NUS - What does it mean for Lincoln? image

NUS: National Conference…

It seems a while back when we had the campus wide SU elections in which you voted, not only, for your new Student Leaders for next year, but also the individuals who would represent your national interests at the annual NUS Conference, which was held in Glasgow, in March this year.

I was in attendance at the conference this year as the lead delegate. It was my third NUS conference, and also the last in my tenure as President and delegate. This particular conference was significant due to the nature of the reforms and discussions that were happening.

As you may be aware, NUS has recently been undergoing some strenuous change due to some dire financial circumstances and, what can be termed as, a purpose and identity issue. This has been highlighted at depth in national news sources, which you can read at the following links: BBC, The Guardian and iNews.

This has meant that as a Students’ Union and, of course, as delegates representing you in the national sphere, we have had to think very intently about what it is that we wanted to see from NUS.
We took part in all the consultations and attended various conferences and roundtables to contribute to shaping what a new and reformed NUS would look like. This culminated in a proposed reform package being drafted that would fundamentally change the way in which we would view and operate within NUS.

Multiple motions for policy came to National Conference and we debated these at length, but the most significant of those:

Motion 002: “We won’t be the generation who turn the lights off on NUS”

Detailed how a new NUS would look. In essence, this is where we are:
A comprehensive change from the current officer compliment to include:
•    National President
•    Scotland President
•    Wales President
•    NUS-USI President
•    And up to eight other officers as determined by National Conference

A comprehensive review at the current models for NUS including revisions to:
•    Membership model
•    Democratic model
•    Corporate oversight
•    NUS Business Model
…amongst others. No small feat.

As you can probably imagine there was intense debate over the motion. It represented an immense amount of work to be done in ensuring that there was still to be an NUS advocating for students and supporting Students’ Unions. Also to ensure that they are able to be effective and operate in a manner that means that they can help their own students on the ground.

The Lincoln delegation voted for the motion, including some of the amendments that included the inclusion of the Trans Officer + campaign, as well as a National Scrutiny committee to hold the full-time officers to account.
Whilst this permitted for NUS to continue in a way that will allow it to exist, the conference left the Lincoln delegation, in some part, deflated around the proceedings and understanding of what NUS is and how it can help Students’ Unions be effective and support their students.
I have always been an advocate for ensuring that we are helping all of our students on our campus and addressing their issues directly and effectively. To do this we need to be able to understand our students and what their issues are and often those issues can be complex and unique to this context. It’s in this that we perhaps need assistance from an organisation that will understand the nuances of what it is to be a student in the East Midlands.

We currently do not get this from any organisation, let alone NUS.

I speak directly as your President, an NUS delegate and Chair of your Trustee Board – but these sentiments are also shared by the rest of your Student Leaders. We have struggled to engage politically with NUS in order to look at lobbying government on issues that affect our students and region.

We have wanted to take the view that we need to be part of the conversations in fixing the issues that have been prevalent within NUS, but we are coming to a point where it is looking like, at least for Lincoln, we do not fit into that model of support. Particularly when you look at the financial cost of what it means to be part of the national conversation. This shouldn’t have to be case when thinking about the national Student Voice. But we find ourselves in this situation.

That is not to say we have not received any benefit from NUS. Their environmental work has been excellent. The work that VPHE Amatey Doku has done around the Black Attainment Gap has been excellent. The work that VP Welfare Eva Crossan Jory around student housing has been excellent and in part, some of the networking opportunities afforded to us through NUS have been excellent. But it is notwithstanding the inherent issues that have existed in the background.

These conversations have existed for a while now and it is coming to a point where we need to make a decision over where we actually stand.

Next year we are to pay £56,700 in affiliation fees to NUS. Put bluntly, it’s too much. Way too much for what we receive in return. Whilst it could be argued that actually, we should not be thinking about the monetary element because it is about us being part of a wider student movement, we, unfortunately live in a context where the financial cost is significant to consider.

We have recently just gone through our annual budgeting cycle and we are in a position where frugality is becoming ever more important.

Politically, I do not believe we are getting our money’s worth. Politically, I do not believe that there has been a cohesive view on the direction that NUS has taken the last few years and whilst we have contributed to the consultations for the new vision of NUS, I am not convinced on whether there is parity in vision and action, even when taking the new reforms into question.

So, why am I rambling to you?

Your Student Leaders are at cross-roads where we are seriously considering our future with NUS and it is important that we have these conversations with our students.

We spoke to you at the All Student Members’ meetings, in Rep Forums and at Activities’ Hubs and from what we have been able to gather, to some extent, the majority of you agree.

We want to solidify this even more and over the next few weeks and we will be putting forward what we would want NUS to be for us. Will our Lincoln-centric view come to fruition? Most probably (99.9%) not. But we have to be pro-active and pragmatic in our approach.

We are also exploring alternatives. What does representation look like to us? What does support to Students’ Unions look like to us? What does best practice look like to us? These are all very big questions and we need to be diverting our attention to answering those questions.
Are the Trustees of your Students' Union considering disaffiliation, on the grounds of financial resource and ineffective use of charity funds, to look at the alternatives highlighted above? Yes.

But this needs to happen with students by our side, and your feedback is paramount to this.

I am always happy to take any questions or comments, so please do get in touch with any concerns: [email protected]; 01522886669; or on Twitter: @ulsu_pres
Kudzai Muzangaza