Last week, the NUS Conference 2013 took place. Impact caught up with SU Education Officer Matt Styles and delegates Shehroze Khan and Ryan Holmes to find out what happened.
A motion to reinstate EMA was debated but not passed. Blogging for Nottingham’s SU, Styles explained that the EMA system was not up to scratch and that, “NUS will be fighting for something better.”
The idea of holding a national demo this year was also dismissed. Styles himself voted against this motion, explaining that, “The demo held in 2012 was without purpose. If we are to hold a demo, it needs to have a clear aim or objective, a clear political hook, and a clear sense of unity throughout the movement.”
The NUS have agreed to campaign in the time leading up to the general election in 2015, with the aim to, “reverse teaching cuts, put an onus on employers and industry to invest, and to prevent the damage being done to widening participation as a result of higher tuition fees,” according to Styles.
The gender-balancing proposal, meaning that 50% of NUS delegates and executive and policy committee members would have to be women, faced much debate but failed to pass.
Khan commented that, “As much as I would like to see a much larger female presence in the NUS, I do personally feel this kind of decision should be left to the individual Unions, and not necessarily imposed by NUS.”
Speaking about the conference, Styles said that, “The student movement is a strong, diverse, enthusiastic and dedicated movement which has some of the greatest potential of an organising, activism, and campaigning network not only nationally, but also internationally.
“It was disappointing to yet again see factions so strongly opposing each other that at times it went a step further than engaging debate into either personal attacks or inappropriate language. When we as a movement show this to the wider public, it tarnishes our reputation, and thus our ability to effectively organise and campaign due to worsened public and member perceptions.
“Challenging views is incredibly important. We need that diversity in our democracy, we need that challenge in our constituents, we need that proactive scrutiny in our policy. We don’t need to sacrifice relationships with other stakeholders to do this though. The student movement needs to get back to its common purpose and unite over the issues that we agree are important for our members, and work together to drive this change.”
Holmes commented that, “Conference was interesting but very frustrating. In my opinion NUS has huge potential but there is a lot of time wasted with bureaucracy and procedural motions meaning issues that really affect student’s aren’t discussed. Interest groups and partisan politics tend to dominate discussions too. This said there were important issues discussed too – notably about about mental health, GPA and postgraduate funding.”
Khan said that the experience was “great” and added that, “Although it was very bureaucratic, and you get exposed to a whole lot of factions, you really get the sense that you are part of something massive; and that you have a voice in it.”
“There were some very interesting moments involving a massive walkout when one of the speakers from the SWP was running for VP. There was a lot of NUS bashing as well from some of the candidates who made speeches.”
All three delegates commented on the response to the news of Margaret Thatcher’s death. When the announcement was made at the conference, many delegates applauded. Styles pointed out that, “No Nottingham delegates cheered or celebrated the statement, and most of the room was in more of a stunned silence.”
Khan said that he was “appalled at the reaction to Thatcher’s death,” adding that, “The news had just started to appear on Twitter when someone alluded to it in an announcement on stage, and a large number of people applauded. I thought it was inhumane.”
Holmes added that only a “small minority of delegates” reacted in this way.
Liam Burns called for delegates to be calm, stating that, “I’m the last person to agree with Margaret Thatcher’s politics or her policy record as prime minister. But we must not forget that an elderly woman has just died. She had family, friends, colleagues and supporters who will want to pay their respects at this time, and the media and public debate will now be dominated by this unexpected news.
“It’s not just that this would reflect extremely badly upon us if we were to show disrespect at this time. We are better than that. We believe there is such thing as humanity. There is such a thing as sensitivity. And there is such a thing as respect. I ask you all to think very carefully indeed about how you respond to this news as the conference continues.”
Styles commented that this statement was met with far more applause than the announcement of Thatcher’s death.