Yes, it is a lot of money. We pay £36,000 for the privilege of NUS membership, a membership which, on the face of it, doesn’t mean much more than an expensive, fairly pointless ID card and a lot of dull press-releases on purple-headed letter-paper.
But those are not the real things that the NUS does for students. Think about what the letters NUS stand for. National Union of Students. This is not a country club membership, or a discount card company, this is a union, an organisation whereby a large number of people can be empowered by their unity. United we stand, and all that.
When the chips are down, the NUS will be fighting our corner, with amounts of legal and financial clout that YUSU could only dream of, and we pay not only that we should get that when we need it, but that other students at other universities can get it too.
They have long experience of fighting for student causes in the courts and in Parliament, and without them we in York would be a very lonely and fairly small group of students striking out on our own against a University which prioritises our needs and demands very low and always has one beady eye on the bottom line.
I will grant you, the NUS did not exactly emerge victorious in the Tuition Fees debate. But they did their best, and they fought the student cause with vigour and with admirable dedication. Even if they didn’t succeed in the end, they still whipped up one hell of a storm in the process, and catapulted the issue into the public arena.
The NUS is also an invaluable way to share experience and information. They train all our YUSU officers in how they might execute their positions, and while you might scoff at the necessity for such training, it has proved invaluable in extending York’s LGBT, Environment and Ethics and Racial Equality movements.
Such movements are able, through the NUS, to campaign on issues on a national scale rather than being limited to the local. Their legal team will also be invaluable if any student society, or YUSU itself, is ever sued. Couldn’t happen? Try last year at Exeter University, where the students’ union was sued by the Exeter Christian Union over a disagreement about the CU’s evangelical policy. When your student union stands to lose thousands, professional legal experience comes in handy.
It’s about being able to affect issues on a national as well as a local scale. A manufacturing union fights for the rights of its members as and when it is required, and that is exactly what the NUS does for students, and it does it well.
It is our link to government, our lifeline to the corridors of power that we have no real need of… until we do. Sure, we could go it alone for a while, perhaps for a long while. But, sooner or later, a time would come when we would need the NUS to back us up.
It’s best to think of them as you would an insurance policy. You don’t need it in the short term, and you feel like it’s a waste of money, but when something unexpected happens you’re glad of that safety-net.
Yes, it is a lot of money. But it’s worth it.