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Most people will only know NUS as the people who sell student discount cards. I’m sure it will come as a great surprise to many to know that the NUS is in fact one of the biggest and most important student bodies in the country. It’s the NUS who supposedly campaign for students rights and the NUS who make sure that students get their say in the complicated political realm of government and councils.
Recently I spent three days reporting as the media representative from Lancaster at the NUS Conference. The conference is run every year and attended by over 1,500 student representatives from universities and colleges across the UK. It was originally intended to be a communal space for students who are passionate and believe in democracy and liberation to come together and vote on motions that really mattered to the student population of the country. What I saw at this conference was about as far away from any democratic world that I want to be a part of.
Personally, as a by-stander, I was quite frankly appalled by the behaviour of certain NUS members who were openly endorsing their friends as candidates and almost forcing their own political views down the throats of the delegates and visitors who attended. It is particularly upsetting for me, as someone who believes that everyone should be entitled to their own views and choices that nobody knows what is happening behind the private doors of the conference.
This wasn’t a democratic and representative conference where students discuss actions reasonably and in a “grown-up” manner; this was political warfare. Hours of days were taken up by procedural motions bought up because of petty personal quarrels which should have been used to debate real policy.
Many of the delegates who attended the conference (plenty from the top spheres of the NUS Committees!) seemed uninterested in what really mattered to the student population of the country and more bothered by their own private relationships and how much their positions would allow them to enhance their future careers.
The candidates who stood for the election in various positions took part in a measly five minute speech, this was the only actual face-to-face time most of the delegates would have with the candidates. The only questioning of the candidates was done the night before the speeches, was ticket only and undoubtedly these tickets had been sold months in advance to members of the NEC and supporters of the candidates themselves. Is this really democracy when the only thing that delegates had to go off was a five minute speech where the candidates made ludicrous promises, in the same manner as the politicians of Westminster? Well apparently, but it’s not a very good one.
During the motion speeches that were made prior to the elections themselves, I’m certain that I saw every single candidate step forward to make strategically waived speeches on motions that would make them appear in a good light to delegates when they came round to voting later on. This wasn’t about what was important to the people they were supposedly representing (and that’s us!) but about personal politics and creating successful careers for themselves and helping their friends along the way as well. Current members of the NUS were more interested in manipulating the conference into a playground for their preferred candidates.
From what I gathered, the NUS conference was not a communal debating area for important student issues but a breeding ground for future Milibands, Camerons and Cleggs (although they wouldn’t appreciate me saying that with their particularly profound hatred of the Lib Dems!). Honestly, I wish I could say I am angry about how personal political choice gets in the way of the things that matter to the student population but more than that I am truly disgusted and thoroughly disappointed.
I was expecting to go to the conference and come back slightly more inspired by the work the NUS do to help the student population. Instead, I left a lot wiser about the goings on of the NUS and it’s pitfalls.
Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t hoping for them to tell me that they were going to solve all of the problems of the student population overnight, but I was hoping that I would get to see people who really cared and wanted to make a difference. I saw nothing of the sort. Sadly, a great deal of the delegates had lost sight of why they were at the conference, and that was supposed to be in order to make all of the student population’s lives better.