The Norwich Radical was born in the student movement, and we continue to be an active part within it. We recognise that while official structures are not the sum total of the movement, they play an undeniably important part and to understand the political consciousness of the student movement, you need to, in part, look at the National Union of Students. As we move into election season for the new NUS President, Vice Presidents and National Executive Council, we contacted all candidates in those elections and offered them the space to write about their election campaigns, why they are standing and their vision for NUS.
By Rosie McKenna
I’m currently taking a sabbatical year out of my studies to be Vice President Academic Representation at Edge Hill Students’ Union. Next year I’ll be going back to the third and final year of my drama degree, as well as being EHSUs part time Women’s Officer. And, hopefully, I’ll also be representing you on the NUS National Executive Council.
Prior to this year, I didn’t really get involved with NUS or the student movement. I wasn’t party political, at least until Jeremy Corbyn was elected Labour Leader. And I thought that to be involved with NUS you had to either be a Labour Student or a Communist. I went to NUS National Conference 2015 as a first time delegate, and to be totally honest, I was terrified. People being openly hostile to each other, a staff walk out – frankly it was really loud and pretty inaccessible. After that experience, I figured the movement wasn’t for the newly politicised, who were just finding their feet. And it wasn’t for those of us with disabilities, because that conference was honestly the most inaccessible and isolating thing I have ever experienced.
Then I went to Lead and Change Higher Education, NUS’s training conference for education officers. On my first night there I ended up being accosted by a certain VP Union Development, Richard Brooks, outside of the Postgrad bar we’d been having a few drinks at. I’d had graduations to attend that morning and then been travelling all day, and to be honest just wanted to go to bed. But Richard and I got talking. And I told him that I didn’t really get the NUS thing, and I didn’t think it was for me. I’m not radical enough, I’m not loud enough, and I’m really a bit meh.
And Richard proceeded to give me this spiel about how absolutely the movement was for people like me, it was for everyone regardless of political affiliations, or lack thereof, and absolutely I should get involved.
In reality, I just agreed with him so I could go to bed.
But that conversation got me thinking, if the National Union of Students was to be truly that, a national union of 550 Students’ Unions, representing 7 million students, then yes, surely it must be for everyone.
It’s strange to come to university and know you
don’t have your home to go back to.
I decided to run for election in my Students’ Union because, simply, I saw some things that I thought I could change. My university was my home, and my campus my community. And I felt very strongly about that because, without getting into too much detail about it, I was made homeless during my final year of college. I was lucky, in that I wasn’t on the streets or anything, but my whole life had been uprooted. It’s strange to come to university and know you don’t have your home to go back to. So I got really invested in university life, in societies, in volunteering, in the Students’ Unions campaigns. I wanted to take that a step further, and become Vice President so I could work for the students of Edge Hill. I had no political agenda, and I certainly didn’t see myself getting involved in NUS or with national campaigns.
But, I did. After that conversation with Richard Brooks I had lots of other conversations, and discovered that yes, NUS gets things wrong. But it also gets lots of things right. This movement does some incredible things, and I’ve done some pretty great things through it. Like taking students to Westminster to meet with MPs on the #CutTheCosts day of action. We got Bill Esterson, MP for Sefton, to ask a question on NHS bursaries to David Cameron at PMQs through our lobbying on #CutTheCosts and #BursaryOrBust. We’ve done work on preventing PREVENT that was supported by the resources provided by NUS, unanimously passing policy at our Executive Committee to oppose PREVENT. And I wrote Edge Hill Students’ Unions response to the HE green paper, something I couldn’t have managed without the resources and consultations provided by NUS.
NUS gets a lot of stuff right, no question. So, where is it going wrong?
I’ve mentioned in my manifesto about the fractured nature of NUS, and the culture we have at the moment. There’s nothing wrong with factions, and I absolutely support people’s right to debate and organise with like-minded individuals. That becomes a problem when elected representatives can’t work together because they feel their Politics is too different. There becomes this ‘us’ and ‘them’ mentality. And it absolutely should not be this way.
I don’t care about your Politics, and I don’t care about your faction. I care about the students that are being marginalised, shut out, and oppressed.
I care that our Students’ Unions and their autonomy is under attack.
I care that Black and Islamic students are being targeted by the insidious PREVENT agenda, and that Islamophobia and Anti-Semitism is on the rise.
I care that there are students like me out there who have great ideas, but don’t think that NUS is for them.
To be a force for change, to make an impact for the students we’re supposed to represent, we must do it together. Ultimately, we’re all here for the same reason. We’re here because we care. And I know that sounds wet, but it’s important to remember that when you’re at National Conference, or a Student Council meeting in your Students’ Union, the enemy is not in the room.
We debate, we democratically decide, then we come together and we win.
This National Conference, we have the option to continue to isolate students from our movement, and continue becoming just a place for people to pursue their own political agendas. Or, this National Conference, we can fightback, and make this a movement a real force for change, worthy of the students we represent.