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Anti-NUS Myths: Why the argument has changed since 2002

Nov 10 2006 08:41
John Collins
John Collins explains why the arguments for NUS affiliation have changed for this referendum.
John Collins

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
  • Reform

Education

  • 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

Welfare

  • Accommodation
  • 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)

(Source http://resource.nusonline.co.uk/media/resource/CD21%20Resolutions%202006%20CONFIRMED.doc)

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.

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Discussion about “Anti-NUS Myths: Why the argument has changed since 2002”

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 10 2006 09:42
 

Will we really lose links with the other London colleges? Are they really that shallow that they will not work with us on matters that affect students as a whole. I don't think so. If the Sabs actually put some effort into creating strong links now rather than waiting until "the fat lady sings" and telling us all it can't be done we could be in a far better situation than we have ever been in.

2. rebel   
Nov 10 2006 11:17
 

"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."

This is an absolute lie. The director of the NUS has just resigned because they over-estimated how many Extra cards they'd sell. They're financially ruined. £500,000 of debt announced April 06 at conference. Now, John, magically, they are no longer in debt? What the hell happened?

Ignore the rest of this article it is peppered with rubbish.

Nov 10 2006 11:46
 

What happened is they "disposed of a capital asset". That is, they were so f**ked they had to sell their headquarters and are currently in rented accommodation. They will tell you that they are going to buy another one but it will probably be far cheaper and there is no evidence to suggest that they are actively seeking one.

The idea that if we don't join we will "lose contact" with all other unions is frankly ridiculous. If we have common ground with another union, NUS or not, they will work with us regardless of our own affiliation. Is John saying that if we don't join the NUS affiliates will be so annoyed that they won't even talk to us? Personally I think that they will, and if not do we really want to be in an organisation that is so childish?

John's article amounts to little more than irresponsible scaremongering.

At the last NUS conference it took them less than 30 mins to decide not to discuss the lecturers strike. How much time was spent discussing foreign affairs?

John also contradicts himself:-

For the record, none of these motions mention

"Palestine", "Iraq", or "George W Bush".

If you follow the link he kindly provided (http://resource.nusonline.co.uk/media/resource/CD21%20Resolutions%202006%20CONFIRMED.doc) and search for "Iraq" and "Bush" in the document, they magically appear. Incredible.

Nov 10 2006 13:16
 

Good work, Mr "What an Idiot", you are indeed correct. John has been quite misleading in this campaign.

5. Seb   
Nov 10 2006 14:01
 

John:

The resource book is wrong. The paper on the resource book is the unammended version.

If you check the minutes of the meeting, you will see the policy actually passed was:

"13: To actively campaign for a reconfiguration of H.E. to establish a system that is fully state funded and places a greater emphasis on a worthwhile employment-focused vocational qualifications such as apprenticeship and NVQ level 5."

This was to provide a mandate for campaigning against the 50% target, which we did in fact do. Or rather, recognising that Labour would be unlikely to walk away from the 50% target, a better way of achieving it would be to make it 50% of people in further education (including vocational training).

I believe I forwarded that mistake to you and the council chair previously? If I forgot to, appologies.

"We could work with other independent unions as an alternative to joining the NUS"

Bit of a straw man there don't you think? Saying we should co-operate independently with other student unions is not the same thing as saying we should co-operate *only* with disaffiliated student unions.

"We would need to pump money, time and resources into drawing up reciprocal arrangements with neighbouring London student unions"

Which we should do anyway. Just being a member of the NUS doesn't give us reciprocal access to any of their facilities etc.

"training our officers"

I thought we did this already?

"employing staff with legal, public relations and research expertise"

More so than we already do? Why? In previous campaigns (if this is what we are talking to) we have done the last two with volunteers. I fail to see why we would need to higher a union Legal Manager.

"and running our own campaigns."

We have always run our own campaigns. Are you suggesting that if we join the NUS, we would not longer run our own campaigns? When I raised this you said you disagreed with every point I made?

Nov 10 2006 21:17
 

"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."

That's not what Felix says. There is a 35k blackhole in the first year - care to explain where the money will come from for this? You haven't given a straight answer on this yet, only dodged it by saying "no clubs cuts, no bar price increase".

Nov 11 2006 00:06
 

"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."

Again this is misleading. We would be free to spend the money on whatever exec decides, clubs included.

8. What?   
Nov 12 2006 22:20
 

He misses one very large point. What are we currently gaining from ULU? The statements he makes imply that ULU currently is heavily relied on. This is frankly rubbish.

Also, contrary to what he says, most verbal NUS supporters are either looking for their own political position within or helping a friend.

His statement attempting to justify the membership upon the grounds of motions passed at the last conference is scary. ICU has always remained largely non political and should so. It has tended to only focus on student issues. This is not to say that factions have in the passed tried and managed to change this but it shows a general attitude which is positive and saves a load of procrastination and time wasting within union bodies. Do students of ICU agree with every one of those passed motions?Perhaps most ICU students do not like so called "Fair Trade" instead enjoying "Free Trade".

Joining the NUS would force ICU bodies to listen to these external arguments as they claim to represent us adding a huge burden to our internal politics.

NUSSL is integrated into NUS politics and they would continually attempt to pressure ICU into this arrangement as it is beneficial to their own self serving aims.

Nov 12 2006 22:47
 

Changed argument? Only one thing has changed, ULU. ULU are useless anyway we will hardly miss them.

Nov 13 2006 15:13
 

John

Is what you say about NUS finances being sound and the NUS not having any debt true? It certainly was not the case that NUS was sound in 2004 or 2005, and last December this came out:

http://education.guardian.co.uk/students/news/story/0,12891,1660195,00.html

In Spring 2005 Martin Ings (NUS Treasurer at the time) spoke openly that NUS finances were in a state, and pleaded with us to support the NUS Extra Card to improve things. I went to a NUS meeting with him in Macclesfield, and he was totally clear that NUS Extra was not the only thing that needed to be done to improve the organisation's finances.

Do you have a copy of the most up-to-date accounts?

Tom

Nov 13 2006 15:17
 

And good point Seb with this:

"Bit of a straw man there don't you think? Saying we should co-operate independently with other student unions is not the same thing as saying we should co-operate *only* with disaffiliated student unions."

I never have said that we should only speak with disaffiliated student unions, and I can't believe anyone else would have said this, so I'm confused by why John has made this issue look so black and white, when clearly we are, and always have been, free to talk to all unions, despite out non-NUS status.

Nov 15 2006 10:03
 

The "not going to join NUS, so I am not doing it for personal gains" argument makes absolutely no sense to me, unless you also promised that you are not going to get involved with politics ever!

Nov 15 2006 11:23
 

What exactly is this "NUS"?

Nov 15 2006 11:38
 
Nov 17 2006 10:36
 

John, as the president of the ICU - a union representing 10,000 students at the 9th best university in the world - surely you should have more confidence in the ability of ICU to campaign for issues which effect Imperial directly, without the need for hand-holding from the NUS??

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