The National Union of Students (NUS) held their Annual Conference last week in Brighton. This brought together over 1000 students from different universities and colleges from across the UK, elected to represent the views of their students at a national level. In October, Bristol students elected five delegates to represent their views at the NUS Conference, to vote on policy, and to elect national representatives that will lead the NUS for the upcoming year. Alongside them, as part of my role as Union Affairs Officer, I went as the sixth, and lead, delegate.
Malia Bouattia was elected as the National President of the NUS. Many of you may have seen this covered in the media, and I’d encourage students to take into account the position that Malia has put forward when reading the headline coverage. Here is what she wrote about her election yesterday. Four out of six of Bristol’s delegation voted for Malia and two voted for Megan Dunn (the incumbent candidate for the NUS President). Malia stood on a platform of defending education, supporting liberation and empowering students to take action on their campuses. You can watch her speech here. Megan stood on a platform for defending education, fighting for NUS Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, and for a kinder politics within the NUS. (Her election speech was unavailable at the time of writing.)
Sorana Vieru was re-elected as the Vice-President Higher Education (VP HE). Sorana was the Postgraduate Education Officer at Bristol SU from 2014/15, and got elected as VP HE at last years conference. She will now continue this role until June 2017. You can watch her speech here.
The other candidates that were successful with their re-elections were Shelly Asquith (Vice-President Welfare), and Richard Brooks (Vice-President Union Development). Robbie Young (currently one of the NUS LGBT+ Officers) won his election to become the next Vice-President Society & Citizenship after a narrow victory.
There were a number of interesting policy discussions that took place across the three days. Bristol delegates voted based on manifesto promises when they were elected and in line with any existing SU policy that we had. Here are a few of the most prominent motions that were passed.
Keep Wednesday Afternoons Free - A campaign to keep Wednesday afternoons free for sport and other activities.
Rogue Landlords - To lobby nationally for greater regulations against dodgy landlords.
Don’t Fill in the NSS - A campaign to not fill in the National Student Survey to protest against government higher education reforms.
Liberate My Degree - To work to breakdown attainment gaps that exist between different types of students.
#GrantsNotDebt - To continue to lobby against the cuts to maintenance grants.
Tackling Anti-Semitism - To work with SUs and the NUS to tackle institutional anti-semitism in all of its forms.
Improving Mental Health Support - To support unions in campaigning for better mental health support, as well as taking this up nationally.
Preventing Prevent - To support local and national campaigns against the Prevent strand of the counter-terrorism strategy.
Full time trans officer - To introduce a new liberation campaign within the NUS for trans students.
You can find out how the whole delegation voted in the elections, and on all the policy debated here. (To be inserted shortly)
Some may criticise the NUS, but I believe it is important to remember the many positive changes that have come about from the NUS’s campaigning and supporting of Students’ Unions. To give just a few examples; the NUS’s lobbying is part of the reason why most students are exempt from paying Council Tax; only this year they played a massive part in pressuring MPs to debate the scrapping of maintenance grants in parliament rather than push it through behind closed doors. Most Students’ Unions spend their time trying to improve things and fighting for change locally in our institutions, and without the NUS there would be no one to stand up to the government on a national scale. That is invaluable, and frankly, I think that the NUS has a proud history of winning for students.
So for those of you that are not happy with who was elected, or which policies were passed, then I’d encourage you to get involved, and shape the movement from the inside. In a year where cuts to education are some of the worst we’ve ever seen, I think the NUS is more vital than ever before, and I hope you agree. It is our student movement and one we should all be proud of. So I suggest that together we continue to work towards a better national organisation to help us fight for students in the tough years ahead.
Union Affairs Officer