?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.