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Why the NUS elections need to change

14th April 2011

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Liam Burns is the new NUS President; he has not been a student since 2006 and was elected by 446 voters to represent 7 million students. This is the natural order of things in the NUS. A tiny number of delegates, elected by a tiny proportion of students, picked their candidates from the politburo of NUS hacks and Student Union lifers.

Liam BurnsTo illustrate this one delegate noted that 60% of delegates are Sabbatical officers, the other 40% Sabbatical elect. I do not know the figures, repeated queries to the NUS have been ignored, but students, not sabbs, should make policy for students as their interests are clearly different.

Due to this disconnect the NUS is not the voice of the ordinary student and the system is so entrenched that reform is near impossible. It is remarkable that in the modern age that we still need such a Byzantine system to elect our leaders and determine our policy. In the internet age where ideas can go around the world in seconds the NUS has no excuse for retaining the status quo.

Direct elections to NUS positions would force those running to be more in tune with the views of ordinary students rather than engaging in left vs far left parodies of Westminster politics. Most students don’t know or care if someone is a member of the SWP, EAN, NCACF or The Society for the Promotion of Acronyms.

Students want an NUS which represents their values and stands up for them, not one that is the last outpost of outdated left wing grandstanding. Direct elections would reward those with genuine campaigning skills and those who work for the benefit of all students rather than those who are best at smooth-talking delegates in smoke filled rooms.

Making the NUS conference vote for democracy is, I suspect, a little like asking turkeys to vote for Christmas. Motion 703 at this year’s conference fell as conference guards the power it has over students jealously. The case for direct democracy is not without its flaws, there are legitimate concerns over cost and logistics, however for the conference to veto the suggestion that a report into direct democracy be commissioned shows their true colours and demonstrates why students across the country feel disenfranchised with the NUS.

The NUS needs to realise that it is there to serve students and must reform. The model for this reform is simple; transparency, accountability and democracy. These would replace the current system where students are blocked out of NUSConnect  and not allowed to know what the NUS does in their name, unable to hold their delegates to account and disenfranchised by those very delegates.

Transparency, allowing students to easily find out what the NUS does and how it spends the money that students pay through their SUs, is vital to allow students to hold the NUS to account, which must involve NUS leaders answering questions put to them by any student not just the NUS anointed apparatchiks we currently have to “represent” us. These moves will be facilitated however by the centrepiece of these necessary reforms, democracy. When the NUS president knows that ordinary students decide who holds office, not factions and old friends, he will work for all students and not for those who attend conference – many of whom are no longer students at all.

It is students who pay for the NUS and no other major national organisation, political party or trade union engages in such shameful attempts to keep their members excluded and uninformed.

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