The NUS has been in the news a lot lately. At their national conference/farce last month, they elected a controversial possible antisemite as President, heard arguments against commemorating the Holocaust, and shot down a ‘One Member, One Vote’ motion that may have made them even slightly accountable. Cathartically, the conference appears to have been the straw that broke the camel’s back—25 universities now have disaffiliation campaigns, Lincoln & Newcastle have voted to do so already, and a Tab survey of ~6,500 students found 75% in favour of disaffiliation. NUS VP Richard Brooks—he of ‘unironically quoting Animal Farm in defence of safe spaces’ fame—wrote that “the NUS has had better weeks […] but I know that a national organisation for students’ unions is worth saving”. Certainly not his though. Whatever the NUS may have been at its founding almost a century ago, it is now a byword for cliquishness, authoritarianism, and embarrassment.
£34,045—that is the whopping fee the NUS charged LUSU in 2015 for the dubious honour of affiliation. Despite the apathy (or, moreoften, antipathy) many students direct towards the NUS, they gallingly suck up almost 35k of union funds per annum. For reference, the second-costliest LUSU affiliation is the British Universities & Colleges Sport (BUCS) at £9,561. Just what are we getting for that kind of money?
According to a LUSU spokesperson, “the benefits to Lancaster University Students’ Union and its members are varied […] Despite the fee, we believe membership of the NUS represents a good deal for Lancaster students. If the union did not have the NUS it would still need to seek a number of these services independently[…]”.
Some of the ‘benefits’ the spokesperson listed, such as “campaign resources and materials and frameworks to support unions to develop best practice in the interest of their members” are questionable at best. The NUS’ latest brilliant campaigns have included, um, the ‘Lad Culture Strategy‘, which culminated in a ludicrously bloviatory ‘Lad Culture Summit’, and the ‘Liar Liar‘ campaign to shame politicians who U-turned on tuition fee raises (i.e. Lib Dems), despite the fact that the NUS U-turned away from supporting free tuition under the Presidency of Wes Streeting, before U-turning back in 2014.
Also, “access to NUS Extra deals for students [saves] the average student £54 a year”, apparently. Let’s face it: the only deal an NUS Extra card has ever been used for is Maccy’s. At £2.69/Big Mac, that presupposes a Big Mac almost every other day for a year (on top of the paid-for medium meal that has to be bought in conjunction).
The only points that may hold water are that NUS affiliation allows access to “expertise and legal advice in handling governance and structural issues” and “membership of a buying consortium resulting in favourable deals […] to the tune of approx. £130,000 per year”. These are hard to verify quantitatively, although the fact that unaffiliated SUs such as St. Andrews (free as of 1975) do just fine would suggest that the return on investment probably isn’t 282%.
What is gained by disaffiliation? LUSU would no longer be bound to the mad whims of the NUS student politicos. For all the shit it gets, I like to think LUSU has a core of good people inside it. Sure, the odd mad bastard gets in too to keep everyone on their toes, but by and large it’s good people who would probably love to promote some actual campaigns, with actual goals and realistic plans and all the other wonderful things that NUS campaigns lack. Some of the most toxic SU ideology weirdness, from infantalising Safe Spaces to banning gay reps, can be traced back to this barely-elected body of nutters.
How can you support disaffiliation? Under §22(2)(l)(ii) of the SU-governing Education Act 1994, “a requisition may be made by such proportion of members (not exceeding 5 per cent.) […] that the question of continued affiliation to any particular organisation be decided upon by a secret ballot in which all members are entitled to vote”. That is, a petition signed by at least 5% of the student body (600 or so students in LUSU’s 12,000-member case) in favour of disaffiliation will trigger a full referendum. Food for thought—the students have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world (of dignity) to win.