Student left slams democracy shutdown

Submitted by Maisie on 11 December, 2018 - 5:04 Author: Maisie Sanders
Student protests in 2015

Student Left Network member and Workers’ Liberty supporter Justine Canady launched her campaign for National Union of Students (NUS) President on Friday 7 December.

She is running as part of the Student Left Network’s campaign of no confidence in current NUS President Shakira Martin. More candidates on the Student Left Network slate will be announced soon.

Martin has given unelected student union CEOs and staff unchecked control over the NUS's response to its financial deficit, a response which will severely curtail democracy and campaigning.

Students are to have no control over decision-making; finalised reforms will be presented to delegates at NUS National Conference in April, the same month NUS is reported to be due for insolvency. A conference vote against the reforms can constitutionally be overruled by the semi-elected Trustee Board.

The National Executive Council is scheduled for only 15 minutes online to debate the financial situation and reforms on Wednesday 12 December, despite CEOs being given two days to discuss the issue. The Student Left Network is demanding NUS open the books and give control over decision making to an extraordinary conference of delegates elected from their campuses.

The no confidence motion has so far passed at UCL Students’ Union, and must now pass at 24 other SUs to trigger an extraordinary conference. The next student council meetings to debate the motion will be Sheffield, Trinity St. Davids University of Wales and Edinburgh.

Some universities may run referenda on the no confidence vote. Royal Holloway University of London Labour Club and Young Greens are hosting a meeting on 11 December to discuss the cuts..

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 will be presented to delegates at National Conference. 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.

It looks like the number of elected officers be cut significantly, and their roles will be completely “reimagined” and “redesigned”.

Power will be taken from conference and elected officers and placed in the hands of a new combination of “democracy, research and partnerships,” with whom not specified. “Digital surveys” of members will feed into determining the “values” of the “current generation of students”.

It isn’t clear if conference will be replaced with online elections for officers and “digital surveys” in place of motions debates, or if conference will continue to exist but with a different purpose and in a different form. Full-time officer elections are to be separated from votes on policy, and that NUS officers to serve a minimum term of two years.

A depoliticisation and professionalisation of the roles is likely, with the creation of “pipelines of talent through SUs and student leaders on the ground” to ensure officers elected understand “the desired culture and the role itself.” There is no mention of the future role of the elected National Executive Council, or of any other body which would hold the leadership to account.

Previous years’ NUS accounts show that the financial problems come from commercial mismanagement, not from overspending on democracy, officers’ pay or campaigning. 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, or any students for that matter.

The Student Left Network will use its presidential campaign to present a radically different vision for NUS, a National Union with real rank-and-file control which links up and spreads the student activism on campuses around the country and builds campaigning student unions with full independence from management in every college, school and university.

Follow Justine’s Presidential campaign here:

Join the Student Left Network, find the no confidence motion, plus open letter and articles:

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