Opinion: We have “everything to gain” by leaving NUS

This week, the University of Lincoln Students’ Union is holding a referendum on whether to stay affiliated with or leave the National Union of Students. Both sides of the debate have written their arguments for The Linc. This is Will Fry, leader of the LincOUT campaign.


Will Fry explains why he thinks Lincoln SU is better without NUS.

“All animals are equal, but some are animals are more equal than others.”

A famous quote from a famous novel, George Orwell’s description of Soviet Russia gives a chilling view of revolution. Despite being founded on a noble ideology, eventually, it became no better than the regime that preceded it.

I am not comparing the leadership of NUS to Stalin, but an NUS Vice President recently said: “Everyone has an equal right to freedom of speech, however some people have more equal rights than others.”

I think we can all agree that equality must be seen as absolute. However, the NUS have chosen to view equality as relative, such as instructing LGBT societies to abolish gay men’s representatives because ‘they don’t face oppression’ and insisting the very presence of white gay men in these societies was to blame for misogyny, transphobia, racism and biphobia.

An organisation famed for liberation actually passed a motion ranking a group’s oppression less important than others and laying the blame for the oppression of others on that group as well. The work the NUS has done for liberation is commendable; however, it is not sufficient.

The NUS has proven with the passing of such motions that they are selective in who they help. They claim to fight discrimination, isolation and injustice – yet they themselves are discriminating and isolating gay white men as the cause of injustice.

Remember that this is an organisation, which despite fighting for the rights of black and ethnic minority group students, has had to commission a report into the institutional racism that they allow to happen in their own back yard.

The NUS stifles independent thought through no-platforming and censorship, suggesting to the wider public that we are not mature enough to be exposed to opinions that may cause offence. The most concerning part isn’t the censorious nature, but the fact that they do not trust the students they represent to make their own judgement.

Leaving opens our liberation groups up to challenge those who oppress them, giving our students the freedom to fight discrimination to its face. Disaffiliation is not just about reinvesting the money that our SU currently spends on NUS, but reinvigorating our students’ sense of identity and right to equality.

The outgoing NUS disabled students officer recently blogged that the NUS has “torn apart her mental health” and left her wanting to die, causing her to feel “silenced, helpless, and hopeless”.

The new president is irrelevant. The issues are rooted in the election itself – only 0.005% of students actually voted her in.

The undemocratic nature of NUS elections has led to hijacking from the far left. Conferences no longer focus on students. I could count on one hand the amount of times a relevant issue to Lincoln was debated.

It seems forgotten that in a democracy people are entitled to hold different political views. Needless references to the government, or Corbyn, firing the revolutionary ideologies of voters were ever-present.

The NUS fuels the inner activist, voting for occupation and protest as a first resort. Don’t forget the protests about tuition fees, where did they get us? The government didn’t back down, it just created an opportunity to tarnish all students in a certain way. How many of us actually engage in these protests?

They are losing student attendance at their rallies and credibility in Westminster. They assume that aligning with trade unions will alleviate this. They are wrong. This government is mandated to break unions apart. Why would we want give the government reason to attack students and their unions?

They take on issues outside of their remit, not sanctioned by students, that don’t represent the beliefs of all their members. They should be providing a neutral forum for debate and discussion.

It is drummed in from the minute you arrive that conference is accessible to all – if you conform. The use of ‘Tory’ in a derogatory manor gave great satisfaction to the majority. An elected member of the NEC even tweeted, whilst a first time delegate was speaking, “Y is everyone clapping a tory tho”. If this isn’t discrimination then I don’t know what is, but it is overlooked because it conforms to the dominant ideology. (And I’m not a Tory.)

As a first time delegate, the NUS makes sure they subject you to the hierarchy from minute one. A sticker on your pass lets other delegates know you are ‘new to the movement’ (despite the fact I have been a student for four years) and delegates were asked to state this before speaking, just so everyone on the floor was aware you didn’t really know what you were talking about and could quickly send a text, tweet, or snapchat having a giggle at your expense.

Did I speak while I was at the NUS Conference? No, I was too busy trying to read the endless agendas, trying to work out when we would be discussing anything that was actually related to issues that would benefit us, not many were found.

It seemed as though we missed the memo to vote against every motion relevant to all members like the NSS [National Student Survey]. The measure of student satisfaction, that helps undergraduates make educated decisions when choosing universities, the NSS is a great tool for all, but the NUS haven’t got their own way so have moved to boycott the communication between students and university improvement.

The NUS is removing our voice to satisfy their ego. The NUS has history! When conference voted in favour of keeping discounts available on free NUS cards when NUS Extra was introduced, the NUS treasurer ignored policy and made them exclusive to the paid-for cards.

The behaviour of election candidates is terrifying. Clear factions exist and incumbents walk around, actively promoting other candidates. Imagine if our student leaders promoted a candidate during our election week, imagine the uproar from those democracy campaigners amongst us!

The National Union of Students should be exactly that. For those who wish to protest on a larger scale, such as the refugee crisis, should be encouraged to join pressure groups or charities, and those who wish to develop their political identity can be pushed to join a society or party. The NUS, on the other hand, should debate issues that affect students as students.

How many of us actually feel any benefit? There is no effect on the daily lives of the majority of us. NUS extra cards bring roughly £12,000 a year back into our union, yet this still means a net outgoing of £32,000 to NUS each year, and this total will only rise.

As our block grant increases, and the temporary discount on our affiliation fee ends, we could see spending upwards of £50,000 a year on the NUS. This could be spent on us, on real issues that are relevant to our students, as students.

We are the first to hold a referendum, but we are not alone: there is widespread call for change. Many have all called or are calling referenda. With this many universities potentially leaving, do we want to take the risk of staying in and having to cover their share?

You will hear about strength in unity, but as I said, the NUS is divided. We do need unity, but it must be with those who are standing up against the NUS. We must show that we are not what we are portrayed as in the media, that we are a new generation of students who are mature enough and strong enough to stand up for democracy and free speech.

The NUS began with the right intentions, but now the wool has been pulled from the eyes of many. Who can see that, in reality, they have penned us up and put on a false show to the world of what being a student is about?

We won’t lose anything by leaving, unless you think that 20% off in Topshop is more important than free speech, democracy, true liberation and community engagement. We have everything to gain.

We need to step away from the stagnant political agenda and spend the money on us – on societies, sports teams, academic reps, liberation groups, OUR students’ welfare needs such as the advice centre or making our university and union more accessible. Focus should be given to things that are genuinely of importance to our students.

We won’t lose any national identity; there are many big university unions such as St Andrew’s and Southampton that haven’t been affiliated with the NUS for years. We will gain strength by showing our critics and oppressors that we are not afraid and we will stand up for our rights, for equality as an absolute.

Please vote NO in the referendum this week.