NUSeless | Sarah Stook
When the National Union of Students was founded all the way back in 1922, it had a simple aim. That aim was to bring different higher education institutions together, working together and furthering the rights of students.
That was all well and good until the 1960s, when it started to get political. When we mean political, we mean a breeding ground for left-wing ideals. Students may have been individually Tory or right wing, but the union itself became the foundation of what we know today.
Many readers will have some experience with NUS, whether through university days or family members. For most, it’s just a handy card that gets you 20% off Pizza Express or Missguided. A few may even bother to vote for their university’s own student union, but that really is just a few. You’d be hard pressed to find anyone who actually cares about those elections.
The NUS, however, has more power over students than many of them realise. Instead of discussing important issues such as mental health and housing, they like to talk about politics and banning things.
So what’s wrong with the NUS?
There are so many issues that affect students. Some include everyone at university; others may be restricted to small groups. The NUS doesn’t have a magic wand to solve these problems, so it’d be harsh of us to say that they could do everything. With thousands of students across hundreds of miles, it’s pretty wide ranging.
One that is sadly extremely common is the need for mental health help. With 1 in 4 people experiencing mental health in their lives, it’s not even just limited to universities. Universities themselves are stressful environments, in which students lose their support networks, are away from home and buried under academic pressure. With only one or two counsellors per universities, waiting lists can stretch to weeks. Every so often, you’ll see about another student tragically ending their own lives at a university. In one 18 month period, Bristol University saw 11 of its learners kill themselves.
Whilst tuition fees are often mentioned in the news, it’s living costs that need mentioning. It’s easy to say ‘get a job,’ but what if one can’t fit it around their studies? If someone goes to university in London, they get a higher living cost loan that someone without. London, however, isn’t the only expensive area. Looking at accommodation fees in Surrey and Exeter, for example, show that they’re paying just as much.
Housing in general is often a rip-off. University accommodation is far more expensive than private letting, which students usually go to after their first year. Whilst there are more guarantees in terms of security, the state of some university accommodation leaves a lot to be desired. It is difficult in some places to buy and build new housing, but there is still no encouragement.
What does NUS do?
Every year, NUS delegates flock to a conference, not unlike a party one, to discuss the ‘important’ things that they need to be done. Elections are held to find Presidents and their underlings, with these ones actually getting a successful turnout. Think plastic chairs in large halls as people who have been students for years scream about some political matter whilst everyone else is out getting smashed, and you have the right idea.
Now, you’d like to think hugely important issues like the ones discussed above are mentioned. In a perfect world, we’d see delegates taking proactive steps towards better mental health facilities (counsellors, not just Labradors in the library) and the cost of living. Sure, that actually happens. Sometimes. Here are just a few things that NUS have voted on:
- In 2016, the NUS conference in Sheffield came out with an interesting motion. According to them, the following is true:
‘Misogyny, transphobia, racism and biphobia are often present in LGBT+ societies. This is unfortunately more likely to occur when the society is dominated by white cis gay men.’
It was then followed by this little gem:
‘Gay men do not face oppression as gay men within the LGBT+ community and does not need a reserved place on society committees.’
Homophobia still exists. People are still attacked for being gay, men included. We’re a pretty tolerant society, but there are several countries across the world where being gay gets you executed, which I wouldn’t say is particularly privileged. The ‘G’ in the acronym stands for ‘gay,’ which means that they are fairly included in the LGBT world. It is quite frankly ridiculous that this was not only voted on, but agreed to.
- In 2016, a lady named Malia Bouattia was voted as President of NUS. Whilst it was historic in that she was the first Black Muslim to get the role, she wasn’t without controversy. She had previously called the University of Birmingham, home to a large and active Jewish society a ‘Zionist outpost.’ Before anyone comes in with the anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism aren’t the same thing, it’s clear what Bouattia meant. She also refused to support an amendment condemning Islamic State, worrying that it might be Islamophobic. I’m sure most Muslims don’t want to be associated with the evil terror group.
- They’re sure obsessed with banning things. A Mexican restaurant was banned from handing out sombreros at a Fresher’s Fair as it was apparently ‘cultural appropriation’ and ‘racist imagery.’ They spent a large chunk of their budget on getting statues of Rhodes to be taken down at Oxford. Another check on the ban list was ‘transphobic cross-dress.’ Apparently, rugby lads dressing as sexy nuns is transphobic. Tell it to the countries where it’s illegal to be openly Trans.
Politically, I firmly believe they have the right to say whatever they want, however left wing it is. They need to stop pretending, however, that they represent every student that is part of the organisation. Instead of using their money for real issues, they continue to politically grandstand. Student subscriptions were used to send people to Stop Brexit and Second Referendum rallies in London on buses.
Now, it’s understandable that they marched on tuition fees. However, it’s fair to say that most students don’t want their money spent on a bunch of mainly middle class students going to cry about Brexit. A lot of students probably didn’t even turn up to vote on referendum day, judging by the low voting rates among young people.
When students are killing themselves at universities and waiting weeks to seek help, then it’s pretty disgusting that NUS instead spend it on marches to get themselves in the press. Sombreros probably aren’t even on anyone’s list of important things to ban. When you’re a university student, you are aware that life isn’t perfect. Behind the drinking and discounts, you find friends who are struggling with addiction, mental health and sexual assault.
In life, most people who join a union do it by choice. Many universities are under NUS and whilst quite a few have chosen to split up from it, most are still there. NUS in fact represent 95% of further and higher education organisations. It’s basically a monopoly at this point.
It’s like the title says, the NUS is NUSeless.