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6 months in

Monday 21-12-2015 - 16:56

A six month update of the trials and tribulations of an officer who said that he wanted to make NUS relevant to SUs, to change the way we talk about Student Opportunities and to develop Further Education Union Development.

In my first year as President of Hull University Union, a fellow officer took two weeks off during August to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. The following May, during the period of pensiveness that pervades all students’ unions, he wrote about his year’s achievements, but failed to mention that he had climbed one of the biggest mountains in the world. “Only doing a job like this could I forget that I climbed a massive mountain,” he said, wisely.

He was right. Most officers (and staff!) don’t realise the impact they have, and simply forget the number of things they do in a single year as a part of the student movement.

To that end, I wanted to remind you – and myself – of my key manifesto pledges, and reflect on the incredible amount of work already underway in the union development team and NUS as a whole in respect of union development; making NUS relevant to students’ unions, developing Further Education union development, focusing on Student Opportunities, and creating a collective and powerful movement

I officially became NUS vice president for union development on 1 July 2015, and almost instantly Students’ Unions 2015 was upon us. It’s the largest event of the calendar year for NUS, and something I am politically accountable for. It’s where we meet new officers and staff, talk about the biggest issues facing the movement and kick-start the year (I also had to give an incredibly scary speech…)

I met so many incredible officers and staff from across the country, and had a lot of fascinating discussions about how to drive the work of NUS back through students’ unions. But SU15 is also where I had my first proper taste of online abuse as a student leader. It was not pleasant, and is one of the things driving me make sure students’ unions are supported and resourced in this area next year – and pick up a wider discussion about how we all treat each other.

One of the things I’m most proud of is the new membership engagement system we’ve managed across the UD team. It sounds boring, but it’s super important – students’ unions have consistently told us that NUS feels distant, that our work doesn’t feel relevant and that we’re not rooted in SUs enough.

Our new membership engagement team have made over 200 visits to students’ unions, offering support, advice and guidance to make sure you get the most out of your NUS membership. I’m particularly proud of the extra support we’ve given to our smallest students’ unions in FE and schools, many of whom had basically never heard from us but can now start accessing our support and start on the path to deeper engagement.

I became known as ‘VP for Conferences’ over the summer, due to the amount of events I was invited to across the movement and by wider allies. This was amazing for me, as I got to understand the breadth of the work we do. I attended BUCs and RaG conferences, and it was clear to me (as I said numerous times in my election) that NUS does not do enough in the arena of Student Opportunities, and we have a massive opportunity to change that now.

I’ve also had the pleasure of going to and working with our diverse and unique nations – Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales – who are all facing their own challenges. The work we’re beginning to get into on devolution and how that affects SUs across the UK is particularly exciting!

One of my key manifesto points was ensuring the Officer Development Programme was relevant, engaging as many people across the movement as possible and continued across the year. When I started my role, this was all around delivery, with our reformed programme being launched in the summer, the most amount of L&D webinars we’ve ever had, and a holistic approach being taken across the year.

I believe students’ unions are at their best when they work collectively and support each other, particularly those with fewer resources and less ability to engage. To this end, the work I promised to do on Further Education and Learner Voice Union Development has been particularly rewarding. I’ve always been clear that FE is where Union Development is needed the most. To that end, we’ve increased the resources in FE membership engagement and we’ve hosted a summit (chaired by our illustrious Chief Executive Simon Blake) with sector bodies to set a new direction in this area – and as a result produced a widely circulated report with recommendations. We are now hard at work delivering the recommendations. In the context of potentially brutal FE cuts and English Area Reviews, this is even more important.

A large part of our work, and at times an unsung part of the UD team, is that of the Strategic Support Unit. This is where we go into students’ unions who are in need of some support, either in making changes or dealing with challenging circumstances, and provide external support to the officers and the staff team. It is difficult, often takes a long time and is largely confidential. I said that when I was elected I wanted to be rooted in SUs, and a way I often do that is by supporting the officers from SUs in those situations.

During my election, I said that I wanted our Services to be profitable but values lead. This is in everything from how we do our business to who we ensure the profit goes to. As Chair of Services Board, I’ve constructively engaged with a number of transnational organisations, ordered a review of NUS Digital and its decision making structures, overseen another profitable two quarters for NUS Extra and have lobbied internally for more partners on our Apprentice Card.

Student Opportunities – sports teams, societies, media, fundraising and volunteering – is a perennially underrated part of the student movement. I’ve sought to change that. I’ve made the impact of Student Opportunities my priority motion for UD Zone, used UD Zone Committee to get a steer from the movement on this work and set up a number of joint projects with partners in this area. We’re hosting a 100% Student Opps event next year to make sure it’s a key part of our strategy, I’ve realigned internal resources to unlock more capacity in this area, we responded to the government sport consultation and we’re developing a training resource for Student Opps Leaders as I write.

The main reason I wanted to be VP Union Development, was because I wanted to change NUS. I saw a massive untapped opportunity. This has formed the basis of the Project 100 work, which encompasses NUS’ new strategic direction for the next six years (leading up to our 100th birthday). This is how we win for SUs: making our democracy more inclusive and representative and our structures more transparent. You can read more about the development of the project here. We’ll be publishing the first report next month and lay out our vision for inclusive decision making, including our vision for inclusive decision making to take to National Conference 2016. I’ve led on this internally, ensured all forms of SUs and allies are a part of the discussion and will deliver a vision on this to Conference next year. We will truly reform NUS.

We’re getting there. I think it’s pretty obvious that I love students’ unions, but last month NUS came together behind #LoveSUs Day, highlighting the amazing work students’ unions do day in day out. This was in response to the government’s Higher Education Green Paper consultation on increasing the transparency and accountability of students’ unions. I will be doing all I can to champion and protect students’ unions in the coming months. You can read more about this, and how SUs can feed into NUS’ response to Q20 of the consultation here.

I’ve visited SUs – 47 at the last count – as I promised I would be during my election campaign. As a result I’ve learnt to work and nap on trains, and seen more of the UK in the last six months than I did the 23 years before that.

Hope this has been interesting, or at the very least useful and of course, if you have any questions – feel free to get in touch!

A very merry VP UD,

Richard

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