I've spent the last couple of weeks going up and down the country, going to students' unions and having debates about NUS. I've had some to think about and answer some really tough and legitimate questions.
Can NUS change and improve? I think it can. Does NUS properly represent 600 students' unions and through them, their students? We certainly give it a good go. Do we want to be seen as a credible, legitimate campaigning organisation? Yes, we very much do.
But one question that's really bugged me, is the most obvious and Monty Python-esque of all. What has NUS ever done for me?
NUS was formed in 1922, in the aftermath of the First World War - an idealistic vision of students across the world coming together to talk and debate and learn, rather than to wage wars. We've done many things, but what I want to outline is some things we take for granted - simply because we won them so long ago that it's just seen as the way it is and other things we've won way more recently that you may not have heard of.
1. Insurance Rights
In 1965 we founded Endsleigh Insurance so that students could access insurance products. It may seem odd now, but before that point students literally couldn't insure things. That's the way things we were and then we changed it.
2. The Vote
Shortly after, in 1967, NUS' evidence convinces the Latey Committee to recommend reducing age of majority from 21 to 18. In 1971 the law changed so we were considered adults from 18 and could for the first time for instance, vote. That's the way things were and then we changed it.
3. Discount Railcards
In 1974, we negotiated with British Rail to create the student railcard (now 16-25 railcard) which has discounted millions of pounds for young people and students over decades. It still befuddles me that I've had mine for three years now (it's on my desk right now) and I didn't know that.
4. No Council Tax
It's 1992 (the year I was born, by the by) and John Major's government is reforming council tax in a big way. We secured an exemption for students. Students don't pay council tax because of NUS.
5. Tenancy Deposit Schemes
Jumping ahead to the noughties, in 2007 NUS was behind the establishment of Tenancy Deposit Schemes in England, which protect student deposits in the private rented sector.
6. £5million For Sustainability Projects
In 2013 NUS secured £5million from HEFCE for sustainability projects in students' unions across England. Over 120,000 students were engaged and 5000 in-depth volunteers worked on sustainability, with nearly 200 student-led projects funded.
7. £6million In Savings
Since NUS teamed up with The Co-op in 2013 to offer 10 per cent off, students have saved a total of £6million while shopping. And this is just one of many, many discounts students can get with their NUS Extra cards.
8. No Academic Sanctions
NUS is the reason the Office for Fair Trading ruled in 2014 that universities can't use academic sanctions (such as not allowing people to graduate) to recover non-academic debt (like library fines).
9. Violence Against Women Taskforce
After extensive research and campaigning by NUS, Business Secretary Sajid Javid announced a taskforce to help reduce violence against women on university campuses in 2015.
10. Court Ruling In Favour Of International Students
Just this year, a court finding ruled 48,000 international students were wrongly deported by the Home Office using a flawed English language test. The results were based on expert legal opinion provided by NUS.
For all of those massive improvements in learner's lives, NUS has been the reason, or one of the main reasons why they've happened.
These wins barely mention our work across four nations, building bridges before anyone else in Northern Ireland, the work on widening access and care leavers in Scotland or protecting budgets in Wales. Nor most of our work on liberation, and always being the first or one of the first to be on the right side of history - whether it's electing black leaders or having pro LGBT+ rights policy or trans representation. We were there. But there are others who can and will talk about that in more detail.
Are we perfect? Nope. Can and we should we learn from last couple of weeks? Of course. But can we just lay to rest the question of whether or not NUS has positively impacted students' lives, because that is beyond doubt.Suggest a correction