VERSA | We need student unions, but it’s time to bin the NUS

Campaigning against Coke on Campus, the anti-Lib Dem ‘Liar Liar‘ campaign and feminist jazz hands replacing clapping are all NUS acts VERSA has made fun of and/or despaired at over the past year. In Oxford, we have seen students attack an overly-political OUSU for condemning the visit of Marine Le Pen and question the need for a fully-fledged OUSU general election manifesto. Bloody hell, most students don’t give a damn about the NUS or OUSU – except the engaged minority. Only 20% of us vote in OUSU elections and about half of that bothered to have our say about disaffiliating from the NUS.

However, having a student union willing to stand up for us is vital as students are politically vulnerable. As ‘young people’, we have a tendency not to vote or engage with national politics (big generalisation, but that’s how a lot of politicians see us, soz.) So it’s no wonder we are ignored politically!  Realistically, who are parties going to appeal to: our demographic or the guaranteed turnout of OAPs? Spoiler alert: how older people got a less sour deal from Gideon’s last budget should help you answer that.

Students face major issues; funding, quality of teaching and combating discrimination in educational environments are all key problems our student unions should be fighting to solve for all of us. For this, we need student unions. But let’s not delude ourselves as to their reach, power and influence over world politics. The NUS’ ‘solidarity‘ with Mexico will make about as much difference as shouting at passing aeroplanes to keep the noise down. Most students are apathetic to students’ unions because they spend so much time on issues not directly affecting them, and this is just another example.

I am not arguing unions should be apolitical – when austerity or immigration restrictions will impact students’ lives, nothing is more important than providing the means for students to unite and democratically decide how to react to policies or events that will affect them. Saying that, our unions should not become vehicles for a minority to politk about vaguely tangential issues (such as the Irish water supply.) This just drives away less politically minded students who only want to turn up and discuss student accommodation, not sit through an hour long debate of minor relevance that is about as fun as a sober Park End.

“Most students are apathetic to students’ unions because they spend so much time on issues not directly affecting them.”

There is a democratic deficit in OUSU and in our NUS. People don’t engage because they see a bloated hyper-political body that is more concerned with ideology and irrelevant issues not connected to student life than making real difference to them. If we lose members or engagement with our unions, there will be one result: a bad outcome for students. If we do not stand together, we can be taken advantage of. Who will stand up against cuts to vital loans for living costs or basic rights to safe accommodation, if we are looking after ourselves and not each other?

These are important battles our unions fight for us, we just don’t see it for the dozens of ridiculous motions that given student journalists like me an easy headline. I’d even back pro-democracy protests if the government decided to stifle our freedoms, but let’s keep the purpose of our SUs as representing us, not the entire world.

University education is being consumerised. If a few students don’t like something and leave, there will be someone willing to take your place.  To stand up to authorities for students’ interests, we must do it together. A whole student body cannot be replaced like an individual. This is why we need unions, not to proclaim on the suitability of Kim Jong Un as a leader, but to defend students’ own interests to universities and to government.

Let’s strip back our students’ unions, and have them represent all of us for our common good again. We need to shed the political grandstanding and domination by certain cliques of the Left, and create unions that represent all of us. Let’s stop wasting time and effort on trying to be the UN, and instead fight for the interests of students of all genders, races, sexualities and minorities – rather than trying to solve global problems that nobody gives a shit about our opinions on. Dammit, if you want to campaign for BDS or solidarity with Mexicans suffering from oppression, set up a campaign or a society, for the latter I might even join you. But please don’t take over unions for your political goals. It’s not what they exist for.

Having student union is vital, so students have a voice that can be heard on important issues – issues that are important to our lives. We’re not the United Nations.