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Right now, there's no 'us' in the NUS

Jun 13 2008 16:04
Matty Hoban
Matty Hoban says he looks for decisiveness and self-belief, not bickering, but does not find it in the NUS.
Matty Hoban

When I go back to my hometown, I inevitably end up talking politics with my dad: He is a Tory, I am a Lefty; He reads the Telegraph, I read the Guardian; He loves Boris, I voted for Ken; However, we both believe that tuition fees are negative to education, so did any of the previous information matter? In short, no, and this appears to me to be the problem with the NUS.

Whether ?right? or ?left?, these labels actually begin to define you to the point where your initial philosophical liberation by discovering politics becomes an imprisoning experience; you are subjugated to each other?s expectations to the point where the only thing driving your idealism is your opposition of the other?s viewpoint. Now, do not get me wrong, I believe that argument and disagreement are healthy for politics, but with the caveat that they are about the issues and not the people themselves. For example, many in the NUS ascendancy want to give the BNP no platform from which to speak. Now, I hate the BNP more than anything, but the fact that they were elected (no matter how flawed the democracy, as I shall discuss in a second) means they deserve to speak. Such petty issues distract from the business of representing students.

Many complain that the far-left are ruining the NUS, I would argue that they are a symptom of deeper problems. Firstly, eight delegates (that are sent to NUS conferences) is too many. For Imperial this approximately equals 1500 students per delegate: about the turnout at a sabbatical election. This allows far-left factions to form due to the low amount of votes needed for them to be elected and attempts at reforming this failed at the last convention. I still believe even if the reforms succeeded, that the divisions within the NUS are so deep as to still render it inefficient at representing students.

Naturally, I would support the NUS as an organisation for positive change and a platform for fighting for issues such as affordable housing, equality for minority groups, financial support for the poor and education quality support. However, when I look to an institution, I look for decisiveness and self-belief, not bickering which all elements of its political spectrum are guilty of.

I think Henry Kissinger put it succinctly when he said, ?University politics are vicious precisely because the stakes are so small.? I would add that the stakes are not small and the negative behaviour of the NUS only seems to project the image of an organisation ill-equipped to stand up to the government. A government which happily increases tuition fees.

The NUS over the years has had some victories such as the Council Tax student exemption, issues that transcended the spectrum and affected everyone. It also trains our sabbatical officers and also provides the opportunity to get discounts (at a price) alongside being the only large student-led organisation in the country. Despite all of this, we cannot avoid the fact that voter turnout at any higher education institution is well below substantial and the NUS representatives are elected with small mandates no matter how many of them are elected. This is a fundamental problem of student politics, and until turnout is increased then maybe the NUS will have earned its reputation as the national student voice. Trust needs to be restored in student representatives that they can actually change things for the better. Until then the ?right? will constantly talk about representing ?normal students? who just want a well-paid job in the City after university, and the ?left? will talk about ?normal students? who care about the exploitation in the City. Both sides invoke an imaginary ?normal student? who is actually typically the person who does not vote for them, so it is a matter of second guessing.

I have two solutions: firstly, bloody vote in the referendum, even if it is during exams (which does suck), it will show everyone that you care and give those who try to represent you something to represent you on; secondly, and more fundamentally I propose rebuilding the NUS as a de-centralised, regional and apolitical organisation that only deals directly with issues of welfare and educational standards of higher education institutions. I believe that politics is integral to how we live, but we can do without party politics that only serves to compromise our already fragile platform. Our nationwide institutional differences are not a matter of elitism in my opinion but in general of geographical location, London universities share a lot of the same problems regardless of their standing in the flawed league tables. These regional student unions can then be brought together to resolve larger issues and hopefully we can finally prove Kissinger wrong.

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