Over the last few weeks, strolling through campus, you may of heard the words NUS, affiliate and referendum thrown around; yet, for many of you, this whole NUS fiasco may be just white noise. Never fear, the Wessex Scene is here to tell you whats going on, when and why it matters.
Forget the US election; for students at this University, the 2012 NUS referendum is the biggest political decision this year. Yet, many of you probably don’t know what it’s about. Whilst in the background of SUSU, a fierce referendum debate continues; “Isn’t Southampton part of the NUS already?” or “What does the NUS mean?” seem to be the most frequent feedback from NUS-related conversation with students.
So to help you get involved and feel part of your Union and its decision-making process, here is brief guide of the issues, the history and the events taking place in order to make sure every student is both fully informed of what this whole NUS Referendum is about, and more importantly, to get involved!
What is the NUS?
The National Union of Students (NUS) is an confederation of student unions from around the country. The organisation was formed in 1922 after a meeting held at the University of London and, since then, has continued to grow. Currently, there are currently 600 student’s unions that are members which accounts for more than 95% of all higher and further education unions in the UK. This amounts to around 7 million students; the confederation is also a member of the European students’ Union.
Like SUSU, the NUS is student-led and is run by a full executive made up of full time (Presidents and VPs) and part-time officers. They are supported in their work by around 50 or so full time staff.
The organisation claims to be the national voice of students and states that it will “campaign, provide research, represent, give discount, training and expert advice for individual students and students’ unions.” They do this through providing the infrastructure which allows each individual union to be autonomous with the right training and research. Their mission statement is as follows:
Our mission is to promote, defend and extend the rights of students and to develop and champion strong students’ unions.
The means it is the NUS that organises strikes which students attend – most notably and recently the student protests of November 2010 – as well as a national student demonstration on the 21st of November.
They also state that there are a number of services available for the Unions; collective purchasing, support services, and marketing services being the three key aims. These include; free legal and financial advice and projects to support unions in Governance, fundraising and volunteering.
Why is SUSU not a part of the NUS?
Southampton University’s Student Union (SUSU) is, in fact, not part of the NUS. In 2002, the Union decided to disaffiliate from the organisation – with the 2002 NUS disaffiliation motion – after a decision at the Annual General Meeting.
It is stated within the motion that the Union concluded that the £68,850 fee to be affiliated with the NUS was not good value for money; and that the money could be better spent on increasing funding for all the union groups, including union clubs and societies and the Athletic Union. The additional cost of many NUS services, such as training, was also noted as a problem.
Moreover, it was deemed that the NUS no longer seemed to be such a good representation of Southampton students, as it became more consumed by politics and dominated by political factions. Consequently SUSU believed the Union was failing to give an effective and representative voice to students; indeed, it was lobbying by the Aldwych Group, not the NUS, which had succeeded.
Finally, it was also revealed that only 10% of students actually had an NUS Associate discount card, which poured scorn of the belief that many students believed it was one of the major advantages to being part of the NUS. Indeed, the motion declared that even students at non-affiliated universities can get both online and in-store discounts with their student ID – and that it was still possible to get a card.
It is also important to highlight that Southampton is not the only University not currently affiliated with the NUS. Others include; Aston, Dundee, Glasgow, Imperial, St Andrews and UWIC.
In 2010, SUSU held a referendum, allowing all students to vote as to whether the Union should reaffiliate to the NUS; the motion was rejected by the student body by around two votes to one.
Nonetheless, it was decided at this year’s AGM that another referendum was in order as students voted for the motion to be passed. Whilst 2 years may not seem like a long time, the majority of students who were here in 2010 have now left the University, thus the referendum gives a chance for the current crop of students to decide whether affiliation would be worthwhile.
The hope is also to learn from the mistakes of the referendum in 2010 and to give a more educated and informed campaign, with two clear ‘YestoNUS’ and ‘NotoNUS’ campaign groups.
Furthermore, it was asserted by Sam Ling, who put forward the motion, that “the landscape of higher education has changed, as has the structure of both SUSU and the NUS”, so it was valid to raise the question again. Furthermore, he stated it would be ‘fair and democratic to ask the question to all students’ rather than a motion passed without student consent.
On 6th December, SUSU will hold a referendum with this question: “Should the University of Southampton Students’ Union (SUSU) be affiliated to the National Union of Students (NUS)?”. YOU get to decide what the answer is with every student allowed to vote on the decision!
Students of Southampton; this decision will affect you! With debates ranging from the beers on tap in the Stags to the speakers allowed at the University to national representation. This is your chance to decide how your own Union is run; so get involved and make sure the decision we make is the right one…