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What happened at Students’ Unions 2015?

Tuesday 07-07-2015 - 18:40

Students’ Unions 2015 kicked off on Tuesday 7 July with 800 delegates descending on Bolton’s Marcon Stadium for two days of discussions, workshops, networking, keynote speeches and more networking. Here’s a roundup of what happened over the two day gathering.


Jump to: day one coverage  |  day two coverage
 

Day one

 

Now in it’s fifth year, the annual gathering returned to the city of Bolton for the second year running and got underway with a warm welcome from local sabbatical officer Arthur Kaddu, President of the University of Bolton Students’ Union.

Arthur placed importance on officers and staff working together as a team, citing the benefits his students’ union has reaped from doing so over the past year, noting: ‘twelve months on, we’re an organisation with an energised staff team, a strategic plan and we’re working to impact students at Bolton’.

Arthur then handed over to Richard Brooks, NUS Vice President (Union Development), who touched on how the aspirations of the students dovetailed with those of wider society, adding: ‘We often have conversations about the student movement and its role. The reality is the things we want for our members are the things we want for society. We want everyone to have the same equality of opportunity, we don’t want people’s backgrounds to be a barrier to education. We want our society and our economy to grow and prosper.

‘My priority this year will be building bridges between students’ unions, but also between local communities as well.’

The attendees next heard from Ruth Hunt, CEO of leading UK-based LGBT rights group Stonewall, and Dorothea Hodge, founding director of political consultancy company Aequitas Consulting, for the ‘Students Driving Change’ plenary.

The two speakers, former sabbatical officers at Oxford Students’ Union and Cardiff Students’ Union respectively, reflected on experiences gained from their time in the movement. Ruth said: ‘I can absolutely guarantee that I would not be chief executive of Stonewall at 35 had I not been president of my students’ union, and it is absolutely integral to my way of seeing the work I do’ before adding: ‘the skills you will need to run good students’ unions you will have in bucket loads from NUS but use this time to find your own voice.’

Meanwhile, Dorothea said: ‘I really hope that in ten or twenty years’ time when I’ve got my walking stick that I’ll be seeing some of your faces in the Houses of Parliament and globally, trying to make a difference.’

     

Delegates then broke away for a variety of workshops and networking sessions before reconvening for a keynote speech delivered by Ben Page, Chief Executive Ipsos MORI – the market and political research organisation responsible for exit poll of May’s General Election that accurately predicted the electoral outcome. Ben shared his wisdom of public and student opinion built up from years of data gathering, which echoed Richard Brooks’ earlier sentiments of fostering ties with local communities.

The two-day event, which allows the attendees to explore the big strategic challenges facing the student movement, will continue tomorrow (Wednesday 8 July) before culminating with the annual NUS Awards the same evening.

We caught up with Ben, Ruth and Dorothea shortly after their sessions and you can watch each of the videos in full on NUS Connect here.
 

Day Two

Officers and staff from all across the student movement reconvened for day two of Students’ Unions 2015 on Wednesday 8 July.

The programme began with an energetic greeting from Vonnie Sandlan, NUS Scotland President, who introduced Megan Dunn, NUS National President, to the stage. During her address to delegates, Megan spoke at great length about the issues facing the movement over the coming twelve months and her determination to ‘make our movement strong by ensuring that students’ unions are at the heart of what we do’.

Megan later listed NUS’ historic wins through the ages through the lens of being a forward-thinking and daring organisation: ‘We must still be a national union ahead of the times – just as ambitious as ever’.

As on day one, delegates next broke away for a series of workshops covering everything from divestment and investment through to a session on campaigning and influencing delivered by NUS’ Chief Executive, Simon Blake.

On the latter, delegates had a second chance to meet Simon Blake for the afternoon’s plenary discussion, which was his first formal address to the student movement since joining as CEO in May. He used the space to feed back on what he has learned from staff and officers across the country since taking office and also took questions from delegates.

For the closing stages of the session, Simon was joined by Megan Dunn, who reflected on the government’s summer budget announcement earlier in the day, in particular condemning the decision to abolish student maintenance grants.

The NUS President used the opportunity to launch NUS’ #CutTheCosts campaign, saying: ‘Today’s budget proves that this government cares more about ensuring their friends have lucrative tax breaks than they do about our education and our futures. This is exactly why today, at #SU15, I’m announcing that my priority campaign this year will be #CutTheCosts.‘

The two-day gathering - which allows attendees to explore big strategic challenges and best practice - came to a fitting close as delegates swapped their notepads and pens for their Sunday best for the annual NUS Awards ceremony the same evening.

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