As the NUS National Conference begins, delegates ultimately have a choice between the status quo and the rising left - a movement which will give the Union its power back.
I've been involved in student politics for thee years and I've seen some fascinating things, both politically and personally. Student politics is a dangerous world of egos and network building and all too often people prioritise careerist motivation over bettering the student experience and fulfilling mandates. When examining student politics it can be regrettably easy to overlook the National Union of Students (NUS) because of its weakening public image. The NUS is the supposed representative union of all students; instead it represents student unions and their preservation is its paramount concern.
In recent years, however, the NUS has been relegated to a back seat when important political discussions are happening. To me the Union is becoming increasingly defeatist at a time when students should be becoming increasingly politicised. At a time when student unions are being sidelined by the public universities they are supposed to hold to account, this is not at all a good thing.
What has become obvious is that since the recommended increase in tuition fees by the Browne review was adopted almost unanimously, the NUS has fallen silent on further educating funding and the fight back against cuts.
Luckily, however, like all good Unions the NUS has elections where candidates, often sabbatical officers from student unions across the country, can set the agenda and the platform for the NUS. They can even change its strategic direction. Now doesn't that all sound exciting? But wait - stop the press. Students cannot vote in the NUS elections; instead that power is bestowed upon voting NUS delegates from the different unions across the country. These delegates often include the student union's sabbatical officers and, if not, the sabbatical officers often stand so they can drive important issues to NUS conferences (or get free hotel treatment, perhaps).
The important thing to note about delegated democracy is that it is not without its flaws - delegates, especially those who are also elected officers, will surely vote to preserve the NUS incumbents whom they have sought guidance from for their year in office. Alas, perhaps that is the case, with frequent candidates rerunning for positions including the incumbent NUS president, Liam Burns, a trend of status quo versus the rising tide of "leftist" candidates seems to be on the cards.
What is apparent is that NUS candidates across the board now support a national demonstration against government cuts and the tuition fee hike; but what is even more apparent is that this policy change seems to be the reactionary decision of those candidates who have seen the popularity of the decidedly leftist frontrunners.
Candidates like Michael Cheesum, previous organiser of student protests in London, and Edd Bauer, the stalwart sabbatical officer from the University of Birmingham who became infamous after a heavily politicised arrest led to his suspension as an officer, are pioneering a strong leftist block that represents the embodiment of what the NUS should be and, historically, always was: a fighting union.
The history of the student movement in Britain is one all students should be proud of, students have genuinely changed the pace and content of government policy through decades of civil disobedience, petitioning and protest. We should never let those ideals die - and defeatist candidates who declare the battle against cuts and fees as being lost should not get elected to positions which decide the direction of our union.
For more information on the NUS National Conference you can click here and watch the event live streamed.
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