By Charlie Taylor-Kroll
Durham University students have voted to remain affiliated with the National Union of Students (NUS) following a recent referendum held by Durham SU.
11% of the student body (2,102 people) voted in the referendum, surpassing the 5% quota that was required for the referendum to pass the motion.
1,299 votes were cast in favour of remaining with the NUS, compared to the 830 votes in favour of disaffiliation.
A referendum on whether to disaffiliate or remain with the NUS was sparked by the emergence of the “A Better Durham” campaign, which was launched earlier this term.
The “A Better Durham” campaign published an open letter addressed to the Durham Students’ Union imploring the Union to hold a referendum in order for Durham students to decide whether or not the Union should remain affiliated with the NUS. The letter was signed by 50 student leaders.
The letter read: “Let Durham decide, this term. We cannot stand by any longer as students are misrepresented and marginalized.”
The disaffiliation campaign partially came into existence due to the controversial election of NUS’ new national president, Malia Bouattia.
Ms Bouattia had faced allegations of anti-Semitism earlier in the year due to actions that dated back a number of years. In 2011, she co-authored an article where she referred to the University of Birmingham as “something of a Zionist outpost in British higher education.”
Campaigning from both sides for the referendum began on the 6th June, lasting a week. “A Better Durham” campaigned to disaffiliate with the NUS, while “NO to disaffiliation, YES to NUS” campaigned for Durham SU to retain its affiliation.
Following the referendum result, Harry Cross, a prominent member of the remain campaign, told Palatinate: “We are very pleased with the fantastic result. Our strategy was to explain the day-to-day benefits of the NUS beyond misleading media headlines and we had very rewarding conversations with students throughout the week.
“I am very grateful to my dedicated and supportive campaign team.”
Durham Students’ Union President-Elect, Alice Dee, also echoed the delight of the remain campaign in the result. She said: “I’m absolutely elated with the referendum result. Not only was the turn out good, but the percentage of students voting to remain in the NUS has given a clear message of support from Durham.
“I’m looking forward to working with the NUS to develop our Union and to tackle national and local issues affecting Durham students.’’
Shortly following the announcement, Durham Students’ Union commented: “The Union would like to thank campaigners on both sides for informing, debating, and promoting the voice of the students on this issue.”
Ten colleges had an overall majority in favour of remaining affiliated with thew NUS, with the greatest proportion of remain voters at St Aidan’s College, where 256 voted to remain, compared to 67 who voted to disaffiliate.
On the other hand, University College, St Mary’s College, Josephine Butler College, Stephenson College, John Snow College, and Grey college all voted overall for disaffiliation, although only by small margins.
Turnout in the election was highest at St Aidan’s College, where 25.28% of students voted.
In conversation with Palatinate, Tom Harwood. a prominent member of “A Better Durham”, said: “It’s a shame that the NUS won this time, but it has to be said that they exhibited very impressive organisation. Well done to them.
“We hope that we can work with Durham SU in the future to fix some of the issues highlighted in this campaign, and help make the Union more representative, despite being held back by the NUS.
“We would like to say a big thank you to St Mary’s, John Snow, Stephenson, Grey, and University College, who all had a majority of votes for A Better Durham.”
Harwood, however, was concerned about the low turnout of votes. Despite being double the required quota, 11% of the student body is comparatively low.
He said: “We should also make reference to the big winner of this referendum—apathy—which was touching 90%.”
Isaac Abraham, who wrote an opine for Palatinate Online, also said: “Durham” hasn’t really chosen to stay in the NUS. Rather, 2,129 somewhat interested students decided to vote in a referendum that failed to engage with the vast majority.
“While it’s good that we voted to remain part of the NUS, it remains a largely irrelevant organisation with major institutional problems that need to be addressed.”
Durham University joins a host of other universities including Cambridge, Exeter, Oxford and Warwick, who have recently held referendums and chosen to remain with the NUS. Ten universities nationally still await a referendum to see whether they will remain with or disaffiliate from the NUS. Meanwhile Hull, Newcastle and Lincoln University have recently voted to disaffiliate from the NUS.
Infographic: Harrison Smart