On December 6th, Southampton University Student Union (SUSU) is holding (another) referendum on whether we should affiliate with the NUS. 2012 marks ten years of independence for SUSU – Ten successful years, I might add – and, whilst there are lots of arguments about the cost, necessity and loss of freedom that make a compelling case for saying No to NUS, I thought I’d take some time to explain my biggest objection: affiliating to the NUS fundamentally alters the role of SUSU.
The Role of an Independent SUSU
SUSU is a fundamental part of student life at Southampton. It runs everything from the shop we buy our calculators from (it has a monopoly on those) to the restaurants we eat lunch in to the bars we drink in. It holds the University to account and it helps to improve the quality of Education, Feedback and Welfare within the University. SUSU may be a legaally distinct organisation from the University itself, but it is intimately coupled with it and plays an important role in the lives of Southampton students and an important role as part of the University as an Institution.
This is my first important point: SUSU is an integral part of Southampton University and an integral part of being a student here – Not being a member of SUSU would be a significant loss.
The NUS: A political organisation
The NUS, on the other hand, is an overtly political organisation. “NUS is joining with the TUC to march and rally” says the NUS website, “Sign the e-petition and email your MP here” it says just underneath. Don’t misunderstand me, I wholeheartedly support the right of students to get involved with the political process, I fully support their right to join organisations and I even support the NUS campaigns that these examples refer to, but fundamentally I also believe that students at Southampton should have a CHOICE about which political organisations they join.
By affiliating to the NUS, SUSU signs up each of us to this organisation. We could opt-out, but we’d have opt-out of SUSU as a whole. We’d lose the internal represenation that SUSU provides within the University, just because we objected to having the NUS speak on our behalf. If the University were our employer that would quite probably be illegal.
An Ideal World
In an ideal world, the NUS wouldn’t require Universities to opt-in all or none of their students. It would operate like other political organisations, members would be free to choose if they agreed with the governance and aims and to opt in or out as individuals. One could speculate about WHY the NUS will only take whole Universities (perhaps they think they’d be about popular as their own discount scheme?) – but that’s not speculation for here.
SUSU is an integral part of the Institution that is Southampton. It represents us, Southampton students. The NUS is a political organisation, and by affiliating SUSU would become a political organisation, too. Individuals shouldn’t have to join a political organisation in order to participate fully in their University or to get the full student experience.
Southampton has shown that it is a strong and thriving institution outside of the NUS, and the supposed benefits of affiliating (not that the auditors found any) are certainly not outweighed by the fundamentally illiberal process of foisting political membership upon students in spite of their own consciences. The problem here is not that SUSU is independent, but that the NUS have a fundamentally flawed membership model.