NUS President Gemma Tumelty personally defended YUSU’s affiliation with the NUS at a panel debate at the University this evening.
Facing accusations of financial incompetence and an undemocratic structure, Tumelty said: “As a force fighting for students’ rights, the NUS is the only show in town.”
Alan Yonge, Honorary Vice-President of the York Tories and leader of the ‘No to NUS’ campaign said: “The NUS is a massive and expensive bureaucracy that does not represent the views of most students.”
Tumelty used the debate to denounce York Vision‘s recent front page article “NUS £1.1m loss scandal”, describing the reporting as “totally irresponsible”. Former Vision editor Adam Thorn, who wrote the article, called Tumelty’s accusations “absolute crap”.
Tumelty stressed that the NUS’ strength in numbers gave the organisation its ability to operate effectively at a national level, saying that it had extensive access to “the corridors of power.” She argued that the NUS provided student unions with a range of services that would be prohibitively expensive otherwise, saying, “If you can get training, legal support and educational advice elsewhere for £36,000 a year then go for it. If you pool things together, you get things cheaper. That’s collectivism. That’s what the NUS is.”
A key point in the debate was the question of whether YUSU would still be allocated the £36,000 that NUS membership requires from the block grant provided by the University. Former YUSU President Chris Jones said: “I have been to the budget meetings with Graham Gilbert [the University’s Director of Finance] and there is absolutely no way that [YUSU] would still be allocated the same grant if we were to disaffiliate from the NUS.” Yonge described this view as “overly pessimistic.”
The ‘No to NUS’ campaign invited two representatives from the University of Dundee, which recently disaffiliated from the NUS, to speak at the debate. Milan Bogunovic, President of the Dundee Students’ Association, criticised the NUS’ controversial Extra scheme, saying that students could get discounts without paying for the £10 card. He said: “Companies want your money. They’re going to give you discounts. Virgin Media and HMV offer their own student cards. In all due fairness, paying for something you get anyway is a bit ridiculous.”
Yonge said: “It is strangely coincidental that NUS Extra cards were launched at a time when the NUS found itself in financial difficulties,” and said that £36,000 per year was a waste of money in exchange for “minimal representation.”
Tumelty also faced criticism for her £22,000 salary and for the NUS’ expensive base in London. Tumelty defended the decision to remain in London, saying “that’s where the government is.”
Voting on the issue of NUS disaffiliation commences online tonight at midnight. You can vote at www.yusu.org/elections.