Almost half of students to vote no in NUS in/out referendum

Photo Cat Wayland

toni_pearce_nu_450In a marked decrease in support for the NUS, York students have given a damning verdict in a recent survey that asked whether we should maintain our affiliation to the NUS.

When asked ‘Should YUSU disaffiliate itself from the NUS?’, almost half voted yes to the decision.

According to former politics and economics student Alan Belmore, “only four students have a vote at the NUS conference, which decides its policies, aims and leaders”, indicating a lack of representation from the university itself.

Despite the widespread frustration at our lack of representation, the NUS can still claim majority support at the University of York, with many students unprepared to forgo their discounts on ASOS and Spotify.

But, as Benjamin Dilks, a former York chair of the NUS LGBT conference testifies, the NUS is far more than just an institutional discount and “countless students” can testify to NUS support on matters of “gender, race, disability or sexuality”.

The NUS champions itself on its ability to represent students of all backgrounds, but has come under increasing criticism for its electoral process which many students feel is undemocratic. Beth Gregory of Cardiff University says “the NUS’s President is voted in by a minority of the millions of students across the UK”. She believes instead that the money spent on NUS membership should be redirected towards underfunded clubs and societies. Similar complaints have been aired at the University of York, where reduced grants have become a common occurrence for people trying to set up new societies.

It is difficult to gauge at this dents across the UK”.

It is difficult to gauge at this stage whether the NUS are being targeted for their own failings or those of the current government. Chicken or the egg, students are in no doubt that relations between the government and NUS are too cosy. Harry Cunningham of Loughborough believes that “extremists and politicians hijacking the NUS conference” have overrun the students’ agenda, sharing a popular view that interests between government and the NUS are too mutual

NUS President, Toni Pearce, has responded to these criticisms by promising to make the NUS “more representative than we’ve ever been”. Her efforts in doing so will dictate whether other student unions follow Southampton’s example or not.



BEFORE I make my case, it’s worth me reassuring students that I’m not someone who’ll always fly the flag for the NUS as some kind of Holy Grail for the representation of students in the UK. Those who do that are either trying too hard to impress certain types, or having a bit of a laugh.

However I’m also not someone who’ll pick out a few things which I personally disagree with, which the NUS might have done, as a means to argue for YUSU to completely leave it.

In any member-led and (sort of) democratic organisation with over 7 million members, through over 600 Students’ Unions, it’s always going to be a given that you’re not always going to get exactly what you want.

If, for the most part, you and your union get more of a benefit than a loss from being in the NUS, then it’s well worth taking the few spikey concerns on the chin.

Some critics bring up the fact that YUSU have to pay the NUS for our membership… True, but what they almost always tend to leave out though is that this is a fee worth paying! In the last financial year, YUSU’s affiliation fee was £40,356 and the return on that was £69,327.

That’s a quite hefty £29k extra coming through to YUSU via NUS card sales, Green Impact payments, rebates and the massive discounts gained by YUSU Commercial Services (that’s Your Shop, the Courtyard, the Lounge, the Kitchen and the Glasshouse) for being part of the NUS’ Collective Buying Group, NUSSL.

Therefore, the financial case to remain in the NUS is clear and strong… The political one though is, naturally, much more complicated. They’ve won some battles and lost some battles, and at times it’s frustrating, but they are representing the will of its member Unions.

This year we tried to change their voting system, so that every student in the country could vote for their National President, instead of the current – and massively flawed – delegate system.  Sadly, through a series of over-runs, agenda shuffling, and a suspiciously tactical Chairing of Sessions, we were unable to have that debate.

Next year, I hope that the YUSU President-elect Sam takes that idea back to National Conference with him, with even more support behind him than we had this year. It’s vital for NUS’ long term relevance in the eyes of students, and also to secure their long term political capital, that they properly empower that 7 million strong membership I mentioned at the beginning of
this piece.

We can only do that though if we stay in.

The financial arguments are strong. The political ones are acceptable. Overall, it’s well worth being part of, and well worth working to make it even stronger! That’s why in weeks 7/8 this term I’ll be voting to keep YUSU IN
the NUS.