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National 'Boycott NUS' campaigns being held at freshers' week events

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Student activists have organised a ‘Boycott NUS’ campaign at leading universities across the country, arguing the organisation is “undemocratic” and fails to properly represent students.

Material calling on freshers to use alternatives to the NUS’s Totem discount card have been handed out by several societies at Freshers’ fairs on the University of West England (UWE) and the University of Exeter’s campuses.

At Exeter, the University Freedom Society, the University Liberal Democrat society and the Conservative Association society all provided leaflets created by the ‘Boycott NUS’ campaigns on their stalls.

Five more universities are set to get involved with the campaign over the coming weeks. 

Speaking to TNS, Jack Morewood, Exeter University Students’ Guild Councillor and a former NUS Conference Delegate said: “The fact is that students are sick and tired of the NUS: it’s out of touch, its irrelevant and it’s unaccountable, It has neglected our issues for too long and it won’t be easily forgiven. Without sweeping reform the NUS can have no future representing students.”

Anti-NUS groups have slowly been growing precedent since 2016, mainly in response to a series of different controversial issues and events which has seen some students arguing that the body is no longer properly representative of them.

Based on this student dissatisfaction, some SU’s have even held referendums on whether to end their affiliation with the NUS. Newcastle University Students' Union (NUSU) disaffiliated from the NUS in 2016 after holding a referendum. At the time Dominic Fearon, NUSU president, said Newcastle students felt the NUS “no longer represents their views, does not prioritise correctly, and is not effective at achieving change.”

What are some of the NUS' controversies?

At the NUS’s LGBT+ conference in 2016 the NUS controversially called on LGBT+ societies to drop the gay men’s representative position. Essentially claiming the role was no longer needed because white, gay men don’t face discrimination. “Misogyny, transphobia, racism and biphobia are often present in LGBT+ societies. This is unfortunately more likely to occur when the society is dominated by white cis gay men,” the NUS motion said.

Another issue, cited repeatedly by dissatisfied students, is the NUS’s treatment of the Jewish community. In April 2016, some delegates at the annual NUS conference argued against a motion which was calling for the NUS to organise events and commemorate Holocaust Memorial Day.

Later that same year, in a separate incident, The Tab exposed Edinburgh NUS delegate Daniel Yahia for calling a Jewish footballer a "subhuman rat". More recently, the NUS were called out in January of this year after they sent a survey asking for people’s religion but failed to list Judaism as an option.

What actually is the NUS?

The National Union of Students was established in 1922 and is a confederation of students unions in the UK.

On their website they describe themselves as “a voluntary membership organisation which makes a real difference to the lives of students and its member students' unions”. And says: “We will fight barriers to education, empower students to shape both a quality learning experience and the world around them, supporting influential, democratic and well-resourced students' unions.” While some students are dissatisfied with the NUS, it also has many supporters. In an article for Cherwell, supporting the pros of NUS affiliation, Oxford Student Union President Tom Rutland said NUS lobbying had helped save students money and improve their experiences. “If we didn’t work together, we’d be far worse off than we are right now,” he wrote.

Credit: photoSU

Students who support Boycott NUS

“I support Boycott NUS as for too long the NUS has forgotten about the everyday Student experience too focussed on the wider picture and not what matters to students on the ground. They are out of touch,” Mark Francos, former NUS Conference Delegate and Ulster University student says. Elena Bunbury agrees. “The NUS has become an echo chamber of dangerous extremist views. It fails to target campaigns it can actually have influence on, instead it chases bold political headlines,” she explains.

Boycott NUS campaigns will be taking place over the next few weeks at York, Kent, Falmouth, Bournemouth and Portsmouth universities. 

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