On 1st April, for the second time since re-joining NUS, a gaggle of nine Imperial delegates will head to Blackpool for three days of pointless arguments with the "student movement". In a change from last year, some of this year's delegation know what to expect.
The "student movement" uses very odd terminology for political leanings, where Labour is considered "right wing". With the lessons of last year learned, Live! will be trying - but not promising - to provide some daily updates. To help you understand these, we have provided a helpful diagram to illustrate how mainstream political terminology translates to NUS.
As last year, sessions run until 11pm in the evening, although many delegates head to the bar instead. Given the quality of the hotels in Blackpool it is also better to sleep on the streets or in a bar than return to the room. The delegation is slightly changed from those elected by cross-campus ballot, as Jon Matthews dropped out shortly after his election. He is replaced by Jess Marley, making the final delegation as follows:
- Ashley Brown
- Stephen Brown
- Victoria Gibbs
- Elizabeth Hyde
- Jess Marley
- Jennifer Morgan
- Kirsty Patterson
- Camilla Royle
- Luke Taylor
Matters for Discussion
Conference has many motions to debate, but it is highly likely that the three days will be spent discussing two things: governance changes and higher education policy.
The governance changes are part of the NUS reform process, coming from the governance review approved at last year's conference. The same groups who tried to limit the review last year are now trying to stop changes to the structure of NUS going through. Although NUS voted for reform in December, changes to constitution must be ratified at Annual Conference. Those factions seeking to retain the status quo have mobilised students in NUS elections, so ratification is by no means a certainty. Forty-five minutes is allocated to ratifying the changes, with fifty-five minutes of speeches for and against (yes, I know 55 is greater than 45... tell the NUS that). That may be a little optimistic.
With the constitution hopefully approved, the order of business will move to finalising the "Schedules" to the constitution, which tie up the more intricate details of how the NUS will operate. This is allocated 3h 15 minutes, but once again that may be optimistic.
After four hours (optimistically) of debate and petty bickering, NUS will hopefully have dragged itself into the 21st Century. The future of the organisation very much depends on it, as members of the National Executive Committee (including the President and likely next President) have spent the last year stating how badly managed and ineffective NUS currently is. Without reform, those soundbites will come back and bite them at disaffiliation referenda around the country. If the constitution is ratified, there is still another motion calling for the governance review to be rejected, despite the fact that its recommendations would already have been approved.
The next contentious issue will be a higher education funding policy, which will form the basis of lobbying when a review is undertaken as to whether to remove the cap on top-up fees. Exactly the same arguments will be had as last year, with the far left calling for national demonstrations and the moderate unions arguing that NUS cannot afford it. Imperial and UCL will fight against a policy calling for a national bursary scheme, preferring to keep the locally-administered scheme currently in place. National bursaries seem to be supported by a number of unions, mainly because their universities have done such a poor job of administering their local schemes, so Imperial is likely to be painted as the devil as last year.
The usual nonsense of discussing foreign affairs is last on the agenda and allocated three hours, but is unlikely to receive that much time. Also included in this section are motions to encourage a greener NUS, in line with ICU's environmental policy.
Finances will also be discussed, however they should prove straightforward this year. NUS lost nearly £2m last year but has trimmed that back to a forecast £400k loss this year following staff restructuring. A £53 loss is estimated next year... For once NUS looks set to meet its estimated operating loss, due to "more transparent and realistic" estimates introduced last year.
Interspersed throughout the conference will be elections for various positions, which will dominate proceedings as hundreds of pounds worth of freebies are given out in an attempt to "buy" elections. These look to be something of a foregone conclusion, with current NUS VP (Higher Education) Wes Streeting running for President. The backing of Labour Students will inject cash into his election machine, leaving independent candidates such as Ciaran Norris with reduced prospects.
A similar story can be seen in other elections, with those already in NUS positions and with factional backing likely to score wins.
After our somewhat unsuccessful attempt at a conference blog last year, we'll be making no such promises this year. We do hope to have reliable Internet access, so may publish some updates as they happen.
Reporting at NUS is a problematic task, as Blackpool sits in an Internet black hole. No Internet access is provided at the conference itself, except for the NUS Press Team, and neighbouring wireless access points are few and far between. Blackpool's terrible hotels are also devoid of sensibly-priced access, even where it is available. Even if wireless access were available, laptops are banned from Conference floor making any sort of live update a difficult proposition. There is precious little free time, with conference business taking place almost non-stop, with barely time to eat, let alone do anything else.
A recurring problem is the ban on photography at NUS events if any single person objects. At annual conference this is done on a block-by-block basis, however by the end of last year's conference only the London block was willing to have photos taken.
These issues, combined with a £475 charge for anyone from student media who wishes to cover the event, makes conference a very media-unfriendly place. Apparently only the well-oiled NUS
propaganda Press Team is in a position to report on Conference as it happens.