The National Union of Students (NUS) is the main confederation of students' unions that exist inside the United Kingdom. Although the NUS is the central organisation for all affiliated unions in the UK, there are also the devolved national sub-bodies NUS Scotland in Scotland, NUS Wales in Wales and NUS-USI in Northern Ireland (the latter being co-administered by the Union of Students in Ireland).
NUS is a member of the European Students' Union.
The NUS was formed in 1922 at a meeting held at the University of London. At this meeting, the Inter-Varsity Association and the International Students Bureau (which organised student travel and had been lobbying for a national body) agreed to merge. Founding members included the unions of University of Birmingham, Imperial College London (who first left in 1923 and have subsequently rejoined and left three times, the last time being in June 2008), King's College London (who supplied the first President (Sir Ivison Macadam)) and the University of Bristol.
In recent years, the NUS has faced a prolonged financial crisis, caused by a coinciding of spiralling expenditure and decreasing income. A series of measures were proposed to address this, of which the most controversial included a series of changes to the constitutional and democratic processes. In 2004, two emergency conferences passed some of the changes proposed, albeit not without fierce dispute between those claiming the proposals were necessary reforms to maintain the existence of the organisation and those arguing that they were aimed at curbing democracy and involvement. The 2006 NUS Conference passed a policy enabling the NUS to launch a paid-for student discount card, in September, called 'NUS Extra', on sale to students at GB£10.
The NUS now has over 700 constituent members (the unions of either higher education or further education establishments) through which it represents approximately 5 million UK students, which equates to approximately 98% of all students and hence potential members. However, a small number of high profile educational institutions are not members. These include the University of Glasgow, University of St Andrews, University of Dundee, University of Southampton and Imperial College London. In recent years NUS membership has become a controversial issue with some unions seeing general meeting motions and referendums on the membership issue.
The NUS have in the past received criticism for spending significant amounts of time and money in running pro-affiliation campaigns at universities to ensure that they win referendums.
Recent leavers of the NUS have included UMIST (which is now re-affiliated through its merger to form UMSU), the University of Sunderland, the University of Southampton and Aston University as well as Imperial College London. However, these defections have been partly counterbalanced by the entry into membership of the University of Edinburgh. The University of Northampton also re-affiliated itself with the NUS in October 2007, having disaffiliated in 2001.
Most of these conferences, and in particular the elections held at them, are hotly contested by factions including Conservative Future, Education Not for Sale, Labour Students, Liberal Democrat Youth and Students, the Organised Independents, Socialist Students, Student RESPECT, and Student Broad Left. In addition to these political factions, interest groups such as the Federation of Student Islamic Societies and the Union of Jewish Students are deeply involved in the internal democratic processes of NUS.
The NUS has come in for criticism from various quarters, particularly from those students' unions who are not affiliated. Sen Ganesh, then president of Imperial College Union, said in 2002: "NUS's claim to be representative of students is not borne out by their work".
The NUS has in particular come in for criticism for the way its democratic processes are structured. Unlike individual student unions and despite the rise of online voting in Universities, NUS officers are not directly elected by students, but instead selected by delegates. For extraordinary general meetings, there doesn't even need to be a cross-campus election of delegates . Some have argued that the NUS National Conference is unrepresentative of the opinions of students across the country and that in turn the National Executive Committee does not always reflect the wishes and priorities of students. The NUS have countered, arguing that many of the criticisms are inaccurate.
The NUS has also been criticized for what appears to be an obsession with selling its 'NUS Extra Card', which offers students discounts on certain purchases, rather than confronting issues that actually affect students.
In 2006 the Association of University Teachers (AUT) and the National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education (NATFHE), announced a one-day strike, to be followed by ongoing "action short of a strike" in the form of an assessment boycott (with the AUT, though not NATFHE, including the setting of exams in the boycott) as part of their pay negotiations with the Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA), with many lecturers and teachers not marking exam papers.
Initially the NUS leadership, headed by Kat Fletcher, gave support to the lecturers' union arguing that it was essential to secure an increase in lecturers' wages; The understanding was that the NUS was not supporting the AUT-only boycott of setting or marking exams. However this support was not reflected across all students' unions affiliated to NUS and some tabled an emergency motion to the 2006 NUS National Conference; however this was not debated. This provoked strong criticism that the NUS stance on one of the major education issues of the day had been decided without consultation of the membership.
