This is why our SU President wants Nottingham to stay in the NUS

Should we stay or should we go?

Now it’s safe to say I haven’t been a diehard NUS fan all the way through my term in office, nor can I confess that before my time as President I knew what NUS did other than provide me with a discount card which let me get 10 per cent off at Topshop.

Some students have said that the officers should remain neutral in this debate and I understand their concern.

But I personally think it would be irresponsible and undemocratic if I did not speak up about what I feel particularly when the SU Officers have the closest insight into how the NUS works on a day to day basis.

I do not think NUS is perfect, believe me I have seen its faults and I share some of the concerns of those students wanting to leave the union. I myself was undecided but after weeks of deliberation, writing pros and cons down on a back of napkin, numerous conversations as an Officer team, and boring my mum senseless with talk of NUS, I decided that is was in Nottingham Students’ Unions best interest to stay in the NUS. Whatever the faults of an organisation, it is better to stay and reform from within.

Here’s why.

She’s in for the NUS and for the EU

What have NUS done for us this year?

This year alone it was NUS and the work of Students’ Unions who managed to force a debate on the issue of Maintenance Grants in parliament and galvanised cross party support in favour of students.

They helped us out enormously this year when the Conservative Party released the Green Paper on the Higher Education Bill – a change which threatens students with an increased rise in fees. They provided invaluable support and resources which helped us co-ordinate our own individual response – adding weight to the national voice. This has led to the government retracting some of their proposals.

Just last Wednesday Rob Jennings, Sam Peake and myself visited Westminster for a lobby day organised by NUS to oppose the government’s proposals to scrap nursing bursaries. We would have been unlikely to do this without the support of NUS. The NUS has also helped us conduct a Trustee Board Effectiveness review where we look at SU governance. Their involvement helped to navigate us through some difficult conversations as a board. We have also drawn on legal advice especially commissioned by the NUS on the role of Students’ Unions in the EU referendum and Police Crime Commissioner Elections.

Are we financially worse off being part of NUS?

There have been various arguments thrown around that being part of NUS makes us financially worse off but this is NOT the case.

YES we have to pay a membership fee of £52,440.40 each year. BUT we get this money back through the money we save being part of the purchasing consortium –  £31,820.88 and through money that we make with NUS Extra Card sales- £29,250.40 of post-tax income. This means that financially we are better off being in NUS as we make an £8,630 profit. Money that is then invested into the student experience here in Nottingham.

What’s not to like?

The great thing about being part of NUS – we can pick and choose when we need them

It is imperative to note that our students’ union remains an autonomous body even though we are affiliated to the NUS. The NUS mandates us to do absolutely nothing. It simply offers its support and resources and we make the decision about what we need to use depending on what we think will affect our students here in Nottingham the most.

They are simply there as an option if and when we need them, which trust me, is a lot of the time.

What can NUS do for us in the future?

The universities minister, Jo Johnson, has set out his plan to remodel higher education in the image of the free market. He wants a two-tier education system, allowing “elite institutions” to charge higher fees while starving struggling universities of funds.

It is my belief that Higher Education should be accessible to everyone. It’s only by uniting and channelling the resources of Student Unions across the country to have one clear voice that we stand any chance of achieving that.

We could indeed attempt to make a political statement as a Union and vote to disaffiliate. But I want to put to you the question what will this actually achieve? Other than students losing their voice and NUS potentially going bankrupt at a time when students need the national voice more than ever with the Government attempting to raise tuition fees AGAIN.

But let’s imagine we do disaffiliate. What do you think would happen?

I can see a few things:

  1. We fly two fingers up to NUS – maybe cathartic in the short term, but not particularly productive.
  2. We sit by and watch NUS make reforms and policies which we will have no power to influence them on.
  3. We lose 8 grand that we could spend on your life as a student.

And in the long run?

  1. We lose our voice nationally.
  2. Our officers – YOUR democratic leaders – lose vital support which helps them campaign nationally and locally.
  3. Our liberation groups will risk losing their voice on a national level.

Is it worth it? I don’t think so.

If we are to beat plans to increase student debt, we need every Students’ Union, at every university, to play a part. By staying we will maintain our seat at the table, our voice on student issues, and our ability to work productively with, as well as robustly challenge, the elected leadership in the year ahead.

Some have expressed their concerns about Malia Bouattia’s election as NUS President. I believe those concerned have a right to raise that concern, the same as those who defend her have their right to do so.

But for me this debate is about much more than Malia. Presidents come and go. It is the organisation that future students will look to when they want their concerns raising at the highest levels of politics.

Since her election earlier this year Malia Bouattia has faced criticism

This is a decision which I have come to after careful deliberation and numerous conversations as an officer team. I have not taken this debate lightly and I would encourage all students to do the same. Whichever way you decide to vote make sure you are informed and have read up on the facts of each side of the argument, don’t vote either way just because ‘your friends are.’ Be sure you are making a decision that is right for you and right for your Union.