Nominations for official campaigns to leave or remain in the NUS finished this week, with the formal appointment of “No Thanks, NUS” to lead the no vote side and “Yes to NUS” to argue for remaining in the national union.
The appointment of campaigns marks the beginning of a two week long campaigning period, during which the two sides will try to influence the decisions of those turning out to vote between Tuesday and Thursday of sixth week. The campaigns deal with similar issues.
The “Yes to NUS” campaign, led by OUSU President Becky Howe, deals largely with the bargaining power of the NUS, especially considering the newly released government White Paper detailing possible tuition increases. The campaign also focuses on the power NUS can bring to issues such as combatting sexual violence on university campuses, fighting Prevent, the government’s anti-extremism policy, and increasing provisions for mental health.
The campaign to leave led by NUS Delegate Anne Cremin commented, “No Thanks, NUS want OUSU to disaffiliate from the NUS because we believe that it isn’t working for students. From the election of a President who has been condemned by every university Jewish Society in the country, to the repeated and overwhelming rejection of the principle of One Member One Vote, to the wasting of time and money on lobster dinners and international declarations, it’s clear that the NUS today is not representative, not reformable, and not delivering for students.”
Answering the Yes campaign’s claim that leaving would lose bargaining power for students, No Thanks, NUS commented, “Disaffiliation would not necessarily be permanent. Many people campaigning to disaffiliate very much hope that the result of many universities leaving would be to force to meaningful reform, meaning we could later reaffiliate.”
“It’s clear that the NUS today is not representative, not reformable, and not delivering for students.”
Further, “In terms of dealing with the government, we don’t think being part of the NUS really helps. Traditionally it’s been OUSU not the NUS that has led the way in responding to higher education reforms, and we’d far rather be represented directly by OUSU than by the NUS. We doubt the government will take seriously an organization like the NUS which repeatedly takes extreme stances and consistently wastes time on foreign policy declarations.”
Howe and the rest of her team respond with examples of the NUS changing government policy. “NUS have proved time and time again that they are capable of forcing government U-Turns, such as in 2014 when the government proposed massive cuts to Disabled Students Allowance.” Additionally, they say, leaving would weaken the bargaining power of students against tuition increases by fragmenting the fight.
Both sides admit the need for NUS to reform, but diverge on its ability to do so. “There have been reform attempts at reforms for years, and again and again the same concerns are raised, with no impact. Conference once again rejected the principle of One Member One Vote, along with a motion to make conference more accessible”, the no campaign commented.
“NUS are capable of forcing government U-Turns.”
The current push for disaffiliation follows a period of controversy for the NUS following the election of Malia Bouattia as its new president. Bouattia has attracted criticism for her alleged support of extremists and antisemitism. In particular, her assertion that the Jewish society at the University of Birmingham was a “Zionist outpost” was criticised in an open letter calling for Bouattia’s resignation signed by over 50 Jewish Societies from universities across the UK.
In the last few weeks, both Newcastle University Student Union and Lincoln University Student Union voted to leave the NUS, while Exeter University Student Union voted to stay. Cambridge is set to have a referendum, and a recent poll by their student newspaper, Varsity, showed the leave campaign with a slight advantage.
Within Oxford, the Jewish Society passed a motion “to formally support the campaign for OUSU to leave the NUS”, stating “We cannot reconcile our proud Jewish identity with membership of the NUS for as long as Malia Bouattia remains president”.