The referendum question is, of course, a personal one. It’s individuals who vote and it’s individuals who’ll see the results. But the issue runs deeper, too. Because it isn’t you and I, as students, who are affiliated to the thing. It is OUSU, our student union.
OUSU, who are this year spending £500 on a campaign to aid students with disabilities. OUSU, who are spending the same on the Mind Your Head campaign, to raise awareness of mental health. And on the Campaign for Racial Equality and Diversity. And on Environment and Ethics, and on helping mature students and international students make the best of their time here. £500 to each of those campaigns. £3000 in total. It’s a fairly large amount.
But not as large as £25,000.
Not as large as that. Not as large as our affiliation fee to the NUS. Not half as large. Not even a quarter as large – not even an eighth.
If the ‘Yes’ campaign is right, then the services we receive from the NUS must outweigh the costs we incur. We must receive more benefit, in terms of representation at a national level and participation in campaigns or workshops, than we lose by giving away the money. When it comes down to it, the NUS’ services must be worth more than eight of every single one of the campaigns listed above.
Maybe it’s the NUS Extra card that does it. Maybe it’s the privilege of paying £12 per year for a student discount. Passing swiftly over the existence of Bod cards, Union cards, the Wave Card, the St. John’s discount card, the Oxford Castle key card, and online discounts like UniDays, Student Discounts, ISIC, and more… the Yes side have a point. About 1/10th of Oxford students have an NUS card. Surely that’s worth £25,000.
If so, every single person should vote Yes. Every single person who thinks that the NUS provides a service worth this cost – everyone who thinks that they represent each of us honestly and accurately, and that they’re respected enough to speak more clearly than Oxford ever could – every single person who believes that should, without compunction, vote Yes.
Anyone who doesn’t, however, must pause. Anyone who’d rather see OUSU’s budget channelled into support for students who struggle with disabilities, or chronic illness, or mental pain and distress; or into access projects like Target Schools, or workshops targeting gender inequality, or transport for volunteers in homeless shelters or hospitals – must, quite simply, vote out.
If you’d rather spend £25k on actually making a difference; well, now is the time to put your foot down. Now is the time to say No. To tell the NUS that something’s gone wrong, that we’re dissatisfied, and that until they do something about it, we are rejecting their claim to authority.
We cannot, in good conscience, continue to spend this money on a body whose presence in Oxford is negligible. A body with which most students have no interaction whatsoever. The NUS spends our affiliation fees on many things, a few of which are wonderful, like sexual health workshops and leadership programmes; many of which are not (LobsterDinnerGate of 2013 comes to mind). Which is a pity, all things considered. ‘All things’ including its £80k deficit last year.
On that note, it’s important to see that, once per annum, the NUS releases a PDF of the previous year’s accounts. Which, of course, is fantastic. If only it were so forthcoming with regard to other aspects of accountability. A favourite internet page is that given to the NUS’ “Democratic Procedures” minutes: the page’s content is limited to the words “copy here”.
Another victory for transparency. Another victory for democracy.
The good is not the enemy of the perfect. But the NUS is neither perfect nor good. And we can do so much better.
For Oxford’s sake, and for the sake of those whom Oxford could help – vote NO.
Read the argument for reaffiliating with the NUS here.
PHOTO/ NUS Scotland