Posts Tagged ‘National Union of Students’
Student leaders in South Wales will urge activists, students and local residents to join a demonstration in exposing a fascist meeting held at Samlet Social Club this Thursday evening.
In an interview today, Zahid Raja, NUS Wales Black Students Officer and UAF Wales steering committee member, told us that ‘choosing Brian, a well-known proponent of fascism, to speak on faux-issues that underpin Islamaphobic propaganda suggests to me that this is a political attempt to inject divisive politics into the local community.’
Brian Gerrish, a known fascist sympathiser, will be speaking on “Are Our Children Safe? – An Investigation of Politics and Suicide Risks” at Samlet Social Club in Swansea Enterprise Park this Thursday at 7pm.
Zahid Raja went on to say, ‘Students should resist this attempt to mainstream racism and join us outside the Samlet Social Club at 6:30pm to show that local communities in Swansea reject this kind of baseless politics that fuels racism.’
Last year in March, the Student Activist Diary reported on the successful demonstration against Nick Griffin, who was invited to speak at The Globe pub in Swansea. Keeping in that spirit, we encourage you to register a polite complaint with the Samlet Social Club by writing to them here:
Samlet Social Club
Swansea Enterprise Park
or by ringing them on 01792 516239.
+++UPDATE: From the reactions to this post, our team would like to clarify some points. This demonstration was organised by UAF Wales and was supported by NUS Wales Black Students’ Campaign who made a decision to act on the information supplied by UAF Wales, most notably the nature of the subject matter for this event. The subject matter for this event was verified from Kevin Edwards blog (a former BNP member) – click here for the screen grab.+++
Usman Ali is the Vice President (Higher Education) of the National Union of Students (NUS) UK. Having previously being elected on the NUS National Executive Committee, Block of 15 in 2009, Usman is now serving his second term as VP HE. You can follow him on twitter here.
“The future belongs to those who see the possibilities before they become obvious” – John Sculley.
Our lives are built up of the choices, experiences and decisions we make. It is our learning experiences that define us as people and it’s those experiences – those opportunities – that should be open and accessible to all.
The education you receive outside the classroom is just as vital as what you receive in it. The informal learning from the friends you make from different cultures and different backgrounds; the people you meet and the impact that has on your life choices, experiences and decisions. Remove these opportunities and you take away a person’s chances.
For example, you might take away the chance for someone to join the debate society – and therefore, perhaps, to eventually become a respected politician, holding on to their values and where they have come from, whilst at the same time learning new things about the world.
The role of students’ unions in delivering on this is now more important than it has ever been before. To give back to the community – to raise the ambitions and aspirations of those around us – is a responsibility for us all. Your elected officers’ journey has been driven by their educational and social experiences. But many have not even reached the doors of university, or come close to getting any form of an education. And they are missing out on huge life-changing moments, moments that could define them as a person.
The government’s strategies, on paper, place considerable weight on the role of higher education institutions in getting working-class students into higher education. But whilst widening participation may be the avenue to upward social mobility it does not automatically create it. Simply put, the student movement now needs to deliver to the communities that have been hit the hardest by the changes in the higher education landscape.
We need to question our role as students’ unions in the context of the time we are in and the challenges we face. Aimhigher research shows us that what potential students remember the most is not the campus visit, or the buildings. It’s the interaction with real students. I honestly believe that we all have positive stories to tell, stories that might inspire people to go to university or a college. Our sports teams, our societies, our volunteers should all be out in the local community, displaying through our actions the value of higher education.
But it’s not just about our outreach work; it’s also about our in-reach work. One of the key reasons why extra-curricular activities are so important is that they develop and enhance people’s cultural capital. Someone’s lifestyle choices develop through experiences as I mentioned earlier. Getting involved in the students’ union and its activities is not background-neutral. In fact, as well as economic and social factors, a large part of why students get involved is their previous cultural experiences.
Studies show that students from working-class backgrounds choose a university based on the knowledge or cultural and social capital they have. I have always argued that if twenty percent of the students at a given institution are from “widening participation” backgrounds, but only two to three percent of those students are involved in the union, is that not more socially exclusive than the institution itself?
I would argue that, unfortunately, it is. When we discuss institutional bursaries, should we not also discuss our own bursary packages, to enable a student from a disadvantaged background to participate? Maybe a fee waiver would actually work in this instance.
