This article was originally written for a Felix issue on 6th June 2008.
I campaigned for Imperial College Union (ICU) to join the NUS back in November 2006 and whilst I think it was worth giving them a chance, I can now safely say they have now proved themselves no longer worthy of the trust I put in them. We were promised an effective NUS that was going to change and that we could play a leading role in driving that change. Instead we have seen their (and our) attempts to change stifled by extremists who would rather that the organisation continued to be their own play park funded by Unions like ours who have countless activities that are far more worthy of the best part of £50,000 per annum that we pay to NUS.
If you are not aware ICU has a controversial history with the NUS as the organisation has never provided any tangible benefits to the student body. Funnily enough, we were a founding member in 1922, disaffiliated in 1923 and then did not re-affiliate until 1939. In 1940 ICU left in protest at the NUS? stance against conscription for WWII. During the 60?s and 70?s we dipped in and out of membership, leaving in 1977 and then finally rejoining in November 2006. This information is just to illustrate that students at Imperial have always had severe reservations about the NUS who have for decades refused to listen. I thought that after all this time it was worth us giving NUS membership another go but this historical evidence does suggest that the organisation is condemned to being institutionally useless.
In this referendum there is no debate about how much of a mess this organisation is in as the threat of financial decline has forced them to come clean. This year we have heard all about how the NUS has suffered from financial mismanagement, disengagement from the issues that are relevant to students and how they are not respected as the "national voice" that they claim themselves to be. NUS will tell you that they are hugely influential yet this is the same "national voice" that is dismissed in parliamentary committees as being only representative of student activists and not ordinary students.
I urge you to vote No! as I believe it is crucial that we emancipate Imperial students from this organisation whose own leaders openly admit has been shockingly mismanaged, politically irrelevant and inaccessible to all but the most hardened political activists. The money that is spent on NUS affiliation could be far better spent by students at Imperial rather than throwing it down the NUS budgetary drainpipe. We were promised a cheaper, radically different NUS by April 2008 and it has not materialised. I believe it would be irresponsible for us to take that gamble with £46,000 of our money that could be far more effectively spent on academic representation and student activities for students at Imperial. Why continue wasting our cash on a "national voice" that consistently fails to reflect the fact that the UK education sector is hugely diverse with different types of institutions pursuing different objectives? By disaffiliating we would not be subsidising this debating club for students who have political aspirations but do very little to further the cause of student support and development on campus. During the course of this referendum you will hear a variety of sob stories about how the NUS is really going to change next year. Well, we've head it all before. Vote No! if you are not willing to take that gamble.