For union bodies across the country the benefits of NUS affiliation are somewhat more tangible. With access to discounted wholesale prices for beer and crisps, through National Union of Students Service Limited (NUSSL), meaning bigger profits to invest in student services. Additionally, affiliation to NUS means university students are represented on the national stage. A win-win situation?
Forty grand is the price we pay for the privilege, roughly £5 for every student on campus. Meanwhile down the A64 Leeds Student’s Union (over four times the size) pays roughly the same. Value for money-wise York is clearly getting ripped off.
It sounds great on paper, but it doesn’t quite add up, to quote Tom Connor "the NUS is a farce… nothing ever gets done". The NUS mission statement is "to constantly improve the lives and experiences of students in the UK" However for those who’ve been to NUS conference there’s a different picture – imagine sharing a small enclosed space with the Loony Left, the Socialist Workers Party, Matthew David Platts, the Tories, New Labour, Old Labour, In Labour and the Lib Dems. Glorified UGMS with more egos encapsulate all that is bad about the NUS. Nothing is ever achieved due to partisan affiliations, as political factions refuse to back each other’s proposals, even if they make sense. Given York’s relatively small size, I’m deeply sceptical of those who claim we’re better off seeking reform of NUS from within. This is rubbish –as a Union we’re worse off to the tune of £40,000.
With money so tight, YUSU with its limited commercial activities, (a Second Hand bookshop and a glammed up newsagents), isn’t exactly rolling in cash. In addition to York’s poor revenue generating activities, the SU incurs the same increases in costs each year, as every other business. Ever increasing numbers of campus societies demanding money squeezes the pot further. At a stroke the Union would gain an extra 40k in cash to spend more fruitfully on, more effective campaigns, better AU funding and maybe even providing sabbatical media editors.
It’s not even as if York would be doing something radical in withdrawing: Southampton, Glasgow, Edinburgh, UMIST and Imperial have disaffiliated, after concluding NUS doesn’t work for them. The consequences of disaffiliating, if we’re honest, would be minimal: we’d save oodles of cash, lose out on subsidised training for Union officers (which I’m sure we can organise elsewhere for significantly less than forty grand), and the opportunity to attend Conferences. Hmm, sounds tough. Even the highly prized student discounts wouldn’t be threatened, with the experiences of those Unions who have already disaffiliated indicating that companies are so desperate for students their Union card entitles them to all the same deals locally.
Until such times as we have a central bar and venue (never), when being a member of NUSSL makes financial sense, it seems clear to me that at the very least we should start to have a serious debate about disaffiliation. To put it crudely York can survive outside the NUS freeloading on the benefits of its work, whilst having the flexibility to spend money on things that the Union and York students really need.