Five things we learnt at Union Development Zone Conference

Thursday 29-10-2015 - 10:13

NUS’ Zone Conferences kicked off on Tuesday 27 October with students and staff from the movement arriving in Bradford for a week of debates, discussions and democratic elections which will steer and shape the policy of NUS’ five Zones over the coming year.

The annual gathering - the second largest democratic event in the UK after our own National Conference - is being hosted in the city of Bradford for first time, with the focus turning to our Union Development Zone Conference yesterday and today.

Zone Conferences are a crucial part of the policy formation process and are an important milestone on the road to National Conference. Each Zone is based around a ‘key theme’ allowing a space for students’ unions to really shape NUS’ responses to the challenges each zone faces.

Here are five things we learnt during Union Development Zone Conference…

1. Clubs and societies change the world

Through helping students help themselves, through helping students help others and through intervening in education, students’ unions influence students and the society around us. We discussed how the future of our movement depends on being able to articulate and evidence the difference we make in the world, and explored some of the priorities for students’ unions.

2. We are beginning to find our new direction for supporting students’ unions and Learner Voice in Further Education

We launched the initial findings from our FE-UD Summit, where Shakira and Richard brought together nearly two dozen stakeholders from across the student movement and the wider FE sector to discuss the future of FE and how NUS can support student representation. We drew out five broad areas to be considered priorities for NUS to develop further, as well as some more specific actions NUS can commit to in the short-term.

3. Marketisation and debt may be making students sick

A whistle-stop tour of the latest research in political science, psychology, economics and sociology suggested that students burdened with debt has increased cases of mental health, as well as affecting students’ attitudes towards education and each other. Solutions for students’ unions were suggested along the themes of challenging individualistic frames, encouraging intrinsic values and redefining success based on progress against our own objectives, rather than league tables imposed by others.

4. Unsympathetic student media is worth engaging with

Whilst students’ unions can come under attack from non-affiliated student media, we discussed today, following the publication of the NUS, NUJ and Endsleigh ‘Student Media Guide’ that there can be benefit to engaging constructively with them. However you want to see it – from diplomacy in negotiations to shoehorning in good news about your work – the ability to have conversations with media on all sides of the debate is a useful tool towards making real change for students and society.

5. There’s more to students’ unions in work-based learning than you might think

The National Society of Apprentices provocatively suggested in their session that we might need to rewrite the rule book on the way we do democracy and policy. It appears we may have much to learn by looking at models for student representation outside of our traditional structures.


Union Development Zone Conferences concludes today with the elections for its respective Zone Committees. This afternoon sees more delegates arrive for our final two zones; Welfare and Society and Citizenship.   

Not in Bradford for Zone Conference? Follow the action on social media using the hashtag #NUSzones15



Features, Shape Our Work, Union Development

Related Tags :

More NUS connect Articles

More Articles...