Subsequently a number of students' unions went public with their opposition to both the boycott and the NUS support for it. A member of the NUS National Executive-elect drafted a counter letter in support, signed by a number of students' unions, whilst direct online petitions of students opposed to the boycott attracted an ever growing number of signatures. . A petition completely in favour of the boycott had attracted rather fewer signatures.
Many have criticised the NUS as unrepresentative of its members, and have questioned to what extent the NUS actually represents students' interests. Some students' unions have gone so far as to threaten to withhold part of their affiliation fees. Many other students' unions have maintained support for the teaching unions, including some which have agreed to go beyond the NUS stance, backing the AUT/NATFHE action fully. (The poll was published after many students' unions had already adopted their pro-boycott stance, and it is not clear to what extent the student unions were already aware of student opposition).
The NUS later advised AUT/NATFHE, following feedback from over 100 unions, that their partial support for action could not be indefinite and is wholly dependent on seeking a fast resolution. This, along with criticism meted out to the employers' negotiators (UCEA) by the Parliamentary HE committee chair Barry Sheerman MP, seemed to have an effect as a pay deal was soon reached by the newly merged lecturers' union, the University and College Union (UCU).
While it is hotly contested amongst the Universities about who were the original Fairtrade University,the Fairtrade foundation gave this status first and worked with Oxford Brookes University who spearheaded the movement - with the University of Edinburgh a close second.
The 2008 Conference in Blackpool was dominated by the governance review debate and vote. The proposals were for a restructuring of the running of the Union but the vote was lost by 25 votes. The review was criticised for what was felt by detractors to be an attack on the organisation's democractic accountability . Its supporters however defended the review as providing a more 'innovative' corporate structure which was hoped to make it more credible in negotiating policy, rather than simply 'reactive'. This was not well received by many in the executive with President, Gemma Tumelty, vowing to press ahead with reform. The perceived lack of progress on governance reform has also prompted Imperial College Union to hold a referendum on disaffiliation..
|Years of office||Name||Institution(s)||Faction|
|1922||Ivison S Macadam||King's College London|
|1922-23||A Gordon Bagnall||University of Oxford|
|1923-24||Ralph Nunn May||University of Birmingham|
|1924-25||F G G Carr||University of Cambridge|
|1925-26||W J Langford||University of Reading|
|1926-27||J E Meredith||University of Wales, Bangor|
|1927-29||F O Darvall||University of Reading|
|1929-30||Sam Cohen||University College, Cardiff|
|1930-31||H Trevor Lloyd||University of Bristol|
|1931-33||Denis Follows||University of London and University of Nottingham|
|1933-34||Charles G Gilmore||University of London|
|1934-36||F Lincoln Ralphs||University of Sheffield|
|1936-38||F Fraser Milne||University of London|
|1938-39||R R S Ward||University of Sheffield|
|1939-40||Brian Simon||University of Cambridge and University of London|
|1940-41||P A H Rivett||University of Leeds|
|1941-42||S G Checkland||University of Birmingham|
|1942-44||Jack T Allanson||University of Manchester|
|1944-46||A T James||University of London|
|1946-47||G Mcleavy||University of Leeds|
|1947-49||W Bonney Rust||University of London|
|1949-51||Stanley K Jenkins||University College, Cardiff|
|1951-52||John M Thompson||University of Manchester|
|1952-54||Fred Jarvis||University of Oxford|
|1954-56||Frank H Copplestone||University of Nottingham|
|1956-58||Roland Freeman||University of London|
|1958-60||Dennis J Grennan||University of Southampton|
|1960-62||J Gwyn Morgan||University of Wales, Aberystwyth|
|1962-64||A R Hughes||University of Wales, Aberystwyth|
|1964-66||T William Savage||Queen's University of Belfast|
|1966-68||T Geoff Martin||Queen's University of Belfast|
|1968-69||Trevor A Fisk||University of London|
|1969-71||Jack Straw||University of Leeds||Radical Student Alliance|
|1971-73||Digby Jacks||University of London||Left Caucus|
|1973-75||John Randall||University of York||Independent|
|1975-77||Charles Clarke||University of Cambridge||Broad Left|
|1977-78||Sue Slipman||University of Wales, Lampeter||Broad Left|