These experiences will impact not only on students’ time at university, but into the work place and wider society.
For too long the debate on widening participation has been towards getting ‘them’ in, going to a certain type of uni, grades and so on. But this is only part of the story. Ensuring that the students who get in, regardless of social class, have the same opportunities is where we now have to deliver.
To finish, let me return to the quote with which I began. I genuinely, deeply believe that students’ unions can help people. People who have never engaged with us – as we have not engaged with them – can see the possibilities before they become obvious. That is where the unions’ future belongs.
The future belongs to those who see the possibilities before they become obvious.
|Notes from the Editor | Our Opinion:
This is an important piece regarding Widening Participation (WP). It outlines how important Student Unions are in shaping student interaction and the lives of WP students for the better. However, we also shouldn’t expect WP just to happen, magically, in all aspects of student life. We need to be at the forefront on the delivery of this agenda.
Usman quite rightly asks ‘if twenty percent of the students at a given institution are from “widening participation” backgrounds, but only two to three percent of those students are involved in the union, is that not more socially exclusive than the institution itself?’ Looking at the people who get involved with activities in your students’ union, how many are from Widening Participation backgrounds? Does the percentage of WP students involved in your SU match the percentage of WP students at your institution? – StudentActivistDiary.co.uk
After the motion to disaffiliate had been passed at a General Meeting, a statement was released, saying that ‘we could no longer remain within an institution whose democratic failings we feel increasingly threaten to undermine its positive work’. The statement raised several specific issues, including the way in which ‘one of Labour Students’ worst kept secrets is the prominent role of the outgoing Exec in choosing and encouraging a chosen group of candidates to run for positions, with little to no attention focused on encouraging others to enter the race’, as well as the ‘undemocratic culture’ of having a Constitution which is not available online or at the request of members.
OULC continued, ‘We remain committed to fighting for the values that brought us into Labour Students in Oxford and elsewhere, but these wouldn’t be in keeping with our continued presence in an organisation whose democratic deficit increasingly stifles efforts at meaningful reform and improvement.’
But just under twelve months later, it appears that little has improved. In a recent blog post by Jon Chambers, Chair of Hull University Labour Club, Labour Students is criticised again for its democratic failings. Chambers explains how – with one month to go – a venue is yet to be announced for the Conference at which the Chair, Secretary and Campaigns and Membership Officer – the three paid officers of the organisations – are elected. This, he says, means that ‘Labour Clubs will have to spend over the odds to get there – or worse, won’t go at all’. He goes on to criticise the lack of information that is available to members regarding the elections and poor communication from Labour Students. He also states that ‘uncontested elections every year are no coincidence.’
Those who have spoken out have themselves been attacked. The day after OULC made their decision to disaffiliate, Wes Streeting – a former NUS President – tweeted about his hopes that ‘no Labour MPs will now speak at the club’. Mr Chambers also came under fire, via Twitter, from the Treasurer of Swansea Labour Students, John Bayliss. Bayliss tweeted ‘@jonwillchambers For bringing Labour Students into disrepute through unsubstantiated accusations you should resign as chair! #ShameOnYo’.
Others, however, were more supportive of Chambers’ blog. In an exclusive interview, Kevin Feeney (Co-Chair elect of OULC), yesterday said that ‘Jon makes some good points which echo much of what caused OULC to disaffiliate initially. Clearly there are still issues with Labour Students, and the more widely these are recognised and accepted, the more likely it is that they can be properly addressed’. He went on to say that ‘there needs to be a recognition of past failings on both parts (from Labour Students and Labour Clubs), and then Labour Students should take real, concrete action to rectify the democratic deficit at their heart.’
After reading this, many may begin to ask themselves why. ‘Why should I care about this? I’m not even a member of the Labour Party.’ However, Labour Students’ strong links to the National Union of Students mean the democratic failings spelled out above should concern us all.
The Chair of Labour Students holds a lot of sway within the NUS. Indeed, the job description states that ‘the Chair…works most closely with the NUS Group, holding meetings ahead of NEC meetings and assisting with matters related to HE Funding and other student relevant issues.’
