The University of York pays upwards of £36,000 each year for affiliation with the NUS. Just by going to the NUS website, it is immediately obvious what is most important in attracting their student members: large, colourful pictures of the new NUS Extra cards grab your attention.
Yet these cost the individual £10 and offer some pretty unimpressive discounts (a “stunning” 10% off Matalan anyone?) which are generally available anyway, if you can prove you’re a student. My York card has worked fine so far. Money from the NUS Extra cards goes in part to funding our student union, but surely this would be better done at a local level, providing greater accountability.
Given the number of people who manage to get out and vote for YUSU motions, it isn’t surprising that, even as members of the NUS, York students are not a particularly active bunch. Why pay for membership if nobody is particularly interested in the work being done in their name? This is not just a cynical sigh about student apathy. I would be interested to know if most students have any idea what the NUS spends its time and their money doing. And if they did, would they necessarily agree?
To give one example, the NUS LGBT officers have organised a campaign against bullying in HE and FE institutions, entitled ‘Bullying Sucks’. They provide materials to encourage awareness of the issue, including ‘Bullying Sucks’ sweets. This Blue Peter style campaigning is not something with which I particularly want to be affiliated.
The most high profile campaign that the NUS has recently been involved in was against top-up fees. This is a situation in which students came together nationally and protested with one voice. But that voice need not be mediated by the NUS, who simply can’t justify themselves as leaders of a single issue campaign that most students were passionate about anyway. Failure to prevent the introduction of top-up fees shows that the NUS lacks political leverage, particularly seeing as six of their former Presidents supported the introduction of fees in the parliamentary bill.
The NUS might be great as a springboard for launching a career in politics, but for the average student it simply isn’t working. Leaving the NUS – as several universities around the country have recently done – would not prevent involvement with national student issues, just those issues which are actually important to us.
There is a slight hitch in the plan. It might be that the money paid to the NUS for affiliation would not be made available for other purposes, this removing the financial incentive for leaving. If this is the case it’s a real shame. Jealous holders of budgets so often stand in the way of change for the better.
Looking through the very glossy NUS impact report for the last year, I just wasn’t convinced that they make a real difference to students at The University of York. It’s time we set our own agenda and leave the NUS to theirs.