Beaver (analysis): The National Union of Students is a sinking ship. Let’s escape while we can

This article was first published in The Beaver.

The National Union of Students (NUS) is in dire financial straits. Letters and financial statements leaked in recent weeks have exposed an economic crisis. The NUS Group is running a catastrophic annual combined loss of around £5.4 million as of last year, and is sitting in at least £14 million worth of debt, with no viable plan for escape.

The LSE Students’ Union is affiliated with the NUS, which essentially means we pay them tens of thousands of pounds each year for the privilege of being able to buy services from them, such as the Totum discount card. And very occasionally, we get to vote on motions too. If we’re lucky.

There is no reason whatsoever for the LSESU to remain affiliated with the NUS and continue to shell out vast sums of money which could be spent on LSE projects and societies, especially when the NUS is irreversibly hurtling towards implosion. The NUS leadership has completely failed to address its financial difficulties, as it stands, it will be bankrupt by April next year.

Recently, the Union at the University of Plymouth became the latest to leave the NUS. Others who have opted to cut ties include Hull, Newcastle, Lincoln, Surrey, Cardiff Met, Dundee, Glasgow, Queen Margaret (Glasgow), Essex, Southampton, Aston, St. Andrew’s, Loughborough and Imperial College, all of whom have proven that it is entirely possible to survive, and indeed thrive, without the NUS. At least a dozen more are said to be planning on making their exit soon.

The negative effects of leaving the NUS will be negligible. Student discounts are available elsewhere often without an annual fee courtesy of organisations such as UNiDAYS, Student Beans and Save the Student. When weighed against the immense cost of membership, staying in the NUS makes no sense for the LSESU.

NUS disaffiliation has, in fact, been debated by the LSESU before and the outcome was damning. Back in 2014, the SU released a referendum motion in which it set out precisely how we lose much more than we gain from our membership. The excoriating report, which is still accessible online, highlights several fundamental flaws with the way the NUS works.

Though it claims to be a democracy, the NUS National Executive Committee has voting power over more than half of all motions submitted, while each constituent Union’s representatives have no say. As of 2014, our membership fee was nearly £35,000; that number is likely to be much higher today. Plymouth’s Union reported that this year they paid the NUS over £57,000.

When it comes to campaigning and national leadership, the NUS is consistently terrible. The SU motion puts it well:

The vast majority of the 7 million students represented by the NUS have minimal awareness of let alone affinity to the organisation and its work. The NUS makes little to no effort to engage with the students it represents and provide them with a simple way of shaping its policies and getting involved in its campaigns. The NUS therefore only truly works for the existing bureaucratic elite of its executive which has voting control of more than half of all motions.

The NUS seems incapable of doing anything other than lurching from one disaster to the next. It has provoked immeasurable and entirely unnecessary controversy and division by electing an overtly anti-Semitic president, implementing contentious no-platforming policies, advocating “full public ownership of the banking sector and the creation of a publicly owned banking service” (which has little to do with students, besides anything else) and calling activist Peter Tatchell racist, to name but a few.

For all these reasons, the LSE Students’ Union must immediately create a new referendum on disaffiliation from the NUS. The NUS is a sinking ship. Let’s not go down with it.

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