Image Credit: NUS
Union members could be denied a campus referendum on YUSU’s affiliation with the National Union of Students (NUS), if responses to a consultation do not demonstrate a demand for the vote, Nouse can reveal.
The decision comes despite expectations that a referendum on affiliation would definitely be taking place this term. Instead, YUSU has decided to launch a consultation in the form of a questionnaire. The questionnaire will ask students whether they want the vote to go ahead. This will be used to determine whether the referendum will take place this term as planned or be scrapped until an unspecified time during the next academic year.
In the 2 October edition of Nouse, it was reported that a referendum on NUS membership was due this year. In a statement by the YUSU’s Sabbatical Officers at the time, they acknowledged that referendums are “the most effective way to engage membership as widely as possible in decision making” and added that “a referendum will take place early in the summer term.” YUSU must “review” its affiliation with the NUS every three years, in accordance with official policy.
York students last had their say on NUS affiliation in June 2016, when a campus-wide referendum resulted in the renewal of YUSU’s membership of the national bloc for three more years, expiring in June 2019. In that referendum, 53 per cent of students voted to remain affiliated and 45 per cent voted to disaffiliate, with two per cent abstaining.
Every year YUSU pays tens of thousands of pounds to the NUS as a membership fee for affiliation. Opponents of the NUS argue that this money would be better spent elsewhere and accuse the NUS of being out of touch with the issues that ordinary students care about. Supporters of the NUS see it as a vital national voice for students and argue that it provides important support and training for its member students’ unions.
The uncertainty over a referendum at York comes during a historic year of crisis for the NUS. The organisation found itself in major financial difficulty, with Nouse reporting in November that it was running a £3 million deficit; this, too, at a time when the bloc has seen a successive series of students’ unions vote to disaffiliate. The crisis forced the NUS to consider major measures of reform to ensure that the near-century old organisation did not completely collapse.
Measures taken by the NUS to stabilise its financial position included putting its London office up for sale, applying for a loan, and dramatically reducing its staff numbers by making 54 redundancies and reducing the number of its elected officers from 20 to 12. These reforms were passed at the recent NUS national conference in Glasgow over the Easter break, but were opposed by some delegates.
The conference also saw the election of the NUS officer team. Zamzam Ibrahim, former President of University of Salford Students’ Union, was elected as the new NUS President. Ibrahim has called for students to engage in a national “strike” and said in her election speech that she hopes the NUS will be a “fighting, unwavering force that is primed to brave the challenges that lie ahead.”
The Sabbatical Officers claim that scrapping the referendum this term could give students the opportunity to make a more informed decision at a later date based on the reforms. A preliminary poll conducted by Nouse, however, suggests a majority of students want a referendum on the NUS this term, with 65 per cent of those polled saying they do want the vote, based on a sample of 191.
On the consultation, Union President, James Durcan, told Nouse: “At National Conference 2019, which was attended by five elected delegates from York’s student body, NUS passed major reforms to turnaround the organisation and reset its priorities. These reforms open up the opportunity for the NUS to survive the financial insecurity it has faced in recent times and to continue to act as the national voice for students.
“As a member-led charitable organisation, YUSU wants to give each and every one of our students a say on key issues. Reviewing our NUS membership is something we have to do, but instead of simply calling a referendum, we want to gather a deep understanding of what the NUS means to our student body. As we’ve seen in recent years, it’s important that big decisions are based on quality information and a strong understanding of why people feel a certain way.
“So, in our NUS questionnaire, we’re asking a number of questions including whether students want us to hold a referendum in Week eight or delay this until the next academic year, once there is a clearer picture of what the NUS looks like. If you’re interested in finding out more about the NUS, pop down to our AGM at 6pm on 8 May, to hear from the NUS CEO Peter Robinson."
The questionnaire can be completed here.