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Next steps...NUS democracy review

Tuesday 31-05-2016 - 10:44

One of my ambitions is to put NUS in the hands of students’ unions.

I want membership to be fair and empowering for all our members. We must ensure we are more inclusive and transparent. It’s important to me that everyone can see where decisions are being made and how the organisation is working effectively for students’ unions.

A principled vision for a better democracy

The Trustee Board presented to National Conference for consideration 12 principles for NUS democracy to underpin a review of NUS’ democratic structures in the year ahead.

I’m pleased to say these were passed.

A Task and Finish group of NUS and students’ union staff and officers are now exploring what these principles might mean in practice. As soon as SU16 in July the group will begin to share ideas for wider debate before preparing proposals for National Conference 2017.

The principles are:

Vision: Democracy within NUS should take active steps to put the power in the hands of the members to make transparent decisions through informed and inclusive debate that ensures that diverse voices are heard.

1. Students’ unions are the constituent members of NUS.

2. Students are members of their students’ union and therefore their association with NUS is dependent upon their students’ unions’ membership of NUS.

3. Democratic decisions within NUS should be made by its constituent members.

4. These democratic decisions are about reflecting what is in the best interests of students.

5. The membership should feel that decision making processes are representative and inclusive. However once a decision is made representatives of NUS should remain conscious that not everyone will agree with the decision.

6. NUS and their elected leaders should act in the interests of students. The membership should then hold the elected leaders to account for their actions using a clear process that enables them to first question officers, and then take further action, within the democratic structures of NUS, if they are not satisfied with the answer.

7. The primary role of elected officers within NUS is to lead the movement and harness its collective power to achieve its goals. Their work should therefore focus on how to secure these demands.

8. Democratic decisions should be conducted using processes that maximise the principles of inclusiveness, popular control, transparency, considered judgement and efficiency as defined above and in Quality Students’ Unions.

9. The complex and diverse decisions made during the policy cycle would be best made by a complex and diverse group of our members. NUS should therefore give guidance and assistance to students’ unions to be more democratic and ensure that their representatives are diverse.

10. The autonomy of the Liberation campaigns should be supported so that those who define as such can determine the means via which they challenge their oppression across national borders whilst operating more centrally to make the wider movement more progressive.

11. The NUS Nations lead on and achieve the movement’s goals within a specific national context. The scope of their autonomous policy setting focuses on how to respond to devolved policy.

12. There should be total clarity over what decisions are made where, why and who is accountable for the decision being implemented. The language used within our decision-making should be accessible and free from jargon and this language should be able to be replicated across Nations and different students’ unions

A task-and-finish-group

The group tasked with taking this work forward will be chaired by the National President and includes a mixture of voices from a wide range of bodies across the NUS group.

A few people will change but right now the group is:

NUS UK President

Megan Dunn

VP Union Development

Richard Brooks

Charity Board

Jim Gardner

Charity Board

Mostafa Rajaai

Services Board

Emily Beever

Services Board

Jackie Berry

UK Board

Shakira Martin

UK Board

Alistair Wilson

Nations President

Fergal McFerran

Democratic Procedures Committee

Hanif Leylabi

Elections Committee

Jules Mason

SU staff

Aidan Grills (Leeds University Union)

SU staff

Ceri Davies (Nottingham Trent Students' Union)

SU officers

Joel Smith (University of Manchester Students' Union)

SU officers

Evette Prout (Sheffield Students' Union)

Liberation officers

Malia Bouattia

Liberation officers

Robbiie Young

National Executive Council

Izzy Lenga (Birmingham Guild of Students)

National Executive Council

Munya Mudarikiri (University of Surrey Students' Union)

I look forward to seeing their work in the year ahead.

One Student One Vote 2016 review

Part of the remit of the task-and-finish group is to investigate and debate all options available to us to greater align our decision making with the principles above.

It has been suggested that ‘One Student One Vote’ is a way of giving students a more direct role in NUS democracy. This is where individual students have a vote in the election of the NUS UK full-time officers.

National Conference has voted on this for a number of years and has yet to be convinced.

Four years ago a special commission was established to look at this idea in detail. You can see a copy of their 2012 report online now. Lots was covered including the fairness for smaller students’ unions as well as whether the infrastructure was available to support it.

But I have said from the beginning I am keen to hear all options and to have the ‘One Student One Vote’ conversation as part of a wide-ranging consultation on the future of NUS democracy.

I will be asking the group to review these findings, and consider new arguments, as well as advances in technology so we can produce an updated version of this document.

A role for a OSOV champion

As well, to ensure an informed debate about the merits of ‘One Student One Vote’, I will be asking the most recent proposers of the motion, University of York Students’ Union, to talk to members of the task-and-finish group and to make the case for the idea.

If you have specific ideas like this about potential solutions to improve NUS democracy I would love to hear them and to do something similar. Please drop me an email: Richard.Brooks@nus.org.uk

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