Students’ Union UCL is currently holding a referendum on their membership of the National Union of Students.
Last June a motion was passed at the Union Council to put the question of NUS membership to the students of UCL. This followed a year of debates and referenda in universities across the country regarding their own NUS memberships. Now the union is asking UCL students to vote whether they would like to remain affiliated to the NUS or not. Cast your vote here. Voting closes at 10.00am this Wednesday, the 25th of October 2017.
So why is the referendum happening? Arguments that “the NUS’ political direction is wayward and misaligned” have encouraged the referendum. The Leave campaign, headed by Sam Sherwood, argues that UCL should disaffiliate from the NUS because of its “politically insular” culture which represents the interests of its delegates more than those of the students it represents. According to Sherwood, “the NUS is a broken, unrepresentative organisation. We saw this last year, when delegates passed a motion claiming that gay men don’t need their own student reps because “they don’t face oppression”. We saw this when delegates applauded speeches condemning Holocaust Memorial Day as “not inclusive”.” The NUS was also criticised by politicians last year for arguments that were made at an NUS debate in favour of not commemorating the Holocaust.
NUS affiliation is expensive, currently costing Students’ Union UCL £58 000 per year, with this number set to rise by 8% over the next 3 years. Many believe that this hefty fee is not worth the supposed benefits. For example, one of the most famous advantages of being affiliated to the NUS is the NUS student card. However, it seems that many of the NUS card student discounts can now be obtained with standard university ID cards.
Another reputed asset of membership is that affiliation allows UCL to be members of the NUSLL, a buying group through which NUS affiliated universities can buy specific brands of alcohol at cheaper prices. However, as it was claimed at the June Union Council meeting, the union could enter into similar deals were they to disaffiliate. For example, Imperial is not affiliated to the NUS and their bar prices are actually cheaper than UCL’s.
There are other advantages to being affiliated to the NUS. It provided instrumental support to campaigns such as Cut the Rent, as well as to the successful boycott of the National Student Survey by UCL last year. Jack Kershaw, who is heading the ‘Remain’ campaign, says that students across the country are better off united. Speaking to Pi Media, he admitted that most students don’t even really know what the NUS is, and those that do often believe it to be inherently left leaning. Whilst Jack agrees that the latter is the largely the case, it is not true to the extent that some may assume. Political diversity aside, ‘Remain’ argue that fundamentally, we are stronger fighting against cuts and privatisation together than we are fighting alone, as has been proven to be the case in the past.
The union website claims students can attend an ‘open meeting’ to find out more. However, with 2 days to go until voting closes, there is as of yet no information when this link is clicked. It is also worth noting that the reason the referendum is only taking place now is because, at the 2016 Union Council meeting, the issue was deferred to a general assembly meeting which never took place.
(Featured image credit: Students’ Union UCL)