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NUS President-Elect Malia Bouattia Disaffiliation Threat Could Leave NUS Facing Financial Blackhole

It's not just members the NUS could lose.

22/04/2016 12:09 | Updated 22 April 2016

The National Union of Students could face a funding crisis if growing efforts to cut ties with the organisation are successful. 

The NUS could lose hundreds of thousands of pounds in membership fees and commercial revenues, if campaigns launched this week across the country persuade students to opt-out of their national union.

HuffPost UK
The NUS national conference in Brighton caused controversy this week

Mounting anger caused by the election of controversial new president, Malia Bouattia this week, and at a series of decisions taken by the union's national conference in Brighton, have prompted students of at least 10 universities to call for disaffiliation.

Students at Durham, Edinburgh, Westminster, Aberystwyth, Manchester, York, Exeter, London South Bank, Oxford and Cambridge are all reportedly plotting campaigns to disaffiliate.

NUS
President-elect Malia Bouattia has faced claims on 'anti-Semitism'

A mass drive by students to cut ties with the NUS would prompt a significant funding challenge.

A typical large university union pays around £50,000 a year to be a member of the NUS, and the national union profits from access to their students.

Its NUS Extra cards, which provide retail discounts for students, are only available at affiliated unions. 

NUS Extra drives around 28% of the NUS' income.

Affiliation fees account for 20% of its revenue, according to the latest NUS accounts.

Last year the union had an income of £19.9m.

JayKay57 via Getty Images
Students at Oxford are among 10 universities plotting campaigns to disaffiliate

This week's national conference in Brighton elected black students' officer Bouattia as president, unseating the current leader Megan Dunn.

The 28-year-old secured 50.9% of the vote with 372 ballots cast in her name, versus Dunn's 328.

Bouattia, the first black Muslim woman to lead the union in its 94 year history, has been embroiled in allegations of anti-Semitism after some of her previous statements came to light.

In 2011, she wrote that her alma mater the University of Birmingham was "something of a Zionist outpost".

A 2014 film showed her reference a "mainstream Zionist-led media". 

She also stoked controversy by voting against a motion which condemned the so-called Islamic State in a row over its wording.

Student unions routinely hold referendums to gauge whether their members want to remain a part of the national union.

Exeter is due to hold a referendum, scheduled well before this week's controversies, next month.

Thomas Collins, an economics and politics student at Exeter, told The Huffington Post UK: "The [Brighton] conference has energised the existing group of individuals who were disillusioned with the NUS.

"Malia’s election has bought more individuals to the leave campaign in the NUS, quite a few have switched from stay to leave since our referendum on the NUS in 2014, it will be close this time around."

BBC
Harry Samuels, of Oxford University, told Newsnight that the NUS can no longer be reformed

Appearing on BBC Newsnight on Thursday, a student delegate who attended this week's conference said the NUS was beyond reform.

Harry Samuels, from Oxford University, told the programme: "I think we just disagree with the direction the NUS is going in now.

"My delegation was elected as a reformist slate and we went to the conference over the past few days to see what it was like and put forward reformist motions.

"It is not just about Malia in particular. Obviously her election enshrines in fact that the NUS no longer represents all students.

"There are other grievances we have with the rest of the organisation.

"It’s a mixture of these which is why we’re campaigning to leave."

Malia's election enshrines in fact that the NUS no longer represents all students. Harry Samuels

Questioned as to whether the disaffiliation movement were ignoring democracy, Samuels said: "372 out of 7 million students represented by the NUS voted for Malia Bouattia.

"That’s not a democratic mandate.

"We want the elections for the people who represent the entire student body of this country to be opened up to all students in this country.

He added that a motion calling for a one member, one vote system was "overwhelmingly defeated".

"The organisation can no longer be reformed," he said.

Megan Dunn, the defeated NUS president, told delegates on Thursday: "To anybody here or back on campus that is whispering of disaffiliation from NUS because of this conference, know this: we are stronger when we work together."

NUS UK
Outgoing NUS president, Megan Dunn, said: 'We are stronger when we work together'

In a statement issued this week, Bouattia said: “I am incredibly proud to have been elected as NUS national president and am committed to putting liberation at the heart of the student movement.

“In my role as NUS Black Students’ Officer I have a long track record of opposing racism and discrimination in all its forms and actively campaigning against it.

“Jews have faced horrendous persecution over thousands of years and Jewish students on campuses and elsewhere continue to face anti-Semitism.”

The NUS has yet to respond to The Huffington Post UK's request for comment.

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