NUS conference causes conflict

News Editor 13 November 2008

The National Union of Students (NUS) has passed a controversial new constitution, following a vote at the NUS conference.

The proposed constitutional reforms had originally been passed at last year’s conference.

Plans were then shelved, however, following a lack of support for the changes at the NUS’ annual Blackpool conference.

The changes were originally drawn up in order to stop the NUS from losing money. The ideas were championed at the conference by the NUS President and former Cambridge student, Wes Streeting.

Delegates from Cambridge University attended the debate. Of the 14 Cambridge delegates, 7 voted in favour of constitutional change and 7 voted against it.

This week’s motion was passed easily, with 614 of the approximately 700 student representatives voting in favour of a new constitution, in contrast to just 142 who opposed the amendments.

The required number of representatives needed for the motion to be passed was 499.

Despite the motion’s obvious support, harsh criticism has been made, both of the policy and the way in which the conference was handled by the NUS.

CUSU Academic Affairs Officer, Ant Bagshaw, who attended the conference, told The Cambridge Student (TCS) that he viewed the conference itself as a disappointment:

“It’s an absolute faction-riven farce. There’s been very little debate, very few people changed their opinions – there are 700 student representatives and still NUS can’t come up with a way of engaging them in debate.

“As for the motion, there are a number of serious problems with the current constitution. That said, I voted for it and I’m glad it’s passed.”

Another Cambridge delegate, Ed Maltby, had stronger and more critical words to offer in opposition to the proposed NUS constitution:

“I’m against the constitution because it concentrates power in the union with a group of professionals. It’s antithetical to a students’ union, and antithetical to the fundamental idea of grassroots involvement. This will be borne out by a reading of the constitution itself.”

Maltby argues that, rather than introducing the constitutional reform at the annual conference – a larger and there more democratically representative conference – the Union have tried to “railroad” the changes through a small event that was poorly publicised:

“Very few delegates could turn up due to poor publicity and last minute organisation.

“This meant that smaller institutions, Further Education colleges and working class students were shut out of the debate, not becoming aware of the conference until it was too late to attend.”

Maltby also has concerns about the future of students’ democratic involvement in the progress of the constitution, which needs to be ratified again before the changes can come into effect: “The constitution needs to be ratified twice.

“It’s likely that the NUS leadership are going to try and railroad it through another extraordinary conference, rather than discussing it in an annual conference.

“The result of all of this will put a huge amount of power in unelected professional bureaucrats that will make the process of democracy more difficult for students.

“The current NUS leadership are to say that there were problems and that the union needed to be reformed.

“But all the current problems in the union have come about on their watch – and yet it’s they who think they have the answers in this new constitution.

“You don’t send an arsonist to put out a fire.”

An anonymous delegate, however, gave TCS a very different opinion of the matter:

“The conference has been built up to sound like a ground-breaking event – but really it’s about a relatively small number of people fighting to defend their over-sized egos.”

Katie Spenceley

News Editor