Opinion: Why Lincoln SU should stay with the 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 Jessie Bartholomew, leader of the Yes to NUS campaign.

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Jessie Bartholomew thinks Lincoln SU should stay affliated with NUS.

To start with, I want to address how much individual students benefit from us being affiliated with NUS. We can get the NUS Extra cards which allow us to get discounts on a huge variety of things from clothes, to meals out and more. We will only be able to keep these if we stay affiliated. These raise £12,000 a year for the SU as well.

It would be false to claim that the NUS governs us; it doesn’t, it protects us! The protests that NUS run and aid are those which have saved us money on tuition fees, have helped junior doctor strikes, and far more than I have time to mention.

Affiliated with NUS we are far more influential than we are alone. Malia (the new NUS president) has testified at the UN; the current Women’s Officer has spoken to the MPs in the House of Commons multiple times. This is far more powerful than we can ever be without NUS.

Next, I want to address the point of the £44,000 that we’d “save” if we left the NUS. This is something that the Vote Out campaign have been pushing. Yet this year, the University of Lincoln gave the SU £864,950 and its commercial services last year brought in excess of £250,000. As both are growing hugely, these amounts are both set to rise in coming years. We have in excess of a million pounds AFTER paying NUS fees, the price of which is set by NUS to be affordable to the SU, which it clearly is. £44,000 pales into insignificance when the SU gets over £1million per year.

Some people have argued that the NUS doesn’t represent our students and I worry that this has to do with the spate of motions calling for the NUS and universities to be better places for people of colour.

I’m not here to speak for people of colour, I’m here to raise their voices. So I want to give you an idea of the message Susuana (the current NUS Women’s Officer) has put forward on Twitter recently regarding the spate of SUs calling for a referendum on NUS affiliation.

Susuana has this year helped me on multiple occasions and changed the movement beyond belief, for the better. She wrote the #StandByMe motion which passed at Lincoln, supporting student survivors of sexual violence.

She said: “Love or hate NUS, you’re going be embarrassed when you leave, and you are still calling us up throughout the year asking for guidance. It’s people in liberation campaigns who are going to feel it the most. They will no longer have access to networks and resources. Also when you weaken our legitimacy as a national union, you weaken our lobbying power on things like disabled students rights & survivor support.

“Where were you when black and Muslim members of our movement were receiving hate messages from racists and fascists all year? When #studentnotsuspects, a joint liberation and welfare campaign, was refused funding by NUS leadership, did you threaten to disaffiliate then? When it got so bad for black NUS officers and black NEC members that a review on racism was called, did you threaten to disaffiliate then? When Malia and her family were under threat from Islamophobes, racists and fascists because of lies in the media, where were you?’

It is important to ask why we are talking about disaffiliating now, when the NUS has improved massively in recent years, becoming less racist and opposing things that will make life more difficult for people of colour.

And it is true. If we leave, what are we going to do when we need help? I didn’t receive the help I needed [as current Women’s Officer] at SU training, I received it from NUS. What will we do when we’re no longer part of NUS?

I have seen someone claim that Malia is an ‘ISIS apologist’. This is outrageous. In a recent article she wrote for the Guardian, she clarified “that I refused to condemn Isis: two years ago I delayed a National Executive Council motion condemning Isis – but that was because of its wording, not because of its intent. Its language appeared to condemn all Muslims, not just the terror group. Once it was worded correctly I proposed and wholly supported the motion.”

During the war, they had the saying ‘make do and mend’. I am not suggesting that we make do if we’re unhappy with the NUS, I’m saying we mend. If you can fix what’s broken, why would you throw it away? We can fix the NUS, we can put forward motions that change things. We can put forward motions that represent our students.

How many motions did Lincoln SU put forward to NUS conference? If we didn’t put any forward, then how can we disassociate saying they don’t represent our students? If we haven’t taken anything to represent our students ourselves then we are not representing our students. Are we meant to just sit back and do nothing, hoping that by some miracle they’ll make motions that ‘represent’ us and then try to disassociate when we think they don’t?

We need to engage more in the NUS to make it work for us, although it does a lot which benefits students as it is that we may not give it credit for.

Those who say that they are focusing too much on further education (like colleges) now are being hugely unfair. NUS has more affiliated further education than higher education SUs and they are only now making it half and half FE/HE. Yes, they have more votes than us, but that’s fair representation when there are more of them. We need good further education colleges to get students to university. As Shakira [the current NUS Vice-President Further Education] said, ‘Without FE there would be no HE!’

Jammil Ahmed of the University of Lincoln has this to say: “By de-affiliating, liberation groups are likely to wither away. This means that any money Lincoln saves is likely to go towards students already strongly engaged, distancing those already marginalised further.

“The example of the hoodies given to those already engaged in a vivid example of this. This lack of diversity makes the SU less appealing to a wider audience. It makes the SU less democratic.”

We can fix the NUS, we can put forward motions that change things, we can put forward motions that represent and benefit our students. We can make change from the inside, we don’t need to leave.

This university needs the help of the NUS to help and represent our students.

Please vote to stay affiliated with the NUS, they help you and your fellow students more than you know. Without them, you will see an awful difference.