Last week Cambridge voted with a majority mandate to remain affiliated with the NUS. The fact that the university’s liberation and access campaigns depend on support from the NUS was clearly influential amongst those polled; however, many will have voted to remain because they were unsure. This is not an unsympathetic position, particularly given its similarity to the EU referendum; the lack of certainty and information means that the only sensible vote is to stay.
However, with the Oxford referendum now open, it befalls us to outline the importance of remaining in the NUS, and why voting to stay was not a vote to ‘brush aside’ allegations of anti-semitism. It is also important to explain why Peterhouse and Queens’ attempts to disaffiliate from CUSU to ‘force change’ are misguided.
The OUSO Access and Admissions Officer argues that “the NUS has successfully led the charge against cuts to Disabled Students’ Allowance” whilst also holding the government to account on fee-hiking, together with lobbying to prevent further inflation to tuition fees for ‘top’ universities such as Oxbridge. Cambridge’s liberation campaigns and supporters of minority, LGBT+, disabled and other groups all recognise that the NUS provides invaluable support.
The problem with a one-issue campaign is that this inherently fails to recognise the evidence of the multifarious nature of referenda. It’s important to combat anti-semitism where it’s found, and CUSU’s open letter to NUS, together with campaigning for transparency within the organisation, are two paths towards this. To make a parallel with the EU referendum: remaining in the EU doesn’t make racist Marie Le Pen or fascist Norbert Hofer disappear, and leaving somewhat pushes these figures under the carpet. While a ‘leave’ vote in the NUS referendum would admirably have attempted to send a message on allegations of anti-semitism, voting to stay is not the weak option.
More recently, Peterhouse and Queens have pushed to disaffiliate from CUSU. While Queens’ JCR President supports the leave campaign, the pressure to disaffiliate at Peterhouse comes from a letter, signed by only 17 students. These students may feel themselves the last bastions of principle against a wave of indifference, but there are many problems with their cause. Even if they vote to leave, individual students would still be members of the NUS and CUSU, which just means that they don’t contribute anything to the student union whilst retaining any benefits they previously enjoyed. Furthermore, pressure is far more easily exerted intra-collegiately, meaning that the result of any referendum might be disputable.
That the NUS is vital in supporting liberation campaigns and lobbying the government on important issues is a given, so I’ll leave you with another consequential argument: student unionisation is vital in spreading information and organising support for remaining in the EU. Ed Miliband has issued a “call-to-arms” for students to vote in the referendum, and the NUS has crucially been swift to recognise the essentiality of the EU.