Don’t forget what the NUS does for you
Despite its flaws, the NUS is still a positive force in student life, says Calum McGregor
In light of the recent disaffiliation attempt at Oxford University, and a scheduled referendum at the University of York, it would appear that some students are questioning the importance and necessity of the National Union of Students (NUS).
These murmurings can’t help but remind me of the infamous Monty Python sketch where the age-old question is posed: ‘What have the Romans ever done for us?’ Admittedly, the NUS hasn’t built aqueducts, improved sanitation, built roads or improved public health, but it is an organisation that, despite its flaws, is a positive force in British student life.
The NUS is not just a discount card that means you can get a cheap rail fare or 10% off in Topshop, it is the national political voice of 7 million Higher and Further Education students across the UK.
It campaigns on a daily basis to best represent its members’ views and concerns on the national and local stage, and has been promoting equality, democracy and collective action for ninety years.
None can deny the need for a strong and vocal student organisation to represent our interests, especially when students today are faced with tuition fee hikes, cuts to living allowances for vulnerable students, and the selling of our debt to private companies.
Our voice is amplified many times over when we act as one – through a collective body such as the NUS. A discordant collection of individual unions all clamouring to have their voice heard on the national stage is just not feasible.
The NUS has spearheaded a number of vital campaigns in recent years, which have resulted in wins that benefit all students. In 2013, in conjunction with the housing charity Shelter and Citizen’s Advice, the NUS ensured a tenancy deposit protection scheme was added to the Housing Bill that passed through Parliament that year, which they estimate has prevented over £52 million of students’ money from disappearing into the pockets of unscrupulous landlords.
The NUS also led the ultimately unsuccessful movement against tuition fee increases in 2010. They work to widen access to education, and campaign for fairer funding systems. Furthermore, delegates at the last NUS conference in April voted in favour of a campaign for free Higher Education funded by taxing the rich – to say the NUS does not work in the interests of students is plainly misinformed.
The NUS is also provides a vital platform for liberation campaigns. The NUS has a long history of supporting and promoting campaigns for equality for women, LGBT, black and minority ethnic (BME) and disabled students, and their respective campaigns at the University of Nottingham (UoN) benefit hugely from our union’s affiliation.
For example, the UoN LGBT Network has benefited greatly from access to invaluable advice, and the opportunity to share knowledge and expertise with other committed campaigners at conferences. These campaigns, which represent students who suffer discrimination at every level in society, are stronger with the NUS.
Criticism is often levelled at the NUS for supporting these campaigns, and a piece that recently appeared in these pages claimed these issues aren’t relevant to students.
When over 50% of NUS members are women, a growing number are BME or are disabled, and many thousands self-identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual or trans, these campaigns are as relevant as they have ever been, and dismissing them is out of touch and offensive.
Student politics should be radical, and should seek to break down barriers between different sections of society. If as young people we don’t seek to challenge the status quo with our politics, who will?
Finally, the NUS brings significant financial benefits to UoN. Our union receives £5 for each NUS card sold. Last year around 10,000 Nottingham students bought an NUS card, more than offsetting the £50,000 it costs UoNSU for affiliation to the NUS.
NUS Services, the commercial arm of the NUS, helps our union get the best price for the goods it buys to sell in the SU shop and Mooch. Without the NUS, your meal deal or pint of lager would cost more, it’s as simple as that.
The NUS is not perfect, it is in need of reform. It can sometimes be unresponsive and slow to move on important matters, as it has been with the student loan sell off. It also suffers from domination by Labour Students, and often fails to engage and inform students about its important work.
However, disaffiliation from the NUS would not solve any of these problems. What it would do is leave UoN students without representation in an organisation that would still be the national political voice for the UK’s student body.
The NUS is a democratically elected organisation, so if you feel passionate about changing how the NUS works, stand to be an NUS delegate, and make sure your views are heard.