The NUS needs to become more than just an echo chamber

By Kate McIntosh

Yes, we all know the NUS is a bit shit.

We all know that it is viewed by many inside and out of the student bubble as an irrelevant, idealistic parliament for would-be politicians. We all know that the NUS has not done enough for us in recent years. But to the vast majority, this is not something to jeer at from afar, it is a source of heartfelt disappointment and annoyance.

We are facing rising costs and funding cuts, a crisis in student mental health and appallingly high levels of sexual harassment and assault in our universities. We need a national, credible Union, acting on behalf of all students. Standing back and laughing at the NUS’s demise is a betrayal of the students who need it most.

I believe that you should be represented by people who are committed to voicing your concerns and to pursuing realistic goals. People who want the NUS to be an efficient lobbyist union, and not an idealistic and stagnant echo chamber. So, that’s why I am standing to be an NUS delegate.

I have a friend, Shelley, who receives the maximum maintenance loan, because her mum can’t work anymore. She’s easily the most hardworking person I know, and going to university for her was a massive risk but also a huge achievement. She’ll leave with nearly £60,000 debt. It’s completely unjust that someone so deserving of their success should be saddled with financial insecurity from the get-go.

We need an NUS that can fight for students like Shelley. That’s why we have a Union – we need it to help reinstate and increase maintenance loans. And if we want government to take our concerns about axed maintenance grants seriously, we need to be serious about our Union.

We’re facing a crisis in student mental health that won’t be remedied without intervention into university practice. One in five of us will experience a mental health problem at university, but only half get the treatment they need. And the NUS has made it clear that university and college counselling services must improve, with more funding and more staff.

One in three women are sexually assaulted or abused whilst at university. Mandatory consent classes are the first in a line of positive steps we must take to addressing this fact. The NUS’s ‘I heart consent’ programme rolled out classes on sexual violence and harassment to 20 universities this year, with overwhelmingly positive feedback from participants.

There is potential in the NUS. We cannot take a back seat and hope that fatalistic criticism will have any kind of impact at the Conference. Making a mockery of an institution which we rely upon is patronising and naïve; it would be foolish to forget that very many of us need the NUS to do its job properly.

As a delegate, I won’t settle for passive resistance to abstract policy, and I’ll push for the NUS to refocus its efforts on accessible education, on mental health, on reducing sexual violence and improving minority representation.

As your delegate, I will abstain on any motion that makes us appear either disillusioned or ill-informed. This is not a choice between irrelevant policy and standoffish cynicism. By voting for me, Kate McIntosh, and the other Durham University Labour Club candidates, Dan Burton, Saul Cahill, and Rhys Lewis Jones, you’ll be voting for credible change in the NUS.

Photograph: Durham Students’ Union

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