coca Cola (As this motion involved NUSSL it would not have applied to ICU)
For the record, none of these motions mention
"Palestine", "Iraq", or "George W Bush".
"We could work with other independent unions as an alternative to joining the NUS"
98% of students in Higher Education are represented by the NUS. Those in England that aren?t affiliated are Southampton, Sunderland, Northampton, the Open University and us. The notion that we could form an alliance with these disparate institutions to somehow provide a counterbalance against the rest of the country is frankly ridiculous.
"The NUS top up fees policy is different from ours"
Let?s look at these policies and judge them on what they actually say:
The NUS policy says:
"Conference resolved to ... launch an active campaign to 'defend our education' in line with the policy above, and opposing student debt, course closures, attempts to remove the £3,000 cap on fees and excessive international students charges. It should seek to win the argument on how the government could progressively fund the expansion of higher education."
(Source NUS resolutions 2006 conference http://resource.nusonline.co.uk/media/resource/CD21%20Resolutions%202006%20CONFIRMED.doc page 22)
The ICU policy says:
"ICU believes that access to HE should be based solely on academic ability and aptitude [and] ? that since the UK economy benefits from a highly educated population, the HE sector should be State-funded? ICU Resolves to ? actively campaign for a system of higher education that is fully funded by the State and takes into account the varying costs of academic and vocational courses."
(Source ICU policy #1 http://www.union.ic.ac.uk/resource/governance/topupfees1.html)
No ICU policy calls for our Union to, say, campaign against the government's attempt to push 50% of all UK students through Higher Education or call for media studies degrees to be scrapped so that money can be pumped in to lab based courses. Our policy on top up fees agrees entirely with the NUS?s position.
Anyway, we are and always would be free to disagree with the NUS, and from time to time some affiliated unions do.
"You're doing this because you?re a career politician vying for a job in NUS"
I am supporting the "yes" campaign because I don?t believe that it is in our interests to be the most isolated student union in London. When we leave ULU next year we will lose our links with the few student unions that we regularly interact with (e.g. LSE, UCL, Kings, etc). This isolation will harm our Union and reduce its ability to do its job, representing the views of its members.
I have no intention of running for an NUS position (this year?s deadline has passed anyway!). Besides, I have had enough of student politics so I am off to find a proper job.
So I say let's give them a chance
I accept that the NUS has its faults - all organisations do (including ICU). However, on balance I think that the benefits of affiliating to the NUS easily outweigh the advantages of staying outside. If we join and find that the NUS really is not for us, then we can always hold another referendum in a couple of years.
At the end of the day I see that NUS as a group of students, not too dissimilar from us, who work tirelessly to ensure that the voice of students is heard so that the lives of those we claim to represent can be improved.