Wednesday 25-05-2016 - 09:22
Last week, students at Warwick voted to stay in NUS by a comfortable 63 per cent to 35 per cent (2 per cent abstentions), after strong week-long campaigns from both sides. Warwick SU President Isaac Leigh tells us why.
It’s clear that several arguments convinced students to remain in. One was the financial benefit of being in NUS: the SU benefits by £87,737, money used to keep our food and drink prices down, and to cross-subsidise our crucial non-profit student services such as the advice centre, student activities and democratic services departments.
Another argument was the excellent liberation campaigns that NUS runs: they empower students on campuses in day-to-day life, be it through I Heart Consent workshops or tackling the BME attainment gap at both a national and local level. Even if these campaigns don’t affect you as an individual, they will continue to empower your friends, your hallmates, or your course friends whose voices are under-represented.
And finally – at a time when a threatening Higher Education White Paper has been released by the government, this is a time for collectivism and unity (alongside no less than 600 other SUs) rather than going it alone. If there is a time for a national union of student voices, it is now; we need to resist the marketisation and commoditisation of higher education, and that can only be done by channelling resources and using the collective energy of hundreds of SUs and thousands of elected student representatives. The question that remained unanswered was: what do we actually gain by leaving?
Crucially, though, we cannot forget why such referenda are happening up and down the country. It’s because students are sometimes uncertain about how NUS represents them, and disenfranchised for a multitude of reasons. At Warwick, the conversation does not stop with the ‘Yes’ vote. Now, we need all sides – passionate ‘remainers’, those who advocated leaving, and those who remain indifferent, to help make NUS stronger through reform. I was pleased to see the open letter from all national officers last week in that regard.
As president of a large SU, it’s easy for me to extol the benefits of NUS – I know from attending conferences and working closely with officers that there is some great work going on and many brilliantly passionate individuals wholly committed to improving the lives of students. But as an ‘average student’ – not that I know what that means! – it is more difficult to look beyond the negative headlines.
By staying in, we have maintained our seat at the table, our voice on student issues, and our ability to work productively with, as well as robustly challenge, the elected leadership in the year ahead. I urge Warwick students to be front and centre of that.