A former SU officer speaks out for Bristol’s NUS disaffiliation

Max Austin wants you to vote for BONUS


Let me start with the obvious. You’ll face a clash of two caricatures. Both bear little resemblance to the reality of the choice you face.

To both campaigns I say this: To those who want to stay, as someone who now attends a non-NUS affiliated university,  that a strong, representative, happy student world exists beyond the NUS. To those who want to leave, the NUS is not currently led by racist Isis sympathiser.

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Last academic year I was one of the elected officers at the Students’ Union.

After a year working with the NUS, seeing how they operate. I saw people committed to improving the lives of students. But I learnt quickly how hollow the promises were of the NUS’s influence.  I asked, in my final month, for people to sign up and call for a referendum on our membership of the NUS. Here is why, if I could, and based upon my own experience, I would vote to leave.

Firstly, the NUS has become little more than a bad Westminster joke; disparagingly known in the corridors of power as ‘rent a mob.’ ‘Success’ for them is driven by being seen to do something. Not about getting things done. There is no consideration of how effective their work is.

Time and time again an email would arrive for some new campaign. The campaign would consist of us sticking up a poster on the wall, taking a selfie, and sticking in on social media. That’s what the NUS calls ‘taking the fight’ to the government.

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Well, I suppose it’s easy to get confused between the merits of your objectives and forgetting to ask whether what you’re doing is actually any good at all. This is something I saw in practically every NUS plan.

Good example: December 2015: we were sent hundreds of cardboard baubles for our Christmas tree with ‘quality doesn’t grow on fees’ around the country. Nice motive, and even bang on principle – but somehow I think you can see how that doesn’t quite cut the mustard! No doubt, for them, this counted as ‘us’ taking on national government.

It is the politician’s prerogative to turn up late and take all the credit (or according to Barack Obama). However the NUS take this to a new level. After hearing their speeches about NUS victories, I thought the next in the saga would be the Battle of Hastings, space travel, or even the development of democracy itself. To claim that our National Union of Students, the union whose most frequent appearance in Hansard (the official records of parliamentary proceedings) is regarding Civil Disobedience orders, is responsible for overturning any governments policy is nothing short of a lie.

The sad thing is all political lobbying awaits the NUS whip before approaching those in power. It doesn’t have to. But that has become the convention.

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For Bristol students membership of the NUS won’t make a drop of difference to how you will be treated by your University. The relationship between the NUS and Bristol SU is old, but its relationship between the university and you is much older and far more important.

Do you really think that the NUS holds such power to stop Bristol University getting rid of Wednesday sport if they wanted? Hardly! This ties in to some really misleading jargon about the university being the enemy which the NUS must protect us from. They’re not! Better than the NUS is student reps with strong relations with the few people that make decisions in Bristol and tell them the truth when we disagree.

You may remember the accommodation fee incident last year, what did the NUS do, well nothing… we got a nice photos ‘in solidarity’ from our fellow ‘comrades’ – fabulous. The accommodation bursaries we secured were nothing to do with the national union. They were us getting on and doing our job.

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Finally leaving the NUS presents great opportunities for Bristol. The creation of our own Bristol discount card would make a huge difference to how you, the student body, Bristol SU and the university engage with the city of Bristol at large.

This would not just be about discounts and offers but could easily lead to better partnerships between city charities, voluntary organisations, and businesses in the city with fantastic opportunities for students.

Such an opportunity to engage with the city is something to be absolutely welcomed. But sadly Bristol, like many others, is held back by its membership of a band of ego-warriors. The impetus to do this would only come with disaffiliation.

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Bristol students, like every other in the country, need representation to national government. But they should not be forced to tolerate that in the guise of the NUS whose leadership elections 99.9% are forbidden to vote in. And this is just it.

This is not an organisation that is going to change. This is not an organisation that wants to change. This is not an organisation that is capable of change. It is an organisation that has a very clear idea of where it wants its own future to be. The tragedy is they haven’t taken millions of us along on that journey with them.

Max Austin read History at the University of Bristol and was then elected to the position of Undergraduate Education Officer at the Bristol Students’ Union.

Vote here: http://www.bristolsu.org.uk/elections