What is the NUS?
The National Union of Students (NUS) is a confederation of 600 students’ unions, amounting to more than 95% of UK higher and further education unions and over 7 million students. It was founded in 1922, and has since played a key role in making policies that affect many different areas of society. This includes issues only experienced by students, such as preventing HSBC from ending interest-free overdrafts for students in 2007, as well as nationwide issues. For example, in 1973 it was the first national body to pass policy in favour of gay rights, and in 2007 the NUS Women’s Campaign successfully campaigned against bills that would have reduced the abortion rights of women.
Why is the NUS important?
Academics in the higher education sector have no formal mandate to engage with students, and so the work of the NUS is extremely important to represent the views of students and ensure that policies are enacted with the interests of students at their heart. To do this, NUS representatives sit on the boards of the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), which promotes and funds teaching in higher educational institutions, the Office for Fair Access (OFFA), which works to improve access to higher education for people from underrepresented groups, the Higher Education Academy, UCAS, and many other advisory boards, strategic committees, and working groups. This has allowed the NUS to prevent millions of pounds worth of funding for access being cut by the government.
The NUS is also currently attempting to limit further rises in tuition fees for elite institutions, such as Oxford, likely to be proposed in the HE Bill. This Bill would hugely affect access in Oxford, and arguably the only national organisation capable of pressuring the government to change or delay this Bill is the NUS. If we leave then we will no longer be able to contribute to debates about this Bill, and will weaken the NUS’ arguments against it.
OUSU’s affiliation with the NUS gives many benefits that directly affect students. For example, membership allows students to buy NUS extra cards, which gives hundreds of discounts at many different shops for the duration of the degree, and continuing one year after graduation. This benefits students from lower income backgrounds. It has been confirmed that NUS cards can only be bought by students at institutions affiliated with the NUS. It is worth noting that although Bod cards often give student discounts in Oxford, they do not cover them all, and locations outside of Oxford or online are unlikely to accept Bod cards in place of NUS Extra cards. The money saved by the NUS cards also is given directly to OUSU.
The NUS and Disability
The NUS does vital work on issues surrounding disability and mental health. This includes playing an instrumental part in increasing the maximum non-medical help allowance of the Disabled Students’ Allowance (DSA) from £12,000 to £20,000 in 2007. The impact of subsequent cuts to the DSA have been reduced and delayed through the work of the NUS, providing much needed support to many students. This includes forcing the government to implement a quality assurance framework, placing a cap of £200 on the amount of money students must pay for any IT equipment needed, and successfully lobbying the Welsh government to not take up the cuts to the DSA.
In addition, at the NUS conference this year, it was decided to form a student mental health task force that focusses on suicide prevention. This involves supporting OUSU sabbatical officers, conducting nation-wide research into student mental health and suicide rates, and compiling booklets of information available to all affiliated student unions with guidance on how to campaign to improve mental health services on campus. Previously, the NUS Disabled Students’ Campaign, Black Students’ Campaign, and LGBT Campaign lobbied with the Mental Health Alliance for mental health legislation to be changed so people cannot be sectioned solely on the basis of their sexual orientation, political, religious, or cultural beliefs.
The NUS also produces comprehensive guides and workshops for student disability campaigners, sabbatical officers, and more general liberation campaigning to name a few – there are 26 in total. These cover legal rights of students, DSA changes, mental health, leadership, and much more. The events allow student campaigners to share experiences and support each other. Without this OUSU’s liberation campaigns would not be able to work as successfully, increasing inequality due to race, sexuality, gender, religion, wealth, and disability across Oxford.
We believe that the NUS is vital for Oxford students’ voices to be heard nationally, and any problems with the NUS must be combatted by careful policy-making from within the NUS, not by leaving. The NUS is the biggest democratic union of students in the world, and being part of it gives us greater influence fighting against government policies that unfairly affect students and people with disabilities. This is vital for our work as OUSU’s disabilities campaign, and has allowed us, and the other OUSU liberation campaigns, to lobby the university and campaign more effectively to promote equality.
Committee members of the Oxford Students’ Disability Community
OUSU’s disability liberation campaign
Samantha Pugh, President
Susanna Riley, Vice-President
Olivier Lennon, Secretary and Graduate Students’ Officer
Kathryn Reece, Treasurer
Jessica See, Mental Health Officer
Shannon Guild, IT Officer
Emma Beddall, Events Officer
Miranda Reilly, General Committee
Thomas Wadsworth, General Committee
Rebekkah Smiddy, General Committee
Ronak Patel, OUSU Disabled Students’ Officer