For background on the NUS financial crisis and cuts to democracy, liberation and campaigns, see here.
The National Union of Students is about to be changed beyond recognition behind the backs of its membership. Elections for all officer positions are now suspended until after National Conference, completely overriding the constitution and democratic process.
NUS President Shakira Martin has given unelected student union CEOs and staff unchecked control over the NUS’s response to its £3 million financial deficit, a response which will curtail democracy and effectively end campaigning.
Finalised reforms will be presented to delegates at National Conference in April, but any conference vote against the reforms can constitutionally be overruled by the semi-elected Trustee Board. The NEC was scheduled only 15 minutes online to debate the financial situation and reforms on Wednesday 12 December (in-person meetings have been cancelled due to budget cuts). But CEOs were given two days to discuss the issue in a fancy Bristol hotel.
We cannot wait for their proposals, we have to respond now. NUS must open the books and give control over decision making to an extraordinary conference of delegates elected from their campuses.
A leaked official report from ‘NUS Strategic Conversation’, where SU CEOs, Presidents and NUS staff met on 27-28 November, gives a clearer idea of what the reforms will be. The report will form the basis of discussions held by the “Turnaround Board”, made up of NUS and student union staff plus a minority of selected NUS Officers. Ordinary students are completely cut out of the process.
It looks like the number of elected officers will be cut significantly, and their roles will be “reimagined” and “redesigned”. It looks like this will start with scrapping the liberation officers.
So far we know the proposals would remove power from conference and their alternative, lots of corporate buzzwords about “digital surveys”, are no substitute.
The report states that elections will happen online, and that NUS officers will serve a minimum term of two years. There is talk about creating a “pipelines of talent through SUs and student leaders on the ground”, injecting apolitical careerism into what should be a political role.
Previous years’ NUS accounts show that the financial problems are likely to have come from commercial mismanagement of the NUS Extra discount card, not overspending on campaigning, conferences or officer pay. There was a sharp rise in what appears in the 2017 accounts as “cost of sales”. We need to know what has happened with NUS Extra, and what is covered by that “cost of sales”. The leaked report itself states that the proposal to cut the number of elected officers is “not for financial reasons” but to “ensure the officer team could be more effective” at “running the organisation.” These reforms are driven by the current leadership’s vision for NUS as a slicker, think-tank style operation unobstructed by the student left.
The student left needs to respond by presenting a radically different vision for NUS, a National Union with real rank-and-file control which links up and spreads the student activism happening on campuses around the country, fights for students’ on a national scale alongside the labour movement, and builds campaigning student unions with full independence from management in every college, school and university.
The Student Left Network are calling for activists to:
- Pass the motion of no confidence in Shakira Martin in your SU.
- Hold a meeting on campus to discuss the cuts and how to fight them and build a radical, democratic and campaigning NUS would look like – invite someone from the Student Left Network to speak!
- Call for your SU officers to hold a meeting on campus to discuss the reforms and the SUs response.
- Run to be a delegate to NUS National Conference 2019. Talk to other delegates about the cuts.
- If you’re on NUS NEC – push for a vote of no confidence in the Trustee Board (This needs 2/3 majority to pass).
- Come and campaign at NUS National Conference for a vote of no confidence in the Trustee Board and for a vote against the democracy cuts.
- Support Student Left Network candidates – so far Justine Canady is running for NUS President to build a democratic, fighting NUS.
- Come to Student Left Network National Conference to plan the fightback with students from all over the country.