Four things we need to do to take control of NUS

Friday 17-07-2015 - 17:20

Before Students’ Unions 2015 in Bolton it’s fair to say I was nervous about taking on the role of NUS Vice President (Union Development).

I had started the job less than two weeks ago. I wasn’t sure I knew enough about the organisation. I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to remember all the names and faces. I wasn’t sure I could communicate my ideas for NUS properly.

But judging from all your feedback – the live tweets, the thoughtful emails, the hundreds of lively conversations I had at the event – I had underestimated the weight of support from students’ unions for a national union that works for us all.

I learned at SU2015 how many of us are hoping that NUS will focus on tackling the most important local issues nationally.

Those two days in the Wanderers’ Football Stadium gave me confidence in my vision for a powerful, fighting student movement that can change our students’ lives, our education system and our society for the better. A movement that judges success on our own terms. A movement that believes that we will always be more powerful when we work together, when we share what we have and when we tackle issues which are entirely relevant to the actual issues faced by actual students.

As President of Hull University Union for the last two years, it wasn’t always clear to me that the national agenda of NUS matched what we were working on locally. In fact, I was rarely sure what NUS was working on, or how I could influence what was happening. The mistake I made was to think that because I felt distant from the action, what I was thinking wasn’t worth shouting about or that my experience was unusual.

When the national agenda didn’t match my local priorities I stepped back, when I should have stepped up. It’s important to me that we don’t miss the opportunity this year.

Here are four things we can all do to step up and get the best out of NUS:

1. Keep track of what’s being done on behalf of students’ unions

National Executive Council (NEC) meets five times a year to receive reports on the work of full-time officers. NEC, around 40 elected representatives, also has the power to make interim decisions between meetings of National Conference.

Reserve time in the diary now to read the papers for each meeting, published under ‘Shape Our Work’ on NUS Connect in advance.

  • Meeting 1: 20 July 2015
  • Meeting 2: 10 September 2015
  • Meeting 3: 2 December 2015
  • Meeting 4: 25 February 2016
  • Meeting 5: 1 June 2016

2. Make a habit of talking to NUS elected officers

Elected officers need to know what’s happening in students’ unions as much as you need to know what we’re doing. By phone, email or in person, regular contact is the best use of your time if you’re short of time to volunteer

Not sure what to say?

  1. Tell us a piece of news from your union: what are you proud of in your SU?
  2. Help us understand what you’re working on, and how our national union can help
  3. Ask us about our voting record - what have we voted for and against, and why?
  4. Offer to help on a campaign or programme – the NUS priority campaign is #CutTheCosts this year but we will have many others


3. Take a proactive approach to NUS delegate elections

National Conference is the most important decision-making body for NUS. For an event which makes a real difference to the future of our national organisation, students’ unions too often say that more could have been done to prepare delegates for the event and to enable them to get the most out of National Conference.

Talk to your colleagues to make sure your elections are planned in now, so they go as smoothly as possible.

4. Take a leap of faith

One of the most effective ways to shape NUS is to stand for election in one of many voluntary roles across the organisation. It’s always a bit scary to put yourself in front of friends and colleagues - I get that - but officers and staff will work to make sure you’re supported as a candidate and, if successful, as a volunteer within NUS.

One of the next major sets of elections is for Zone Committees in October and November. These groups shape and scrutinise the work of the Vice Presidents in leading the areas of Further Education, Higher Education, Union Development, Society & Citizenship and Welfare. I encourage you to think about taking control of NUS by standing for one of these committees.

I had a great time in Bolton talking about how we can make a national union that works for students’ unions. The work to change NUS starts now, with officers around the country understanding the importance of taking control, as well as how to get started.



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