This influence – from a person appointed by questionable means – is serious enough, but the Chair of Labour Students also has a role in selecting those that run the NUS. A significant number of NUS officers are themselves members of the Labour Party, and many of these seek to be official Labour Students’ candidates. The Chair of Labour Students is highly influential in this, as they are part of the three-person team that recommends potential Labour Students’ candidates. As recommendation almost certainly leads to being an official candidate, and being a Labour Students’ candidate leads almost certainly to election, the Chair of Labour Students has a significant role in choosing many of our national student representatives.
So it should concern us all that democracy within Labour Students has been found wanting; more so that, after the publicised disaffiliation of OULC, little seems to have improved. With the influence of those in the highest offices of the organisation so fareaching within the student movement as a whole, we should all be encouraging those we know within Labour to make a stand. The democratic changes needed in Labour Students have been long overdue.
62% of Swansea’s student voters want to see NUS move to ‘One Student One Vote’ – Student Activist Diary can reveal.
Examining the results from the NUS UK Delegate elections we can see that three out of four candidates elected had One Student One Vote in their manifesto’s – a clear message to NUS that students in Swansea are not happy with the current set up and want to see change. This news comes as Zahid Raja a member of the NUS Wales National Executive Committee and Luke James who is Swansea University Students Union President are set to propose a motion to enshrine what the voters have said into Student Union policy.
At NUS UK National Conference in 2010, Michael Chessum who is on the NUS UK National Executive Council took to the stage telling us how ‘We have 7 million members but only 700 people who vote in the policy decision’ He described NUS conferences to be ‘dominated by factions that do not reflect the voices of the students on the ground.’
In March, University Central London Union passed a vote of no confidence in both the NUS and the standing National NUS President of the day. The frustration of their students was not dissimilar to the frustration of those here. UCLU’s Student Paper said: “The motion, passed by a two-thirds majority, was the result of a common feeling that the NUS had not supported student activism in the face of tuition fee rises and education cuts.” It was argued that “…their inability to respond to students’ needs was, in part, due to an indirect electoral system. The motion declared that ‘700 delegates cannot properly represent a national union of seven million’ and called for ‘One member, one vote – for a more democratic National Union’.” Harrowing words coming from one of the most active Unions in the country.
Zahid Raja a third year student at Swansea University and a member of the National Executive Committee for NUS Wales said, “I think Swansea Students have spoken clearly on this issue – it’s only entirely proper that we listen to them and make sure that our Students Union does it’s best to shift NUS towards One Student One Vote. That means lobbying other Student Unions about this idea, it means joining other Student Unions like Oxford University Students Union, University of Central London Union and other activists to beat the cliques and deliver what students deserve – real democracy.”
You can have a chance to join the debate and vote for the One Student One Vote motion this evening at 6pm at Café West. This publication strongly suggests that students come this evening and voice what they said through the ballots. Click here for the facebook event page.
In his recent ‘Fuel Poverty Review’, professor John Hills predicts that by the end of 2011, around 4.1 million homes in Britain will be considered to be living in ‘fuel poverty’. This situation, the review has noted, could directly contribute to the deaths of just under 3,000 people over the coming winter; a toll higher than the average seasonal number of fatalities in road-accidents.
Students across the UK are attempting to save money at the expense of their own health. Government statistics on fuel poverty indicate that students living in affordable yet energy-inefficient accommodation make up a large percentage of those recognised to be living in ‘fuel poverty’ by the ‘Living in Wales’ report, 2008. Swansea students in private accommodation are being let down by prepayment meters which charge a higher rate for energy than other types of meters, inefficient appliances, and poorly insulated housing. All of these things mean a situation in which keeping warm is an artificially expensive dream for students. There is no doubt that living in fuel poverty is devastating for both physical and mental health.
There are clear problems with expecting the solution to come from conventional energy-sources. Recent years have seen attempts by many energy companies to repackage old fossil-fuel solutions; i.e. E.ON’s support for ‘New Coal’. However, the appalling efficiency rating of just 45% for these new coal-powered units highlights the urgency with which we need a more sustainable solution.
To be able to bring about the changes needed to make greener energy solutions, such as the 100% renewable energy tariff provided by the company Ecotricity, more available to financially strained students, what is needed is a strong, eco-conscious current within the students movement. Past and on-going initiatives such Climate Camp, and NUS campaigns such ‘Student Switch Off’, and ‘Green Impact’ demonstrate to us an existing willingness to fight for such changes. It is now necessary, more than ever, for environmentally conscious students to show the rest of the student movement that the commitment to future generations as embodied in the anti-cuts movement should be linked to the commitment to protect the environment we share.
