This Week Hull Students Will Have Their Say On NUS Affiliation For The First Time In 10 Years
On 26th April 2016 it was announced that Hull University Union (HUU) would hold a referendum to determine whether it should disaffiliate from the National Union of Students (NUS).
This follows a nationwide debate and a series of NUS referendums at other universities that began when Malia Bouattia was elected as NUS president at the national conference last month.
So far University of Lincoln Students’ Union and Newcastle University Students’ Union have voted to disaffiliate, while Exeter students have voted to remain.
Here at Hull, a petition with 72 valid signatures was submitted to HUU calling them to “hold an immediate referendum on HUU’s affiliation with the National Union of Students”. According to the Memorandum & Articles of the Association, 50 signatures are required to call a referendum, therefore the petition was accepted.
So why was the referendum called for?
“That’s certainly not why our group was created,” said Dehenna Davison, leader of the Leave camp, when I asked if the campaign to disaffiliate was a direct result of Malia’s presidential election. “There have been minor murmurings on campus about disaffiliation for a while,” she said, though admits it may be the reason why a lot of people first got involved.
Matt Evans, leader of the campaign to stay and your VP Education at Hull, fought for the re-election of Megan Dunn as president at National Conference and is concerned that Malia’s victory has overshadowed the work of NUS.
“I was annoyed coming away from the conference that no one was talking about the brilliant policy that was passed that will help SUs support their students more than ever before” he said. “For the first time, conference discussed, debated and voted on all of the motions in the Union Development zone – this is where massive change is made for Students’ Unions like ours.”
Hull Says No, the campaign to leave NUS, say that the union is out of touch with students and no longer represents them.
Yik Yak is regularly mentioned as a result of a motion which recently passed called ‘Safe Social Elections’. It concluded that NUS will attempt to create an “open dialogue” with Facebook, Twitter and Yik Yak to prevent anonymous troll accounts from harassing students involved in SU elections. Many have interpreted this attack on anonymity, which is fundamental to Yik Yak, as a “ban” on the social media platform entirely. All four of Hull’s delegates voted in favour of this motion.
If HUU were to disaffiliate from NUS, Dehenna argues, “we would be fully free to determine our own policy without fear of interference from the NUS. Why should we ban Yik Yak just because the NUS said so? If our students want to use a popular social media platform, who are the NUS to tell us we can’t?”
Another major issue for Dehenna and the Leave camp is the amount HUU spends on NUS affiliation, which in the 2014/15 academic year was £51,145.
In the same year, HUU received £17,921 in return from NUS Extra card sales. “I recognise that this figure is very high” says Matt Evans, leader of the campaign to stay, before pointing out that HUU pays a similar fee to BUCS every year. Matt claims the SU has been looking into getting the affiliation fee reduced as a result of Hull’s drop in student numbers.
He then went on to speak about NUS Services, the commercial arm of the organisation that provides SUs with food, drink and other services at discounted prices: “we benefit through the NUS’s price comparison directly which saved us about £74,000 last year, compared to going and sourcing the same ethically sourced products ourselves.”
If Matt’s calculations are accurate, combined with NUS Extra card sales, this would mean HUU gained approximately £92,000 last year as a result of being affiliated with NUS, “…which all is funding our student services” he adds.
Hull Says No argue, however, that there are other discounted service providers for SUs that HUU can turn to if it were to disaffiliate from NUS, one that wouldn’t charge an affiliation fee.
A big concern for Matt is the lack of national representation that would follow if HUU were to disaffiliate – especially for student minorities.
“It is the typically under-represented groups on campus that would suffer first” he says. “Without the NUS, the under-represented and the hard to reach will just become harder to reach.”
This is something the HUU Disabled Student Campaign have been echoing on social media since the referendum was announced.
Both sides agree, however, that NUS affiliation should be discussed a lot more frequently than it has been.
“I was as shocked as anyone to hear that we had last discussed this 10 years ago,” says Matt, after the Leave campaign tweeted the following.
But the calls for disaffiliation have come at a crucial time of year for students – exam period. Something Matt thinks is a mistake: “I do not think we should call a referendum and have that discussion during exam time – brutally, students have better [and] bigger things to worry about now!”.
“When is there an optimum time?” asks Dehenna: “In an ideal world the referendum would have been held outside the exam or assessment period. However, with levels of interest in the NUS currently at a high, and such a high number of supporters for our campaign… it would have been unfair on students and on our supporters to wait until the next academic year when all the momentum and coverage would be gone.”
Ultimately, Hull Says No believe the NUS is no longer taken seriously by the government and is not representative of students; while Yes to NUS believe if you want to improve NUS then you need to stay and change it from within.
Voting will open on May 19 at 09:00am and will close on May 20 at 17:00pm.
In line with HUU’s Memorandum & Articles of the Association this referendum must reach a quoracy level of 5% of FTE members, therefore the referendum needs at least 688 votes. The vote will be calculated by a simple majority vote of all voting members.
How do you think you will vote in the referendum?
Should HUU disaffiliate from NUS?
- Yes, disaffiliate
- No, stay affiliated
- I don't know