VP Academic Affairs Sasha Watson presents the case of the Sabbs with regard to the NUS referendum.
Firstly, I’d like to make it clear that it’s great to see people beginning to discuss the referendum, however, there are a few things that need to be addressed and corrected.
To explain where the decision to hold a referendum came from, it was agreed at SUSU’s Annual General Meeting in May last year, with an almost unanimous decision for the motion. The AGM is a place for any student to bring any motions and policy ideas, and to have a vote on, and in the interest of it being the most public venue where decisions are made, where most students would be able to have their say and vote against the motion, that’s why Sam and another student proposed the motion.
Had Sam wished to “sneak” us into the NUS, or to not have a proper debate, we could have taken the decision on whether to affiliate to the Trustee Board of the Union (made up of 6 Sabbatical Officers, 6 student Trustees, and 4 external Trustees), or to Union Council, made up some 60-odd representative and reflective students. These were never considered, but were options available to anyone wishing to affiliate to the NUS, but instead we are opening the discussion for a referendum. The fact that we are one of only 6 Unions not affiliated to the NUS, and the rate at which the student body at SUSU changes, regardless of whether we vote yes or no this time, I still think it’s important to keep checking the opinion of students regularly.
The issue of Sabbaticals campaigning comes down to two things: firstly, we are still technically students – we have taken a year out of our studies, albeit at the end of our degrees – but it’s quite common for 1st/2nd year students to be Sabbatical Officers; and secondly, we are allowed, if not meant, to have opinions on matters impacting the Union. Just like any policy decision to do with student safety, or academic rights, we have the right to give our opinion, allow the members of the relevant decision making body to have their say too – then vote, and the Sabbatical team enact the wishes of the members. We are having a referendum because students said we should have one, and we are permitted to give our opinion on why we think one way or another – just like previous Sabbatical Officers did the last time we had a referendum.
To also say that students will be biased towards voting a certain way, purely because Officers say so, is grossly unfair to them, treating them like puppets – and if they do not wish to engage with any of the debate, just simply vote, then that’s they’re choice. People vote for a whole variety of reasons, not just because someone said so – and given that Southampton is a top University, I’d imagine most people will be able to consider their own opinions, and ask around if necessary, before voting.
In the case of NUS referendum, I believe it’s even more important that Sabbatical Officers voice an opinion. We’ve all lived in Southampton and can comment on safety; we’ve all studied here at Southampton and can comment on the quality of education here at the University – but how many people have been to an NUS Conference? How many people have previously been a part of the NUS, or have an understanding of what the NUS could provide? The answer is a much smaller number of the student body if not none, and it showed in the last referendum, where the two key arguments were surrounding NUS Extra Cards, which is a very small part of what the NUS does, and SUSU’s independent voice, which I’m still not quite sure what that meant – because the NUS cannot dictate to us what we do as a Union in terms of policy or actions.
As Officers, we’ve been privileged enough to see the range of training on offer for students at other Unions, the support that NUS staff provides Unions in terms of staff, resources and research, and the benefit of being able to join up very easily with other Unions to share the best ideas and have the greatest impact on students. But all of this isn’t clear to most students at Southampton, because most haven’t studied anywhere else, so haven’t experienced or even known these sorts of benefits existed. As I’ve said, Sabbatical Officers in the past have campaigned on this issue, and more generally, you see political figures taking stances on issues every time, and so this occasion should be no different.
The reason we campaign generally is because we believe something will improve the Union – just like we campaign against some things because it will harm the Union. We would certainly not try to push an agenda because of relationships with other people, or because of personal agendas, but rather because we think SUSU can improve as a result. We have nothing personal to gain from the NUS and have no desire to run in NUS elections – we are campaigning purely because we feel the NUS would be beneficial for SUSU, and that last time, the messages delivered at the referendum were greatly flawed.
The auditor’s report is being released today that will provide further facts about affiliation, especially surrounding cost and what is provided in terms of services, and if anyone is enthused by the anything they’ve seen – please join the debate. Campaign for, or campaign against, just get involved – use your voice, and make sure that the decision we make is the right one.
VP Academic Affairs
Check out the article which set off the debate about Sabb involvement in the NUS Referendum here.