On Wednesday in School II the president of the National Union of Students UK (NUS) Liam Burns spoke to a small audience of students encouraging the involvement of the St Andrews Students’ Association in this nationwide collective. Following a request for Burns’ visit by the Student Association President Patrick O’Hare, the recently re-elected NUS President delivered a short speech concerning the NUS and the benefits of St Andrews participation in it.
Within his rather informal discourse on the NUS, Burns, currently on a speaking tour of Scottish universities including Aberdeen and Dundee, provided background on the NUS explaining its aim to “promote, defend, and extend student rights” in addition to acting as a “champion for strong and active student unions.”
O’Hare recently released a statement applauding the Students Representative Council’s decision to reconsider the Students’ Association stance on the NUS saying, “I’m delighted that the SRC has voted unanimously to give students the chance to have their say over membership of the National Union of Students” (NUS).
Burns laid out the NUS’s involvement in student union development and financial support in addition to the promotion of student association infrastructure and student accommodation. By “putting student unions in the driver’s seat”, Burns suggested the NUS as a “consultancy” giving students a collective voice and acting as a go-between for student unions and governmental bodies.
Such governmental involvement, explained Burns, would include such hot button topics as rising tuition fees, placement for international students, and study abroad funding. Concerning tuition fees, Burns made clear the NUS’s stance on eliminating hidden course costs: “We have a whole cohort of students coming onto campus that balk at the idea of paying for their lab coats and textbooks and fieldtrips over and above what they perceive to be in tuition fees.”
Illustrating the NUS’s focus on education, Burns elucidated his rejection of tuition fees and the irresponsibility of targeting education in order to decrease the deficit explaining, “You should never have to pay money to be academically successful.”
Directing the conversation towards what it would mean for the St Andrews Students’ Association to join the NUS, Burns turned towards cost. As it currently stands, the St Andrews Students’ Association would pay £21,000 in order to join. Burns clarified this figure, saying, “We have gone from a 90% reliance on affiliation fees 10 years ago to 40% this year with a commitment to get to 30% in three years time (i.e. we are and have been reducing affiliation fees year on year).” Burns added that this figure could be further reduced by government funded grants and programmes such as NUS Extra and NUS Digital.
Reiterating the NUS as a collective, Burns explained the need for a belief in collectivism, without which there could be no belief in the NUS.
Diffusing the concern of St Andrews as being a smaller university, Burns pointed out that regardless of size, the St Andrews Students’ Association would be “disproportionately vocal within the NUS” rivalling the likes of Edinburgh.
Emphasizing the importance of student involvement, Burns drove home the point that, “We [the NUS] want St Andrews students to have the say on whether or not to join the NUS.”
In the same vein as Burns, Students’ Association President-Elect Freddie Fforde voiced his impartiality on the matter saying, “This is for the student body to decide and I hope that we can build on our record election turnout with another high level of participation in this decision.”
In closing, Burns made clear that regardless of the Students’ Association’s decision “the NUS will fight for students across the nation with or without St Andrews.”