Until recently, my knowledge of student politics has been extremely limited. I’m neither heavily involved in my own students’ union nor with the NUS to any degree. When it comes to the NUS, while this is the body which represents us nationally, for some of us average students, it’s difficult to find out the kind of information which will lead to a greater interest in national student politics.
The average student is who Jack Matthews had in mind when he set up TheyWorkForStudents last year. This still growing venture is quickly gaining a reputation as a concise, accessible and importantly accurate website regarding the NUS. TheyWorkForStudents classes itself as “a simple project – to bring openness, accountability and accessibility to the National Union of Students of the United Kingdom (NUS)” In fact, it was through Jack’s website that Zahid Raja (NUS Block of 15 candidate) and I found out that any student has the right to request to sit in on any NEC NUS meeting as an Accredited Observer; a valuable experience for Zahid, as these may be the meetings that he himself will be attending. On March 1st, Zahid, Jack and I did exactly that, and we caught up with Jack afterwards to find out more about the motivations behind TheyWorkForStudents.
As someone who had developed a keen interest in the NUS, it was only natural when Jack decided to run for an NUS delegate at the start of summer. “Over the summer holidays, I started to research more about the NUS, and I realised that it was actually very hard to find out what went on in the NUS how things worked, what the procedures were… and so I wrote it into my manifesto that I would campaign to get the NUS to publish the contact details of the officers, because I thought it was wrong that we had these national representatives and yet there is no way for students to contact them.”
Jack specified in his manifesto that he would lobby the NUS to make this information available, and if they didn’t, then he would do it himself. “Having looked into it for so long, I knew where the information was but I knew that it had taken me hours and hours to find that information.” Putting his long hours of research into work, TheyWorkForStudents was founded, and has since become known as an excellent resource. Its founder made their main aims very clear; to create a resource which would be available to all students, whether they want to hold their representatives to account, or get involved with NUS directly. For Jack “the NUS is a bit of a closed shop at the moment, and it shouldn’t be. The procedures are there so that anybody can get involved, but they’re just not widely known by people.”
This lack of information is precisely why some feel the NUS is not representative of the national student body. “People can’t see how to get involved, how to scrutinise those that are in power, how to hold them accountable – all important things if we’re going to have a democratic representative union for the students across our country. If they can’t find out how to get involved, then it’s not really representative of them.. you can only really speculate about how people do get involved, and I think I wouldn’t go as far as saying that it’s a self-perpetuating group but at the same time the people who represent (NEC) are not representative of people in the wider student movement; that’s simply due to lack of information.”
Accessibility, communication and involvement are three clear aims which TheyWorkForStudents strive to achieve, and for Jack, the venture has so far been a success. “People are using it. People are talking about it.” This was something we saw at the NEC meeting, when several officers approached Jack to speak to him, showing that the site is clearly recognised among those in the higher echelons of the NUS. Despite its success, the future of the website is a concern for Jack. “At the moment, it is just me, but I would like to see other people who want the same things as I do, who want to see an open, an accountable and an accessible NUS get in touch with me. The fact is, I may not be a student in 6 months time… and I think this a project which needs to be led by students.”
However, could TheyWorkForStudents potentially play a greater role in scrutinising the NUS leadership? “I think it can, it does and it will do more in the future purely because we’re providing information that is current unavailable to students. I recognise that not everyone in the student movement likes reading constitutions and minutes of meetings, but the fact is they must be made available.”
Arguably, Zahid Raja’s presence at this month’s NEC meeting is evidence of how such information made public can increase the participation of students standing for NUS elections. It was particularly important for Zahid “that students thinking about going for Block actually get a flavour of what these meetings are about. Knowing the changes you want to make and knowing how to make them are two very different things. I really think that this opportunity should be highlighted, and I’m a little bit concerned that this hasn’t really been made clear on the NUS connect website, and the fact that it took TheyWorkForStudents to point this out clearly shows that we need to do more for transparency. If I’m elected, I really want to open up the NUS and it’s NEC, not just to sabbs or officers but to it’s membership – everyday students like you and me!”
Do you feel that the NUS needs to be more accessible, or would you be interested to get involved with TheyWorkForStudents?