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Abrexit

Why it’s time to leave the National Union of Students

by Derek Gardiner

Last week, Student Council passed a motion, which I proposed, to hold a referendum on membership of the National Union of Students (NUS) at some time next semester. This is long overdue; indeed, the AUSA by-laws state that we are supposed to have a referendum on membership of the NUS every four years. I have been a student at this university since September 2015 and in that time there has not been a referendum on the NUS. Nobody can remember when the last one was. But now that it’s finally happening, I will make the case for NUS exit. 


The National Union of Students was founded in 1922 by Ivison MacAdam, a first world war veteran who became a student of King’s College, London after the war. He set out his vision for the NUS, which he said would be “in no way a propagandist organisation, it is an association of students for the furtherance of student interests”. Its founding constitution set out that it was to be a non-religious and non-political student organisation. It continued for over 50 years as an organisation purely to advance the interests of students by campaigning for more student grants and better salaries for academics. The apolitical clause was removed in 1969 by former foreign secretary Jack Straw, who was then President of the NUS, who wanted the NUS to actively support protests against the US military in Vietnam. Since then it has descended into a “propagandist organisation”. Over time it began to adopt far-left politics, through various campaigns and introduced the No-Platform policy against groups it deemed “racist or fascist”. 


Today the organisation promotes radical environmentalism, censorship of views it doesn’t agree with and campaigns against the UK’s decision to withdraw from the EU in complete disregard of the views of many students. The straw that broke the camel’s back finally came in 2016 when it elected Malia Bouattia as its President, who had previously made remarks about “Zionist led media” and branded Birmingham University a “Zionist outpost” as well as expressing support for violent resistance against Israel. A mass movement for disaffiliation began with the Universities of Newcastle, Portsmouth, Hull and Loughborough student unions opting to disaffiliate. Cambridge University Students Union also held a referendum in which the NUS broke campaign rules by having their officer’s campaign on the campus. While a more moderate President was elected the following year, the NUS seems to have gone back to its bad old ways; last week it branded British Universities “a product of colonialism,'' when nothing could be further from the truth. 


The facts should speak for themselves. I do not want the University of Aberdeen to be affiliated with an organisation that has a problem with anti-semitism, that conducts campaigns with which many students disagree despite the fact that they still must have the NUS logo stamped on their student ID cards. 


Another reason to leave the NUS is the fact that AUSA contributes £36,000 a year to them. This money yields very little return for students; we might get some discounts at restaurants with our NUS cards, but we get nothing other than that. There is nothing the NUS can do for us that we cannot do for ourselves and at a much cheaper cost. The £36,000 we spend should be put into a pot for grants to student societies, who bring far more value both to the University and the student experience than the NUS ever could - and yet some of them are having to get by on as little as £80 a year, which is a disgrace. The NUS was on the verge of bankruptcy, and in November 2018 a letter was sent to NUS affiliated unions by then-President, Shakira Martin, who set out a plan to keep the organisation afloat through spending cuts and structural reform. In these circumstances we should be asking ourselves: is this really a good use of our money? Is it sensible to invest £36,000 a year in an organisation on the brink of bankruptcy? I believe the answer is no, and our money can be much better spent elsewhere. 


I will campaign hard in the forthcoming referendum to ensure that AUSA votes to leave the NUS, not only to save £36,000 a year but also to be independent of an organisation that is morally as well as literally bankrupt. It’s time for a new association of student unions, one that respects everyone’s views and beliefs but also campaigns for smaller tuition fees and better living standards for students, an organisation that represents what the NUS was when it was first established nearly a century ago.  

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