Imperial's first NUS Conference for 30 years is nearly upon us, with 9 delegates heading to Winter Gardens in Blackpool for the country's biggest student hackfest. Delegates will spend 25 hours in formal conference business, covering financial reports and statements. 11 hours will be spent on policy motions, discussing everything from milk prices in FE college canteens, through solidarity with Palestinian students, to NUS reforms. The meeting is forty times the size of Union Council and as expected when so many are in a room, reportedly forty times as farcical.
Conference consists of three intensive days, with formal sessions finishing around 11pm in the evening. Your delegates will be spending their time doing the following:
Day One (27th March)
- 07:00 - 11:30: Travel to Blackpool
- 12:00 - 13:00: First-time Delegate Training
- 13:00 - 18:00: Session One
- 19:15 - 22:45: Session Two
- 23:00 - : Informal Presidential Hustings
Day Two (28th March)
- 09:00 - 13:00 Session Three
- 14:15 - 18:00 Session Four
- 19:15 - 23:00 Session Five
Day Three (29th March)
- 09:00 - 14:00 Session Six
- 14:30 - 19:00 Return to London
The conference sessions consist of a variety of reports, elections for next year's National Executive Committee and of course the business of discussing and passing motions, which takes up just under half of the time.
Part of the proceedings will include a discussion and acceptance of the NUS financial estimates for 2007-2008, which includes the 2006/2007 forecast. This could be potentially contentious, as NUS looks set to lose £1.1m this year, wiping out the profit made last year from the sale of NUS headquarters. The forecast for next year shows a deficit of a further £675k, with a projected £375k of savings bringing this down to £300k.
The forecast for this year shows that card sales, including NUS Extra, made £720k, on costs of £739k - losing £20k. Next year's estimates include an increase in income from cards to £1m, with an increase in cost of sales to £850k, leading the project to turn a profit.
The estimates are more transparent than in previous years and also include a note that the NUS is expected to make an operating profit in a few years time, once NUS Extra income and cuts in spending stabilise.
Zone 500: Education
The education zone is for motions which directly affect the education of students. Alongside bills covering adult education and further education are a number of interesting ones to Imperial students.
A motion on plagiarism calls for improved education on what constitutes plagiarism, along with fair hearings for those accused of it. Harsh penalties such as expulsions are criticised and extra emphasis is placed on international students, who may have different views of what constitutes plagiarism.
Imperial has submitted an amendment to a motion on medical students, calling on the NUS to act on work visa reforms which have led to non-EEA students having difficulty completing their training in the UK. The rest of the motion calls for increased support for medical students, particularly while they are on placements.
The theme of placements continues, with a motion calling for a reduction in fees for students on 6-month placements. Imperial, along with other institutions, charges full fees for placement students despite them only being at the College for two terms instead of three in their placement year.
Sheffield Hallam is calling for a fairer system to measure achievement, with the proliferation of 2:1 degrees making the current classification system unsuitable, particularly as it is difficult to compare degrees from different institutions. They are seeking a common credit system across the UK, but that current degrees should not be devalued in the process.
A further motion seeks equality in education, calling on the NUS to ensure the effects of student debt on black women, LGBT and disabled people are central to the NUS "liberation" campaigns.
Students taking university degrees at FE colleges are seeking better representations at the university level, including representation on university committees and membership of the students' union.
Postgraduate fees are to be discussed, with a paper calling for the regulation of postgraduate fees for home students. A market currently exists at postgraduate level, with universities charging varied fees depending on quality and location.
A paper on "Supporting peace through academic collaboration" highlights the benefits of collaboration between Israeli and Palestinian universities. It calls for opposition to any academic boycott of universities in Israel, which has been proposed by British academics last year.
Top-up fees look to be a very contentious issue, with one reasonably straightforward motion followed by many amendments. The "base" motion calls to continue the campaign against lifting the cap, with research into the effect they have had and a set of awareness activities to promote the cause with the public. A number of amendments call for additional steps such as demonstrations, which ICU believes are not worth the money. Other amendments call for a campaign with the slogan "tax the rich to fund free education" and education of officers on "the effects of neo-liberalism in education" - an amendment which ICU Council shot to pieces at a previous Union Council as it had been pulled directly from the Respect website.
Imperial's delegates have strict instructions as to which top-up fees amendments to vote for and against, opposing calls for more demonstrations or to "tax the rich", but supporting those seeking a constructive dialogue with the government and taxpayer.
Zone 800: Welfare
This zone, unsurprisingly, covers student welfare.
A contentious motion and amendments on racism look set to dominate this zone. A motion calling for a general campaign against racism and hate crimes, providing support to students' unions, may be modified by a narrow range of amendments calling for specific additions to cover islamophobia and anti-semitism. On a related issue, the NUS is called upon to produce an anti-bullying pack and plan an extensive anti-bullying campaign. The BNP is singled out in another motion, which calls for renewed protests against them including a boycott of the hotel in Blackpool where they held their conference.
