This week myself, and an elected delegation of students, attended the annual National Union of Students (NUS) National Conference (Monday & Tuesday) & Liberation Conference (Wednesday & Thursday) in Liverpool.
Myself and the delegates were extremely disappointed with the event. The mood at the National conference was poor. It was not an environment for collaboration, planning, strategy or democracy – this was highlighted when two delegates (not from RUSU) stood up and spoke about the undemocratic and frustrating nature of the conference. This received the most applause of the entire two-day conference. “Vibe checks” and poetry led the conference, with policy and tangible change falling far behind.
What was particularly disappointing was that:
· at no point in the conference was the issue of Anti-Semitism addressed – an issue which has been discussed widely amongst students in reference to the NUS;
· at no point was the Climate Crisis discussed;
· at no point was the failure to attend the Education Select Committee discussed. (One of the key reasons for the NUS’ existence is to represent all students at Governmental level to enact change).
Our RUSU delegates who attended the National Conference shared the following feedback: “Delegates from RUSU had no real opportunity to disagree with something, instead many had the impression that they could only agree.”
“Before attending the NUS National Conference, I had a strong feeling that NUS was a force for good and gave a voice to every student across the country. But my two days of conferencing completely changed that perspective. I now feel the NUS is wholly inadequate, a total waste of our money and a complete and utter failure. They have no intention of representing the voices of students and only acted to shut down the voices of delegates. There were no opportunities to hold the executives to account and a huge failure to address important issues such as the spiralling cost of living and the student poverty that will follow. After extensive networking, I know this feeling is shared by student unions across the country.”
One delegate would like to see, “more focus on developing solutions to problems, rather than just complaining about them.”
“There was very little support in terms of next steps and solution-based discussions that could help support delegates. Most of the sessions fed into student trauma and experiences and all they had to say was “Sorry”. Very tokenistic, where introductions and welcoming to a Decolonising workshop took at least 5 minutes to welcome everyone. In general, it seems like the only purpose of the NUS Liberation is to get a group of underrepresented individuals under one roof to discuss their trauma.”
“They were addressing us as tokens more than representatives, every talk seemed to be about personal trauma, they did not use trigger warnings on topics that they should have such as sexual assault. Overall, it was very mentally draining and we never discussed solutions, only tragedy.”
After this conference, myself and the delegates were left wondering, ‘what is the point?’ Why attend a conference if policy has already been made? What were we supposed to bring back from this conference to improve the experience of students at Reading?
I am calling for:
1. The NUS to seriously tackle Anti-Semitism within the organisation, once and for all;
2. NUS-UK leadership & senior management to apologise to delegates, who have been spoken down to and feel let down after the conferences;
3. NUS-UK leadership & senior management to produce a comprehensive strategic plan on how the NUS is going to move forward as a collaborative, democratic, and student-led organisation which focuses on issues affecting all students.
The reality we are facing is that if these concerns are ignored, disaffiliations will follow. Justifying the membership of such an organisation is increasingly difficult. I would welcome any feedback on any of the issues addressed within this letter, and your thoughts regarding our membership of the NUS as a Students’ Union. Please send any emails to firstname.lastname@example.org
Your RUSU President & the RUSU NUS Delegation teams