Why Birmingham should leave the NUS

You still get to keep your student discount

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The national NUSceptics movement, a coordination of local groups campaigning for their universities to have referendums on NUS affiliation, saw a massive increase in interest on the dawn of Malia Bouattia’s election.

However, the movement for universities to disaffiliate from the National Union of Students was already in place long before Malia’s came to our attention.

The organisation, including its branch at the University of Birmingham, is not a “we hate Malia” club. The priority is to show how her election only personifies the wider undemocratic and non-transparent systems which the union has long been based upon.

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It is my belief that mass disaffiliation of universities across the country is what the NUS needs. This is the only way the organisation can be forced to acknowledge its problems. People have previously attempted to reform the union internally, and to no avail.

If you didn’t know what was wrong with the NUS already, this is why I believe my university should cut ties:

Firstly, the system of delegate voting at NUS Conference, where people elect the new NUS committee each year, is ridiculous. Students have to select other students to go and vote on their behalf.

However most students, including myself had no idea Birmingham was in the process of selecting delegates. This is reflected by the low turnout delegate elections received.

How can a system like this claim to be representative of students?

Instead of the opportunity for participation being opened to everyone, this system allows the NUS’s electoral power to be contained in the hands of a few politically invested individuals.

The NUS is not built upon systems that are accessible to the whole of the student body.

In addition, our Guild president is automatically given the opportunity to become an NUS delegate without it being opened to a student vote.

As long as Birmingham continues to affiliate with a student union based upon this system, it will continue to attach its name to one that is unrepresentative, and is thus likely to elect unrepresentative leadership.

Those who are sceptical of Birmingham's affiliation with the NUS need to have their voices heard

Those who are sceptical of Birmingham’s affiliation with the NUS need to have their voices heard

It is no wonder, then that for too long, students have felt disillusioned with what is supposed to be their “national union”.

The union has an extremely narrow view on student issues. Delusional attitudes, perfectly reflected in the motion to remove the NUS gay men’s officer because gay men are “no longer oppressed” shows how limited the organisation’s concern for students can be. The individual circumstances students may be dealing with are given little thought.

A few individuals claim to be representative of all members of minority groups, completely ignoring the fact that these groups are as heterogeneous as those in the majority.

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Furthermore the NUS take on a parental role, instructing students about what they think is right and wrong. This is best reflected in their boycotting of Israeli goods, and demand that unions affiliated with them do the same.

Students are entitled to boycott Israeli goods on their own individual basis. However, the NUS should not demand that all affiliated student unions do so when it’s in relation to a topic that is so divisive and complex. Removing the agency of students to make their own moral judgments is completely patronising.

Concerns affecting students everyday, such as living costs and the scrapping of maintenance grants, are falling secondary to the NUS’s love of virtue signalling. This is on political topics the majority of the student demographic have little interest or knowledge in, and which the NUS has no authority to influence.

The option to vote for a referendum apparently closes Friday

The option to vote for a referendum apparently closes Friday

Just last week Newcastle University students voted to leave the NUS. At Birmingham, a referendum on our affiliation can be held if we manage to secure 201 votes on the motion submitted to the “Have Your Say” section of the website.

I urge people, even if you are undecided on where Birmingham should stand on affiliation, to vote in favour of a referendum being held. Securing a referendum is the only way a conversation can start rolling on student’s concerns with the NUS.

As explained, attempts at internal reform have been futile. Those who have for too long felt marginalized and unrepresented by the National Union of Students need to be given the chance to have their voices heard, no matter what the union has achieved in the past.

On the issue of student discounts, you can still have an NUS discount card even if your university is not affiliated. So don’t worry, you can still keep your 40% off at Pizza Express.

Joe's bar price

Joe’s bar price, affected by NUS funding in the student union

Pretty much the same item in Go Cafe, owned by the University of Birmingham and thus not affected by NUS funding

Pretty much the same item in Go Cafe, owned by the University of Birmingham and thus not affected by NUS funding

In addition, it is a lie that Joe’s provides the cheapest food on campus. As these photos show, some items are cheaper in uni centre. Furthermore, alcohol is cheaper is Selly Oak.

Student Unions who have been long disaffiliated, such as Southampton, have managed to secure cheap drinks deals without the NUS. Contrary to some people’s impressions, leaving the NUS has not meant that all life at the union has ceased. Rather, money and resources can be directly invested into the Guild, rather than into the NUS.

I could go on with reasons why the NUS does not deserve the title of being the ‘national union of students’. What is needed is to assess whether the benefits Birmingham students receive from NUS affiliation outweigh these negatives.