|1978-80||Trevor Phillips||Imperial College London||Broad Left|
|1980-82||David Aaronovitch||University of Manchester||Broad Left|
|1982-84||Neil Stewart||University of Aberdeen||NOLS|
|1984-86||Phil Woolas||University of Manchester||NOLS|
|1986-88||Vicky Phillips||University of East Anglia||NOLS|
|1988-90||Maeve Sherlock||University of Liverpool||NOLS|
|1990-92||Stephen Twigg||University of Oxford||NOLS|
|1992-94||Lorna Fitzsimons||Loughborough College||NOLS|
|1994-96||Jim Murphy||University of Strathclyde||NOLS|
|1996-98||Douglas Trainer||University of Strathclyde||NOLS|
|1998-00||Andrew Pakes||University of Hull||NOLS|
|2000-02||Owain James||University of Warwick||Organised Independent|
|2002-04||Mandy Telford||University of Strathclyde||NOLS|
|2004-06||Kat Fletcher||Sheffield College and University of Leeds|| Campaign for Free Education (2004-05)|
|2006-08||Gemma Tumelty||Liverpool John Moores University||Organised Independent|
|2008-present||Wes Streeting||University of Cambridge||NOLS|
Area organisations meet together to support each other through the Areas Political Convention (formerly the Areas National Convention), and are able to attend the National Union's annual conference as non-voting observers. Additionally Area Conveners have sometimes been members of the Executive Committees of the "special regions" (Scotland (NUS Scotland), Wales (NUS Wales), and Northern Ireland (NUS-USI).)
The position of "Areas" within the Constitution of the National Union has long been somewhat controversial. They do not feature in all printed editions of the Constitution, but have not been officially dissolved by the decision-making Annual Conference of the national body. They are nominally autonomous or semi-autonomous, but often use some of the same branding and certainly have access to the resources of their regional and national offices.
The current National Union of Students website has this to say about areas:
At one time almost all NUS regions contained several Area organisations; Scotland for example was divided into "NUS North of Scotland Area", "NUS West of Scotland Area" and "NUS East of Scotland Area". In this example, the East of Scotland organisation tended to work very closely with the national (Scottish) organisation due to being based in the same city, Edinburgh. In more remote parts of the country, the Area organisations are intended to form a useful first point of contact and readily accessible person to assist the local student unions.
Areas normally have a "Convener" who is generally a current student or one who has just graduated, and will take a year, theoretically (but not always) paid, to work for the Area — known as a "sabbatical" in the case of current students, and in this sense following the model of the sabattical officers of students' unions at individual educational institutions. Occasionally the Convener would serve two or even more years in office. Those Areas able to afford the costs may send their Convener to a training session provided by the National Union. In any event, the regional organisation will normally provide training and support.
Because of their local perspective and autonomous nature, it is not uncommon for Areas to be involved in conflicts with the national organisation. Conversely, political groupings (and the fulfilling of obvious functions and shared goals) within the bodies sometimes draws them into very close co-operation.
The first national officers were elected in 2000, after NUS Annual Conference voted to change the constitution in order for the positions to be created, despite some opposition. There are two officers for the NUS LGBT Campaign, one is open place and elected by LGBT student delegates to the NUS LGBT Conference, the other is a womans place and is elected only by women delegates.
|Year||Open Place Officer||Women's Place Officer|
|2000/1||Beth Aze||Vicki Austin|
|2001/2||Carli Harper-Penman||Vicki Austin|
|2002/3||Daniel Murphy||Carli Harper-Penman|
|2003/4||Carli Harper-Penman||Sarah Thompson|
|2004/5||Ben Miskell||Kat Louis|
|2005/6||James-J Walsh||Kat Louis|
|2006/7||Scott Cuthbertson||Claire Anderson|
|2007/8||Scott Cuthbertson||Claire Anderson|
|2008/9||Daf Adley||Lucy Brookes|
Formerly the Students With Disabilities Campaign, the name was changed in 2006. Alex Kemp was the first NUS Disabled Students' Officer under the new title. However in many individual students' unions the phrase is still "Students With Disabilities".
|Year||Disabled Students' Officer|
|Year||Black Students' Officer|