On 15 January, the Trustee Board of NUS, the National Union of Students, will meet to vote to approve the calling of a Company Law meeting. This will be made up of an appointed person from each student union (likely to be the President or CEO). Our source says delegates will be encouraged to “attend” remotely and vote via email to guarantee no disruption from students.
Company Law meetings are usually only used to ratify constitutional changes passed by National Conference. The “reforms” being pushed by NUS leaders on pretext of a financial crisis could be ratified and set in stone by such a meeting. NUS has already announced that elections for all officer positions are suspended until after National Conference, completely overriding the constitution and democratic process.
According to our source, the proposals are currently being worked on by NUS Acting Chief Executive Peter Robertson and unelected trustees such as Aiden Grills, CEO of Leeds University Students’ Union. The six full time Liberation Officers (Women’s, LGBT (x2), Trans, Black, Disabled) will be downgraded to part time, possibly unpaid roles. Part time Sections Officers (International Students’ Officer and Postgraduate Students’ Officer) will become unpaid volunteers, and these roles will be subsumed into the three new Vice President roles: Higher Education, Further Education and a new vague “Student Opportunities” post. These will replace the five current Vice President positions (Welfare, Society and Citizenship, Union Development, HE and FE).
The Nations will have funds for just four officers between them. Currently NUS Scotland and NUS Wales have four and three officers respectively. The Block of 15, the portion of the National Executive Council elected at National Conference, with guaranteed representation for women and Further Education students, will be abolished. Instead, the onus will be put on student union Presidents to form a new steering group to hold NUS officers to account termly. National Conference will be cut from two and a half days to just two days and one night. The delegate entitlement for Student Unions will be cut to potentially just one delegate per union. This is likely to be taken up by a President or other sabbatical officer.
Minimal elections will happen at National Conference. National Conference will be a room of sabbs talking to themselves. NUS will become even more of a careerist club, with no space at conference for serious political debate, dissident left wingers and students from underrepresented groups, or likely any students who aren’t sabbatical officers. It’s clear that these reforms go beyond making “necessary cutbacks’.
NUS claims a financial crisis, apparently caused by mismanagement of its commercial operations. The £3 million deficit is being used as cover for a complete shutdown of NUS rank and file democracy, drawn up by unelected and highly paid CEOs and forced through with no say from the membership. We demand NUS open the books to members before any discussion takes place about reform: cutbacks must first be made to waste and bureaucracy, including the corporate-style senior management structure.
The student left also needs to discuss urgently how we can transform our student unions from “service providers” into campaigning, democratic bodies that fight for students, unrestricted by charity law. It’s vital that the NUS National Executive votes no confidence in the Trustee Board before its meeting on 15 January can ratify a Company Law meeting to sign off on the coup. So far, no NEC members have come forward to say they will stand up for NUS democracy. We need to keep up the pressure!
•Campaign Facebook group
• Student Left Network Conference, 2¬3 March
• Justine Canady is standing for NUS president, and demanding the elections go ahead, in order to call for “open the books” and to oppose the democracy shutdown.