A NEW AGE FOR THE STUDENT MOVEMENT: NUS ELECTIONS 2017 – ALEEM BASHIR

The Norwich Radical was born in the student movement, and we continue to play an active role within it. We recognise that while official structures are not the sum total of the movement, they are undeniably important. After a momentous year for the National Union of Students, studying it is more important than ever for understanding the political consciousness of the student movement. 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.

Submissions are unedited, and are being published in the order we receive them. This candidate is standing for Vice President (Union Development).

My first position as a representative was in year 6 – I ran to be student representative for my year, and won! I couldn’t have been happier, back in those days all the school’s representatives would meet monthly with the head teacher, discuss our issues, have biscuits, and drink juice.  One of our greatest achievements was getting the school to sell flapjacks at break time!

After going to secondary school, changing schools for sixth form, then going to Leeds City College for a year to top up my A levels, I finally arrived at the University of Bradford – where my journey truly began. I joined a society, volunteered and supported events and activities before plucking up courage to run for Treasurer then Vice President of the Islamic Theology Society (ITS). ITS empowered me to think more broadly and widely, think outside the society and really push so that I could make a difference. This is what made me run for Union Affairs Officer in my final year.

I was the new kid on the block going up against the Chair of Council, who had been engrossed within the union. However, I ran a campaign that engaged students that don’t normally get involved in the union and they responded, came out to support me, and on the voting days I got the edge. I was elected Union Affairs Officer. While in that role I made sure that I engaged with those previously unengaged students. We were undergoing a governance review so our Non-Sabbatical Officers (some Unions call them Part time officers) were under scrutiny; some positions hadn’t been filled for a while and once they were, unfortunately officers didn’t get the support they deserved. However in my by-election, I reached out to those students and pushed some to stand for these roles, including Students with Dependents Officer, International Students Officer, and Mature Students Officer. I sent a motion to Council to see if we can have a Home-based Students Officer – they represented a large portion of students and weren’t getting their voice heard. All in all we had the best by-election on record, every position was filled and the International Students Officer received Executive of the Year award even though his term had been shorter than others. Since that by-election these roles have been consistently filled.

I ran an election promising to engage with students, to make our Students Union relevant to students on the ground and not the ‘Boys Club’. We had to reach out, capture the student voice and act accordingly. The first test to see if I was fulfilling these promises was the General Meeting. There had been controversy about who should have voting rights, with some members feeling that there should be increased voting for certain areas. The Motion was defeated in Council but the students wanted to bring it to a General Meeting. I had a big decision to make: allow the defeated motion to come to General Meeting to encourage students to discuss and debate or reject it and shun the student voice.

I decided that a motion that was about student engagement and representation of students should go out to the wider student body. Here were the results:

363 students turned up, and our discussion led to a complete review of the way our Council works. A Massive shout out to UBU Sports, Societies and Media Areas: without them this would not have happened. I was re-elected for second terms as a Sabbatical Officer, this time as Academic Affairs Officer and I continue to do what I had promised – engage with students on the ground.

This is exactly what NUS needs at the moment. We have so much in-fighting in our movement that we forget why we are really here, for the students. We have so much discrimination, bullying and drama that we are disenfranchising students. This has to change – we hear the same old lines every year, from the same old factions, and so NUS is becoming more and more irrelevant to the student body.

We keep hearing that NUS is more than just an Extra Card but let’s just take a look at the figures. 650 thousand students buy the card, making NUS a revenue of £9 Million. This puts £3 Million back into student unions. Can we name any other service that NUS offers which is more engaging than this? However let’s take a look at the 650 thousand in comparison to the 7 million students we represent – that’s less than 10%. One of our most engaging services is engaging less than 10% of our membership. This has to change! If elected I will create a 90% engagement strategy. We won’t engage 90% overnight – there are 10,000 steps to success. But if I can give the first, then together we can pave the way for a brighter future.

NUS must allow small FE and specialist colleges to become members of the NUS for FREE

We have also heard rumblings about a new membership contribution model. This is creating uncertainty amongst student unions. Some will see their affiliation fee rise, some will see it fall; some will be better off, while some will be worse. I plan to make a radical change to the model. If we are to engage with as many students as possible we need to make NUS accessible to them – NUS must allow small FE and specialist colleges to become members of the NUS for FREE. This will give a voice to the students that we have side-lined for too long.

This year also saw a spike in NUS affiliation referendums, at 23 unions. This shows that NUS is doing something wrong, and must get better at communicating with Student Unions. This will ultimately lead to us retaining our membership and keeping them satisfied with the work NUS does. I have been extremely frustrated with NUS but I do feel that change will only come if we stop sugar coating our problems and face them head on.

Finally I was so pleased when I saw the Strengthening NUS Democracy Motion proposed by the Democratic Procedures Committee – it’s not perfect – but it does strengthen the regions and this is exactly what is needed. Student Unions can’t always make National Events and the costs of this are exponential so bringing conference and meetings to regional level is great news. If elected I will encourage Unions to work more collaboratively, for larger unions to support smaller unions, and finally engage with smaller institutions to make sure that their voice is heard in NUS.

I delivered change in my Union to engage with students whose voices were being squashed, I want to do the same with NUS. I hope to change NUS to actually benefit more students on the ground. So if you share my vision, my goal, then Vote Aleem Bashir #1 at National Conference 2017.

 

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