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From the NUS President-elect

Jun 10 2008 21:50
Wes Streeting
NUS President-elect Wes Streeting acknowledges that representing 7 million diverse students can be hard, but says we should not be come divided.
Wes Streeting

?As a product of Imperial College and a member of its Court, I have never doubted either its strength or excellence. The Court attracts brilliant students and its academic work is second to none. That?s why NUS benefits from ICU membership. But 25 years as a journalist and in government have taught me that the best are stronger when they work with the rest. The reality is that governments of all colours pay attention to NUS; and unless ICU has a place in the national union, its students are, in effect, voiceless. We can all argue about how best to make the case for student finance, improved housing, higher standards of teaching; but that?s a debate that ICU students can only have if they are inside NUS. In essence, NUS needs ICU; but ICU also needs NUS. Anything less and you short-change yourselves.?

These are the words of Trevor Phillips, but they also reflect my own thoughts as ICU embarks on a referendum on affiliation to the National Union of Students (NUS). As the new President of NUS, I can only implore you to vote no to this attempt to disaffiliate from NUS so you remain part of the national debate on issues that affect you today and will have an impact on students for generations to come.

With the new higher education funding policy passed at our Annual Conference in April, NUS has taken the initiative and we are challenging all political parties and stakeholders in higher education to come up with radical ideas and solutions to the current funding crisis. I know ICU doesn?t agree with every aspect, but it ultimately means that NUS isn?t a broken record just calling for free education. Instead we become a realistic and respected voice at the national table, shaping a fairer and easier system of fees and support.That is something that I?m sure all students will be glad their national union is doing.

NUS makes an impact. We have won council tax exemption for students, doubled the disabled students allowance, reined in unscrupulous landlords with a new national tenancy deposit scheme, and run a successful campaign to convince HSBC to back down over their plans to end interest-free student overdrafts. This alone saved students an estimated £22 million.

NUS needs to change and ICU has been an unwavering supporter of NUS reform. With you we have already restructured internally, bringing in new management and making £300,000 in savings as well as putting an end to successive years of financial deficit. It hasn?t been easy, but the organisation has come out leaner and, with a new three-year strategic plan, much more focused on the core issues of defending and extending students? rights and developing and championing strong students? unions.

The next step is to pass the reforms needed to make these changes permanent. The Annual Conference this year narrowly missed the two-thirds majority needed. But reform has not failed ? its just stalled. Nor is it time to throw in the towel and admit defeat. NUS will change and it will do so soon. But let?s be clear, if ICU disaffiliates, the people celebrating loudest will be those that benefit from our broken structures. Now is the time to hold fast and see this change through to the end.

ICU also benefits greatly from NUS in more than just national representation and campaigning. NUS trains your elected officers, develops networks to promote best practice between our 600 members with ICU President Stephen Brown attending a residential with other presidents from across London and the South, and provides expertise on issues such as the major legal changes currently affecting students? unions.

NUS produces weekly briefings on education issues which support your sabbaticals to represent you. Recent topics have included the taught postgraduate experience, feedback on assessments and league tables. Furthermore NUS is provided the central information for when students need to register with the charities commission, and getting legal advice on issues such as the employment status of sabbaticals and the pension scheme for our union staff ? legal advice on this alone cost another London union over £100,000 when they sought it alone. All this information is cheaper by sharing resources with other unions through the NUS. NUS saves you money.

Earlier this year, Bill Rammell, the Minister for DIUS, attended a debate at a campus, and a student asked him about the point of NUS.

?What I can say,? he explained, ?is that if NUS didn?t exist, the lives of politicians would be whole lot easier.?

We know NUS is not perfect. Representing the diversity of seven million students across the UK is an enormous challenge. But if you really want the student voice to be heard nationally, then we must not become divided. Say no to this attempt to leave NUS.

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Discussion about “From the NUS President-elect”

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. HEY   
Jun 10 2008 21:58

he speaks sense

Jun 10 2008 22:09

Like all politicians, he has taken the bits of the NUS which are worth staying in for, and completely glossed over or sidetracked around the problems, which I feel are now too big to be changed.

Jun 10 2008 22:51


  • The NUS achieved many of those things while we were not affiliated
  • The NUS will continue to do a few good things even if we disaffiliate
  • The 'National Voice' does not speak for us

Labour don't pay a Tory spokesperson to speak on their behalf, why should we pay for a voice that wants to take money away from our students? Lunacy.