The negative perception of students in the community will be discussed, with motions calling for a campaign to highlight the positive aspects students can bring to an area and opposition to limiting the number of students allowed to live in certain places.
Continued Council Tax exemption is supported by a motion, which also seeks to exempt postgraduates whilst they are writing up.
A motion on student debt calls for credit card companies to be banned from campus, especially during freshers' week, along with a campaign to ensure people are aware of the effect of financial oversight. The motion follows the death of a student last year after he was harrassed by HSBC Bank over a small amount of debt and took his own life. A separate motion calls for a mental health campaign to highlight mental health issues.
A motion by UCL specifically on London issues calls for the NUS to support the new London Student Assembly and the campaign to extend the student discount to daily and pre-paid travel.
Food is popular with Further Education Colleges, with Lambeth College calling for opposition to the privatisation of canteens and
Other motions call for improved childcare, the removal of VAT on sanitary items and better education into the dangers of drink spiking, excessive alchol consumption and sexual health.
Zone 700: Strong and Active Unions
This zone covers policies on students' unions and the NUS, rather than students themselves.
A whole host of universities and the National Executive Committee have submitted a motion calling for a far-ranging, objective review of NUS governance, which also criticises those calling for the status quo to remain. Manchester, Lancaster, Bradford, UEL, Portsmouth and SOAS are opposing moves to reform, calling for Annual Conference to remain the same size and length. SOAS, Manchester and Portsmouth are also calling for tours of students activists from Greece, France and Latin America, who have been involved in violent protests against education reforms.
The rest of the zone includes reforms of students' union governance and more inclusiveness, with drives to get minority and black students more involved in students' unions.
A motion is to be discussed on the subject of NUS Extra, calling for the NUS to redouble its efforts to secure more high-profile exclusive discounts on the NUS Extra card. Amendments call for various things, including scrapping NUS Extra altogether and protection for discounts currently available without NUS Extra.
New officers are being supported by a number of motions, including a part-time mature students officer and activities officer, which includes an amendment for ICU calling for free access to rivers for canoeists. The international students officer is proposed to move from part-time to full-time from July 2007.
Finally, there is a motion calling for better representation for medical students and one calling for increased support for students undertaking part-time work.
Zone 600: Society & Citizenship
This zone covers motions which are not directly related to students, but which some unions which to take a stance on.
A motion and several amendments call for support for climate change organisations, including calling on the NUS to recycle waste and investigate ways to reduce the carbon footprint of students and students' unions. This would provide extra support from the NUS in implementing ICU's environmental policy.
The National Executive Committee are calling for NUS to affiliate to "Action for Southern Africa" and campaign for British students to take part in demonstrations in Germany, "demanding a world that puts human need before private profit". Amendments call for a campaign for free education for all in Africa, close working with Trade Unions and reaffiliation to a "Save Darfur" campaign.
Redwatch, a website set up by a former member of the BNP, is the target of a motion as a result of its content. Photos of students, lecturers and trade unionists taking part in anti-facism and anti-racism campaigns appear on the website and some have since been attacked after their details appeared. The motion calls for the NUS to lobby for its closure.
Affiliation to the "Stop the War" coalition is called for by Portsmouth, Middlesex, Swansea and SOAS. The same motion also calls for a campaign to withdraw troops from Iraq and Afganistan, for all "occupation forces" to leave Lebanon and to oppose any attack on Iran. Amendments call for opposition to the replacement of Trident and for National Executive Committee members to speak on Stop the War platforms at university and student union meetings.
Women's liberation is also to be discussed, with a motion calling to "declare the NUS a feminist union and proud of it", supporting "our sisters in the Women's Campaign in their fight for equality and for liberation".
A motion brought by Edinburgh calls for asylum seeking students who have been in the UK for a year to be treated as home students, as they currently have to pay full international fees to study whilst their application is being considered.
A motion by Reading calls for the NUS to establish a process to remember "student martyrs" and work with Amnesty International and The All Burma Federation of Students Unions to campaign for the release of student prisoners. Another motion calls on the NUS to support the rights of Venezuelan people to choose their own democratically elected government free from foreign interference, while a third seeks a lobby of the EU to drop a ban on adoption from Romanian orphanages.
Huddersfield is asking NUS to call upon the government to underwrite the NUS deficit.
A boycott of unethical companies, including Nestle and Coca Cola, is called for by Manchester, with affiliation to the "CORE coalition". A separate motion seeks a change of bank, with the NUS to move its accounts to the Co-operative Bank, a boycott of unethical companies and active promotion of companies deemed ethical by the NUS.