VP Education presents NUS report

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After the recent National Union of Students (NUS) Conference, VP (Education) Joe O’Neill – colloquially known as #FTjOe – has presented a 12 page document which analyses policy passed as the Conference and proposes recommendations for best future practice to Union Council. O’Neill was one of three delegates that was sent to the Conference, alongside second year Lonsdale student Charlie Edwards and Pendle third year Anna Lee.

The document not only addresses policy, but highlights amendments that need to be made with Lancaster delegates and a discussion of Lancaster’s place in the NUS. O’Neill writes that delegates sent to the Conference have a unique opportunity to shape NUS policy, yet it is an opportunity that LUSU have not yet grasped and “which is arguably not even fully understood by the wider student body.” In the opening page of the document, O’Neill claims that “delegates do not properly understand their role or the various nuances of NUS procedures until they are at Conference” and goes on to state that we should not be sending under-prepared representatives to such important events.

Lizzie Houghton, a postgraduate student of Lancaster, recently submitted a full report of the Conference to SCAN – in the Week 2, Summer issue – however O’Neill’s report provides an interesting insight into policy passed at the Conference and, most importantly, discusses the implications of policy changes to Lancaster University Students’ Union.

The first topic on O’Neill’s report deals with the upcoming General Election, which will take place in 2015. It was overwhelmingly agreed that “young people are largely ignored and marginalised due to their low voter turnout and that this is something the NUS should deal with.” As such, policy was proposed and passed, which included: campaigns to fight against any and all cuts to education; a pledge to highlight and campaign against MPs who voted for higher fees, despite previously signing the NUS’ pledge against such a rise prior to 2010; to oppose the political party UKIP; oppose the privatisation of student loans and so on. However, an amendment calling on the NUS to call its own national demonstration fell.

O’Neill summarises that Lancaster’s delegates “voted to give leave to the NUS to fight an election strategy for students”, as no political party is representing the interests of students and young people. He acknowledges that opposing UKIP is “somewhat contentious” but explains that such a party holds values which Lancaster is not interested in promoting. Actions regarding this proposal are also recommended, including lobbying prospective parliamentary candidates to adopt policies in the best interests of LUSU members; to publicly engage with local candidates to ensure accountability; and also states that Lancaster’s student media should ensure fair debate and coverage of the electoral process – should they be interested in covering the General Election at all.

The next policy highlighted on O’Neill’s report is that of Higher Education, with the aim being to “encourage new thinking… and to explore how best to ensure HE qualifications were of maximum benefit to the graduate of 2014.” The standard buzzword of ‘employability’ is mentioned, with the need for a student-focused employability agenda. The main motion in this policy, and the motion which O’Neill focuses on, is that of Motion 215 – glamorously titled ‘A New Deal for Higher Education’ – which aimed to ensure that HE was sustainable and would continue to be publicly funding. Amendments made to this included reviewing student opportunities funding, to provide as much financial support as possible; reviewing how immigration policy affects international student and “maintain the student movement’s progressive attitudes towards people of all nationalities”; and the ratification of policy calling for free education. The free education point is one that seems to have been discussed in detail, as it was outlined that the government could afford it through “tougher regulation of tax evasion [and] bank bonus tax[es]” – an interesting proposal in theory but one that the NUS would probably struggle to enforce. O’Neill concludes in this section that all candidates in elections – parliamentary, local, European or otherwise – must be aware of LUSU’s stance.

A pressing issue for all students that was discussed is welfare, specifically that student homes must be adequate, fit for study and affordable. The NUS recently published a shocking report which showed that thousands of students were dissatisfied with their homes and exposed to poor standards of living – for example, landlords failing to address mould, leaks and general disrepair of their students’ homes. O’Neill states that “Lancaster students will be largely unaffected by the Home Fit For Study should they… rent with LUSU Living”, but does also recognise that many students do not use LUSU Living and choose to go with private landlords or letting agencies. As such, the Union cannot be complacent in this matter or pretend that students at Lancaster are perfectly happy with their accommodation. He suggests a thorough review of LUSU Living’s marketing and communications so that members can be made aware of the benefits of the service; and that the Advice Centre should promote itself in order to offer guidance in terms of student accommodation and other matters.

Perhaps the most controversial motion of the Conference, which failed last year, was Motion 701 and 702 which sought ‘Fair Representation on NUS Committees’ and ‘Fair Representation on NUS Conference delegations’. 701 resolved that there should be 50/50 gender balancing on NUS’ internal committees and structures in order to “reflect its membership more accurately”, with 702 proposing all delegates sent to the Conference must be gender balanced “to be more representative of the wider membership of the NUS.” The second motion was voted on by three of the four Lancaster delegates. Whilst 701 does not affect Lancaster, O’Neill believes 702 “raises a mixed bag of challenges which will need to be overcome to successfully implement, as well as a number of opportunities to better engage self-defining women.” The motion also mandates all unions to run ‘Women in Leadership’-esque campaigns and workshops.

In his closing comments, O’Neill makes several recommendations. That Lancaster delegates need to be given preparation and direction before attending Conference, and that the VP (Union Development) should put together “a programme of training and guidance for delegates no later than two weeks before the date of Conference.” Furthermore, whilst an official LUSU media delegate attended the NUS Conference, changes can be made to increase efficiently and transparency, including engaging the student media and sending two delegates from SCAN and the student radio station in order to publicise the event. Finally, O’Neill makes a general point about LUSU’s engagement with the NUS, and suggests that it would be a “positive move to request NUS Officers attend our Councils where necessary”, with the purpose of aiding discussions and increasing the reputation of LUSU as nationally significant and active members of the student movement.

The full document, and further information, can be found on the LUSU website.

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