How do you think the NUS works?
I ask because I'm still none the wiser. As far as I'm aware, we send delegates from OUSU to the NUS who aren't actually obliged to vote in any way unless OUSU specifically binds them to. These delegates then go to NUS conference and vote on the membership of the National Executive Council. Since the prospective candidates for the NEC generally aren't widely known, this makes it impossible to attempt to mandate our delegates to vote in a particular way.
The NEC then makes policy throughout the year when Conference is not in session. Would you like to know what the NEC is claiming to do on our behalf? Well you can't, because the NEC has an interesting relationship with accountability. And by "interesting", I mean that they spectacularly failed to publish over half of their minutes last year.
There is also no movement towards the election of the NUS president by a one-member-one-vote system. Perhaps this isn't a problem. Perhaps I should be grateful that Toni Pearce can claim to speak for me along with two million other students, when only a tiny minority of them ever had the chance to vote for her.
Here we can see the NEC's commitment to transparency in action
Maybe I'm being unfair. Even if the NUS's standards of internal democracy leave an awful lot to be desired, at least we have someone to represent our views, right?
Well, you'd better have the right sort of beliefs if representation is what you want. NUS conference is notorious for being a battleground between various Left-wing factions. Whilst many of my radical friends have boasted about the hard Left doing well at Conference this year, apparently it isn't much of a problem that a tiny proportion of students have more influence than the much greater number who aren't revolutionary socialists.
Then again, it's not like they often concern themselves with student interests anyway. Take the example of the motion to renationalise the banks. As Charlotte Baker pointed out in the affiliation debate hustings, in the NUT conference the following week almost all the motions debated were about issues that directly affected teaching staff. This isn't an argument for removing the ability of the NUS to democratically decide motions. But it is an argument that, currently, far too many members of the NUS see it more as a platform for their own ideological battles.
Worst of all, when the NUS does take a stand on matters pertaining to student concerns, they vote against the interests of the people who it is meant to represent. At the last Conference, they passed a motion offering unconditional support for any and all future strike action by academic staff. To vote to support a particular action is one thing; to take the standpoint that supporting something that directly harms students' interests is what the NUS should be doing is another thing entirely.
As the NUS's structure is so fundamentally flawed, and the NUS establishment benefits from the current system whereby they can make sure that serial hacks always gain the cosiest positions, we are unlikely to see serious reform any time soon. Famously, in 2003 OUSU led the way with its white paper on how education funding should be reformed whilst the NUS was too busy bickering.
Let's go further. Let's leave the NUS, and lead fellow student organisations in designing a union that truly represents the interests of all students.