The past six months have been fairly turbulent for the NUS, with the epicentre of controversy being the 10th November protests in London. This one event showed more than ever the divide within the student movement; some felt the President, Aaron Porter, hadn’t gone far enough in supporting protests, whilst others claimed that Aaron had gone too far, and that he himself could be held accountable for the damage caused at Millbank.
This raises the question – is the NUS doing what the majority of students want it to do? With is current culture of little openness, scrutiny or accountability, the answer has to be no.
Six months ago I started to think about becoming one of my Student Union’s NUS Delegates, and put some time into researching what the NUS is and how it works. What I discovered was a void. Nowhere could I find easy to understand information on how NUS worked; it took me several hours to find a copy of the Governing Documents, but worst of all I couldn’t find the contact details of our elected officers anywhere.
How are students meant to communicate their opinions to the decision makers within the body that claims to represent them, when no contact details are made available? The list of failings goes on; be it not making information about how NUS elections work freely available, or not publishing minutes of the NUS National Executive Council (which incidentally NUS Rules say must be available to all).
This is why, two months ago, I launched the website TheyWorkForStudents.co.uk with the simple aim of unlocking the NUS by increasing openness, accountability and accessibility. It aims to explain how the NUS works, how to get involved, and publish key documents in an easy to find manner.
For too long, the National Union of Students has acted like the National Union of Student Unions. Yes, they do important work in supporting Student Unions and their officers across the country, but the NUS has forgotten how to reach out directly to students. To see this one only needs to attend a meeting of the National Executive Council, which provides the political leadership of the Union. It should be noted that any student at an affiliated Student Union may attend NEC meetings, though this information is not made widely available. Discussions at NEC revolve around working with Student Unions, which in itself is not a bad thing, but there is a lack of thought of how this extends to working with individual students. NUS Officers need to realise that they work for students, and their successes, and failures, will be measured on the outcomes for students.
In the next few days, delegates from across the country will be gathering in Gateshead for the annual NUS National Conference. Student representatives will have the chance to shape how the NUS works for the next year; not only by setting policy, but also by electing a new group of officers. I for one will be calling on the candidates to make a pledge towards a more open, accountable NUS. But NUS can only do so much. If we are to see real change, individual students need to stand up, hold their representatives to account, get involved, and most importantly vote in their student union elections.