Don’t reform the NUS, ditch it and start again
Another year, another National Union of Students (NUS) conference. Students across the country are eagerly anticipating the conference, to be held in Brighton next week, and the announcement of more motions and policies that have nothing to do with their university experience. Except, of course, they aren’t. In truth, as the headlines are filled with the trivial and salacious happenings at the conference, most students will just roll their eyes and carry on with their degrees.
Over the past few years, the NUS conference, once an uneventful bureaucratic procedure, has made national headlines. And nothing has caught the media’s attention quite like the presidency of the NUS, the head of this circus. Last year’s winning candidate, Malia Bouattia, caused a storm with her comments on Zionism. Bouattia’s election – alongside the NUS’s rejection of a motion calling for the student body to vote for full-time officers – led students across the country to run campaigns to disaffiliate their students’ unions from the NUS.
But this year, a different kind of candidate is causing a stir. Tom Harwood is a 20-year-old student from Durham. Yes, you heard that right: he isn’t 30, or hoping to be a Labour MP one day. (Most of the existing NUS clique have been out of education for so long they connect with students about as well as a pigeon does with a bus.) He was thrust into the media spotlight when his campaign video for NUS delegate, ridiculing the organisation, went viral. He pledged to build a giant statue to honour Bouattia. After he was elected as a delegate, he decided to run for president.
That Harwood’s pisstakey campaign has made such waves is testament to how ridiculous and out-of-touch the NUS is. But while he may have succeeded in creating media buzz, it’s doubtful he’ll win. His popularity is also his biggest weakness. After all, it is NUS delegates who have the final say in who becomes president, not the press or the student body. And though he may have been elected delegate at Durham – a position which is directly elected – only a tiny percentage of students turn out to those votes.
It will take more than Harwood’s zany campaign to provide students with the representation they need. But the upside is that more and more students are taking notice of the damage the NUS is doing to students’ reputation, in its calls for censorship and ludicrous identity politics. The NUS is broken, not to mention barking mad. Instead of playing its game, we should ditch it altogether and form a new union that students deserve.
Ieuan Joy is a writer and student.