Crunching the Numbers on the NUS


I am a person of numbers. A large part of the NUS debate is not about numbers – as far as I can see the whole argument is predicated on a value judgement- are the things made available to SUSU from the NUS worth the cost, both monetary and otherwise, that SUSU will have to put forward in order to join.

In my humble opinion you can argue forever about the play off the advantages of independence vs. being a member of a large collective (in what I am increasingly thinking of as the Portswood vs. Sainsbury’s dilemma). And I am not about to make value judgements.

For me, the cost/benefit analysis- on a purely material level depends at least in part on what the monetary cost of joining the NUS is. And that question, even with the aid of the report provided by the auditors, is much less than straightforward- which I presume is why said auditors seem at great pains to distance themselves from any decision made on the basis of the report.


I have noted in my to-ings and fro-ings that at least a part of the debate around the NUS has centred around the buying-things arm of the NUS known as NUSSL. There has been some stuff about restricted goods- and according to the auditor’s report, there is only one must-stock item on this year’s list which is Carlsberg- and there is a heavy implication in the text that you do not have to comply with the must-stock items.

6/10 of our top 10 stock suppliers were ignored by the auditor’s report

In order to assess the (presumably vast) list of items that are both available on NUSSL and that SUSU stock, the auditors had to make a number of compromises- firstly 6/10 of our top 10 stock suppliers were ignored by the auditor’s report, because NUSSL does not stock them. Note that this does not mean that we are unable to stock them- unless we go for bigger savings by joining one of the list of schemes which include the ability to restrict suppliers to a limited subset in return for greater savings on those items (which I have elected not to analyse because they appear vague at best).

…a saving to SUSU of £16,351 over the selected year.

Of those items which were comparable, a list was selected based on a set of criteria outlined by SUSU, comparable items were found in the NUSSL product lists, the prices were compared and the Auditors give a saving to SUSU of £16,351 over the year they selected to use. Bear in mind that this is natively, without additional deals connected to specific schemes.

… one cannot possibly do further analysis on this because the pricing of stock items both for SUSU’s current purchases and for NUSSL’s purchases are “commercially privileged&quote;

What is not conveyed in the report, is beyond the criteria set by SUSU (10 high volume and 10 high value items for bars and retail) how the items were selected. At random? Arbitrarily using a pseudorandom number generator? Convenience (first item in the list approach)? I cannot find the detail- and this concerns me, because it means that we cannot assess whether the figure of £16k+ is a lucky figure, wherein the items which saved most were picked in a coincidental amount. Furthermore, one cannot possibly do further analysis on this because the pricing of stock items both for SUSU’s current purchases and for NUSSL’s purchases are “commercially privileged", and hence, I cannot examine these prices to see what is what.

NUS Membership Cost

Some of the early part of the NUS debate seemed to be devoted to this aspect of the discussion. The auditor’s report actually gave three implied figures:

  1. The basic cost: £51,439
  2. The probable cost (includes an estimated cost for Sabb’s training and the NUSSL discounts as well as other affiliation bodies like NUS connect): £48,841
  3. The ideal situation (includes additional NUSSL promotions and NUS Extra Cards benefits, as well as those listed above): £31,841

Which I thought was interesting, and somewhat understated. Speaking of NUS Extra Cards…

NUS Payback

This was another academically interesting number in the NUS debate. The No to NUS campaign keep throwing around an uptake of 6% for the NUS Extra card. Meanwhile, figures from the auditor’s report suggest a number nearer to 13%. They state that they use figures from HESA, but the report fails to state how. The NUS does not appear to offer any statistics on the matter. In any case, a stab at the amount that SUSU will get back from the NUS card purchases is something of a stab in the dark, however well educated such a stab might be. It will still cost our members £12 each.


I believe I mentioned training when speaking about the overall cost earlier. Lacking a decent segue into this particular topic as left it here. Much of our current officer and sabbatical regimes are very technically free, with one external course provided which costed around £3,600. When I say technically free, SUSU doesn’t pay anyone directly for them, but it’s worth bearing in mind that SUSU staff time is effectively money, so this is a bit harder to cost. The rest of the £5,000 estimate contained in the auditor’s report, is therefore made up from the officer residential training courses that weigh in about £139-439 per person. Net cost to SUSU is, therefore, hard to calculate (and you may be noticing a theme here).

Other Things

There have been a couple of other items mentioned that I wanted to draw some attention to- not because the numbers become more interesting than the surface figure might indicate.

Green Impact

Green impact is a scheme that I first became aware of through the Yes to NUS campaign, and you can read about what they do on their website. What is interesting is that they do ask a fee- a paltry £300 for the first year and £150 for each consecutive year. Hardly grand sums in the grand scheme of the discussion, but it hadn’t been mentioned. So I thought I would.

Innovation & Social Enterprise Academy

This is another one that has been around the block during the NUS debate quite a bit. Again the debate has focused, from where I’m stood, around the people and the who-said-which about what. So let’s look at a few numbers.

£120,000 seems to be the number that has stuck. But I can’t see why. The NUS Connect website states that the funding available is about half that- though the confusion may come from the This other web page, which states that “Over the last two years, NUS Services has given over £100,000 to students’ unions through the initiative”. In addition, it is important to remember that no one Union took £60k home- the largest win was £15k.

Last figure: SUSU currently operates at a surplus of £200k. There has recently been a £50k allocation to an innovation fund, that was alluded to in a Surge Radio interview with a No to NUS team member, but that I have been assured by a source is categorically not the same thing as the money that would be allocated to NUS membership.

If you’ve made it this far, I hope this has been useful and enlightening. And well done. Whatever you decide in the referendum, bear in mind that it is a value judgement- your judgement, your values, your call.


Philip Adler is a Ph. D. Student of Crystallography, studying in Chemistry.

Discussion2 Comments

  1. avatar

    Thank you for a well researched, well written, and well balanced article. I look forward to the results.

    Philip Adler

    You are welcome

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