Jun 10 2008 23:34

Shut down all the bollocks courses. But then again the NUS will never support that point of view because it is obliged to defend the students on these courses, however ridiculous.

Jun 11 2008 01:53

Disingenuous piffle. the national housing deposit scheme singularly fails to help many students in london since the threshold is riduclously low when relative to the rents in london, nearly everyone living in a house of 3 or more, in london, is not protected by this, and this legislation was not coneived of or produced, or indeed led by the NUS, this is simply some good legislation that the NUS thinks is nice, no one of their acheivements'.

If taking credit for all peices of legislation counts as acheiving something, where are they on the whole top-up fee education act? is this equally an aheivement?

Furthermore, all this advice about the need to register with the charities commission, and getting legal advice on issues such as the employment status of sabbaticals and the pension scheme for our union staff was created and paid for by KCLSU and then taken by the NUS and pimped out. All the while paying nothing towards the cost, or indeed even acknowledging who the original authors were.

Jun 11 2008 11:17

The reality is that there are deep and intractable divisions within the NUS. Despite the large number of people who come to conference connected to no faction, the debate is dominated by political activists and hacks with an agenda that often is more concerned with their own self-promotion and narrow interest than the welfare of students.

The artificial consensus in the NUS is that it should be a Model United Nations and branch of a left-wing political party. The factionalism then turns this into a descent into Monty Python-esque infighting, with various left-wing activists trying to outmanoeuvre each other on how much they care about anything that is not to do with students.

In the process, any voice that questions this non-consensual consensus is shouted down, variously for belonging to the wrong ethnic group, to being a so-called "imperialist" for suggesting that student welfare takes precedence over issues on which the NUS has no authority. Despite the large number of people belonging to no political faction, the debate is dominated by these unrepresentative groups. The chairs have even acknowledged that they operated a selection procedure for delegates that was based around the "star speakers" of various factions, squeezing out the voice of ordinary students. In the first debate, I was told by someone on our delegation that it wasn't worth me waving my placard to speak, as the various speakers had already been decided despite the order paper saying that it was open for anyone to speak.

At the end of three days, I had been told not to speak for the following reasons:

1. That I was "white" and therefore not qualified to speak on certain subjects (despite studying them in detail for my degree);

2. That the supposedly "free" speaking slot was in reality reserved for someone from another faction, so I was wasting my time;

3. That while the "free" slot in this instance wasn't reserved, another "star speaker" from another faction wanted to speak, and I would incur their wrath if I got selected (as it was, I continued to stand up, but the chair mysteriously chose the "star speaker");

4. That I was a Conservative and therefore not qualified to speak on anything.

It is a damning indictment of the organisation that a candidate declaring that he would not vote on any issue not affecting students is heckled during hustings. More so is the condescending manner in which the National Executive treated a group trying to reform the NUS away from factional infighting and to focusing on students.

The NUS represents the worst of careerist, self-promoting and unaccountable factional politics. "Unity" is used as a means of stifling debate and criticism, much in the same way the fallacious moniker of "student movement" is adopted as a means of justifying ridiculous debate on world affairs. The occasions that it does speak for students are drowned out by its far wider-ranging problems, that an organisational reshuffle will not change. ICU should disaffiliate, and I will be pushing for KCLSU to follow suit next year.

Jun 11 2008 15:16

We're the National Union of Students!

No, we're the Students National Union!

I thought we were the National Students Union?!?!

No, he's sitting over there!

Jun 11 2008 15:39

Depressingly, that last comment is not too far off the mark.

Fighting between the Labour Party, the Socialist Worker's Party, the Association for Worker's Liberty, and the Communist Students deprives ordinary students of their voice.

It doesn't help either when one of the most influential factions (the misleadingly-titled "Organised Independents") is self-selecting, opaque and largely filled with Labour supporters.

Jun 11 2008 15:47

To clarify my previous point before people jump on it: The OIs being filled with Labour supporters is not an indictment of the faction per se. Rather, the problem it presents is that it effectively provides Labour with two factions, one of which aims to conceal its agenda and persons.

Indeed, one of the largest problems that the NUS faces is that if you don't belong to a faction, it's near impossible to know what is actually going on on conference floor. It pushes moderates into party machines that do not serve the fundamental cause of the NUS.

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See Also

  1. NUS to Charge 5.5p for Democracy
    10 Jun 08 | News
  2. This time, I'm voting 'No'
    05 Jun 08 | NUS Debate
  3. Reform has not failed
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