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NUS "Comedy Sideshow" Heads for Reform

Nov 17 2007 12:19
Ashley Brown
The National Union of Students, described as a "comedy sideshow" by ICU President Stephen Brown, is heading for reform, one year after Imperial decided to join.
The comedy sideshow

Today marks a year since Imperial's NUS referendum concluded, with 30% of the student body voting narrowly to join the national union. Both sides called for reform, with the 'Yes' campaign looking for reform from within, while the 'No' campaign wanted to stay away until the NUS sorted itself out.

At Imperial's first NUS conference for thirty years in March, delegates voted for a "no-holds-barred" governance review to look at reforming the NUS. The call for a review received overwhelming support, despite opposition from the minority extreme left-wing groups prevalent in the organisation. do get some sort of weird and wacky unhinged individuals attending their conferences.
ICU President Stephen Brown

The NUS governance review reported back last month after a summer consultation period, recommending a wide range of changes in an attempt to reduce costs and improve the way NUS works. On the 4th December a group from Imperial will head to Leicester to vote on the proposals, with ICU being broadly in favour, however with a few changes being suggested.

The governance review states explicitly that the NUS is a confederation of students' unions, not actually a union of students. This sets the tone for the rest of the review, placing more control into the hands of sabbatical officers and removing power from the vocal - but ultimately unrepresentative - extreme left groups such as Respect. The annual conference is to be replaced by a "Congress", receiving and rubber-stamping decisions made by smaller zone-based conferences. The aim is to fill the smaller conferences with people who are interested the five areas:

  1. Further Education
  2. Higher Education
  3. Welfare
  4. Wider Society (?Society and Citizenship?)
  5. Union Development

The aim of this split is to take contentious issues, such as taking a stance on international wars, out of the main annual gathering (currently annual conference), making more efficient use of time.

Concerns have been raised - mainly by the left, but also by others - that the governance review will give Labour Students or "Organised Independents" a permanent control over the NUS, while "destroying" democracy.

ICU President Stephen Brown is welcoming the reforms, having said in stoic tv's Ask the President:

"The NUS is not the most important issue facing this union. It's a bit of a comedy sideshow. In essence its good entertainment to go along to some of the meetings, because obviously you do get some sort of weird and wacky unhinged individuals attending their conferences. Obviously at the minute they're doing their governance review, so hopefully this time next year their organisation will have moved on from the 1970s into the 21st century so it'll be less open to the sort of ridicule I heaped upon it this time last year."

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Discussion about “NUS "Comedy Sideshow" Heads for Reform”

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.
Nov 17 2007 20:37

What thing's is ICU not supporting in the Review?

The colour scheme is better in that NUS conference picture than that aseptic blue primer adorning the walls in da vinci's at present!

Nov 17 2007 20:37

Terrible grammar, sorry!

Nov 18 2007 16:38

Yes quite sensible. I have also sent in some proposed amendments, one of which includes the revision of the "two-thirds majority" to remove a trustee to a simple majority. Currently all NUS no-confidences are simple majorities so I don't know why a discredited trustee should hang on to power if they only have 1/3rd support in a dismissal!

So many technical geeky changes I really hope we don't have to speak on each one! It's bad enough trying to jazz up the traditional "constitutional review" into a new-style "governance review"!

Da Vinci's?! ;)

Nov 20 2007 01:57

I'm not especially invested with either side in the debate at the moment, but there are a couple of glaring errors in it.

Firstly, the NUS leadership generally states the changes are cost neutral. Some saving might come in the future due to better financial management, but the actual cost of confrencing is static.

Secondly, the idea of zone confrences isn't to take controversial issues out of the annual gathering- rather, the opposite (as stated).

Zones will pass policy that is generally agreed on and uncontroversial. This will allow many issues that factions push down the agenda because they don't care about to get passed.

Controversial matters will be decided at "congress". The concept is that the increased time allowed will improve the standard of debate, resulting in better policy making.

As to the truth of that, I don't think I will comment.

Your amendment covers an area I know a number of us in the North had found problematic, however, so expect additional submissions of it!

Nov 20 2007 09:27

Tinter - so after the reforms the - still expensive - NUS Congress will spend all of its time talking about Palestine, rather than none as at the moment?

From reading the governance document I had concluded that such nonsense would be argued in the zone conferences, perhaps being blocked at that level. The main Congress could then talk about useful things such as HE funding and what we really want in that area.

But the opposite is likely to happen?

Nov 22 2007 00:45

Well, both those issues would go to congress, but basically yes.

Zones will pass policy for which there is agreement- this has been hinted to be pushed at around 85%. This is intended to allow issues that wouldn't get to confrence passed.

It is also intended to allow longer and more informed debates at congress for controversial issues, such as HE funding, and yes, Palestine.

So I guess you could say the governance review is crafted to allow more time to be spent discussing typically controversial foreign policy.

Certainly the NUS foreign policy committee has not been put under threat- labour students like playing at being cabinet ministers just as much as the left.

Personally, I'm not sure how much confrence policy gets passed with 85% (OMOV will make it easier though, sabs agree more), so I'm not sure how much cutting down of the agenda there will be anyway.

Nov 22 2007 00:50

To clarify, policy can be kept out of congress by mustering less than (probably) 15% at zone confrence. However, even though the OMOV system favours centerist sabs, I still don't think many headline issues will be excluded- 15% really isn't that hard.

So, I would personally predict many more and longer debates on these stimulating topics in the future.

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See Also

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  3. NUS President Losing Touch With Reality?
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