Yes, yes, lots of you won't care. But like it or not, the NUS claims to speak for all students, even those of us who don't pay them lots of money and disagree with them, so they're worth keeping a close eye on...
The first Annual Conference since Imperial left the NUS is getting under way at Wintergardens in Blackpool. After several years of trying to pass reforms, this is the first conference which will work under the new structure which was passed in January at an extraordinary conference.
With the reform process mostly approved, it appears likely that the NUS will actually discuss student issues, with a focus expected to be on organisation's stance on tuition fees. The NUS President, Wes Streeting, had been calling for a graduate tax, however the 'Another Education is Possible' campaign will continue to push for free education for all. Imperial's current policy is against the graduate tax, as it is expected that Imperial graduates would pay disproportionately more for their education under such a scheme.
For those really desperate to avoid revision, you can download the motions and amendments documents from the box on the right, or visit the conference documents page.
For those less keen, here's a brief summary of some interesting things being discussed. Education and Strong and Active Unions are the main conference zones of interest.
The education zone sees the bulk of most relevant motions, with discussions on the approach to take to top-up fees. It is slated for a two hour discussion this afternoon, but is likely to spill over.
A number of student unions (including Bradford, East Anglia, City, Sheffield, Cranfield, Middlesex, Staffordshire, Goldsmiths, Coventry, Essex and SOAS) are calling for various combinations of free education for home students, lower fees for international students and grants for all - with EU and international students also having access to bursaries. They also call for a 'fully progressive' taxation system, and in some cases a national demonstration for free education.
Other unions (including UCL, Leeds, Manchester Met, NUS NEC, Edinburgh, Plymouth) are calling for the current system to be retained, with the cap pegged at an inflation-adjusted £3,000. There are also various other calls, such as for increased bursaries, active demonstrations against lifting the cap and make the campaign a general election issue. Despite calling for a freeze on the cap, the motion submitted by Leeds, Manchester Met et al. also calls for a campaign for free education.
In a slightly related issue, Anglia Ruskin University is repeating the call for a National Bursary Scheme, as approved last year.
Outside of the fees issue are motions calling for degree classification reforms, support for placement students, better opportunities for students to shape the way their course is taught and better feedback on assessments.
Strong and Active Unions
As expected, there will still be some resistance to the reform process - there is a motion seeking to condemn the National Executive Committee for pushing reforms through at extraordinary conferences, which also complains about neoliberalism and the adoption of "more corperate [sic] structures". A further motion calls on the conference to reject the new constitution, despite the fact it has already been passed. One final motion on the reforms once again calls for an Equality Impact Assessment, to determine if the new NUS constitution has a negative impact on black, disabled, LGBT or female students.
Of most relevance to Imperial are a number of motions related to student activities, which the NUS has generally been poor at. As well as a general call for better NUS co-operation and support for student activities, there is also a motion directed at the student media. This asks the NUS to run student media training events, work with the Student Radio Association and National Student Television Association and encourage student media within the same cities to work together.
Initiation ceremonies will also be discussed, with a motion calling for the NUS to revise its policy and produce better guidance on them. Rather than condemning them, it asks the NUS to provide information and support to those unions seeking to regulate or ban such ceremonies.
In continued fall-out from the Chris Mullan/Craig Cox affair, there is a motion calling for the NEC leadership to be censured for not 'rooting out vile racists'.
Manchester have submitted a call for suppliers through NUS Services Limited to follow an ethical code, which includes the use of Fairtrade products and renewable energy, while avoiding child, sweatshop and forced labour. The same motion includes a boycott of Coca Cola, and that suppliers must allow their employees to join trade unions.
Religious societies may also be discussed, time permitting. One motion calls for the 'liberation' of Islamic societies which have received interference from College chaplains, while another asks the NUS to work with (or lobby) the Universities and Colleges Christian Foundation, which after trying to sue Exeter Students' Guild attempted to remove their equal opportunities policy at a general meeting so they could admit only Christians.
The University of the Arts is also calling for a member of the National Executive Committee to be responsible for looking after Arts students, and to campaign against Arts students being forced to take large-scale unpaid and low-paid work.
Student activism will also be discussed, with calls for local 'activism academies' to allow students unions to campaign more effectively. An amendment seeks for the NUS to encourage student occupations of universities, highlighting Gaza protests as an example.
Welfare and Students' Rights
This zone includes motions to ban beauty pageants, after recent controversies over Miss University of London and its associated heats. Improved rights for students who have to work may also be discussed, along with continued opposition to restricting the locations where students are able to live.
TV Licensing may come under fire again, for their aggressive advertising campaigns which have long been criticised for attempting to frighten students.
Society and Citizenship
The "Soc & Cit" zone typically contains various anti-war motions, along with a number of more student-focussed ones. Those most relevant include opposition to ID cards and lowering the voting age to 16.
On the international issues front, motions on the following may get discussed:
- Ending the blockade of Gaza
- Affiliation to the Stop the War coalition and supporting a "No to NATO" protest
- Improving higher education in Iraq
- Support for students in Swaziland