Thursday evening saw an hour of Question Time style views, comments and questions to and from Dervish Mertcan, the National Treasurer of the National Union of Students. The session was co-hosted by Queen Mary?s Debating Society and the Union?s Executive Committee.
The first question to Mr Mertcan regarded the arrangements and size of affiliation fees, which in Queen Mary?s case is about £40,000 per year. Karim Nanji, President of QMSU and Brenda Hatton, Union General Manager debated hotly with Mr Mertcan and demanded to know why some Unions get away with paying peppercorn fees and why there are back-handed deals with some Unions, such as King?s College and LSE. Mr Mertcan explained that the NUS had to rely on ?good faith from Unions about declaring their block grant and students numbers?. The National Treasurer also stated that this was the procedure as laid out in the NUS Constitution. Ms Hatton derided that stance pointing out that block grants and student numbers are matters of public record and could be obtained easily from the parent institution. She also made Mr Mertcan aware that 16 letter had been sent by the President of Royal Holloway Students? Union to the NUS President last year asking for an explanation of similar points of concern. There had been no reply.
To a question from the floor which asked if the NUS would rework Queen Mary?s affiliation fees if the students? union threatened to disaffiliate, Mr Mertcan said that ?it would depend on how likely a disaffiliation was??. Mr Mertcan continued to blame ?lying? students? unions for not declaring the correct grant and numbers to the NUS. However, when pressed about whether he would be asking unions to pay the correct rates, Mr Mertcan said that that would be a matter for the Annual Conference of NUS and he did not expect ?turkeys to vote for Christmas!?. Ms Hatton demanded to know why the Conference needed to be involved as it seemed to just require NUS staff and Mr Mertcan to apply the rules and get numbers and figures from parent institutions ?like BUSA do?.
The topic of mergers and fees was raised, to which Mr Mertcan suggested that he did not support the NUS helping Imperial College Union directly with fees or merger, as they are not members of the NUS. He did however concede that there was a need to get the Imperial and UCL student bodies working close together on this, and this is where the NUS?s role is. He stated that Imperial would ?probably never join the national union??.
To the question ?Is 50% of 18-24 year olds in higher education by 2010 achievable and is the proposed introduction of so-called top-up fees a stealth tax and dole queue fix??, Mr Mertcan suggested that the government may not introduce fees at the widely publicised level of circa £10,000, but would gradually raise the cap, so that next year it could be £2,500 and the year after £3,500 and so on, each time cynically saying that ?at least it is not full fees!?. He also replied saying that the government?s target of 50% in HE was ?pulled out of thin air?.
After a few more questions relating to political platforms, the NUS branding and purpose, NUS Services Limited, and accessibility of the NUS, the meeting was wound up. At least half of the room felt that the NUS is in dire need of reform and it was time for Queen Mary to consider its membership of it. Queen Mary Students? Union has withheld its affiliation fee to the NUS for this year, pending certain explanation from the NUS. Three other UL Colleges (UCL, Royal Holloway and LSE) are rumoured to be holding NUS disaffiliation votes over the next year.