Joining the National Union of Students (NUS) is a matter of practicality and of principle. By joining a nationwide student association we are strengthening our voices as students. It’s not only St Andrews students demanding something from the University, but students from all over the UK. A nationwide interest in aims like reducing tuition fees and access to student accommodation is bound to have a bigger impact than when it is just one local association or group of students demanding them. Let us not forget that issues concerning tuition fees and accommodation are becoming more pressing by the year.
Of course, even with a nationwide organisation behind us, such demands might not be listened to. However, if students across the nation are not listened to, it will cause a bigger controversy and uproar than if it’s only one local students’ association being denied. Being added to a national organisation representing students can be the straw that broke the governmental camels back in such matters.
There are other practical arguments to be made for joining, such as the fact that there are discounts for students that are members of the NUS in shops and online. Although the previous argument above is more forceful, we cannot deny that students will individually benefit from discounts in stores. These discounts will be helpful for any student living on a budget and seeking discounts and offers from both practical and fun outlets. Who says you can be a student and not indulge yourself once in a while with the 10 per cent off permanent student discount at Topshop?
Moreover, St Andrews student simply cannot isolate themselves from the events and problems related to students all over the UK. It enforces our image of a bubble university, and certainly enforces our somewhat elitist image. It makes us look like we have no interest in organising nationally if organising isn’t in our direct interest. This image cannot be viewed in a positive light, and we should do what we can to organise with other students in solidarity.
By joining the NUS, St Andrews students will have their ideas and voices heard by students in other parts of the UK, and students from different parts of the UK will be able to contribute to the pool of ideas in St Andrews. This increases diversity of ideas for improving the conditions of students in St Andrews and for solving problems related to the University that students in St Andrews might have.
A point to be made is that of the possibility of reducing tuition fees for students, or at least keeping them from increasing if we join the NUS. With the projected fees for international students in St Andrews, there will, without a doubt, be a problem of attracting international students. With the backing of the NUS, there could be the possibility of reducing or keeping the fees at a lower level than what has been projected for the next couple of years.
The same could be said for home students who still face £9,000 tuition fees despite government promises and new election policies. The ever growing importance of student welfare is something we should be involved in, for the good of every student, regardless of nationality. Besides, students and students’ associations being stronger and more influential when they are united than when they are separated. After all, if the Bubble is as isolated as some might think, there doesn’t seem to be much to keep the University from doing what is in its own interest.
With the help of the NUS, students might balance the power of the University since students’ issues in St Andrews will not only be issues in St Andrews, but potentially, issues relevant to a national organisation. Not only does St Andrews benefit from being members of the NUS, students in other parts of the UK will also benefit from our solidarity. In joining the NUS we reduce the image of the town and University as isolated from the rest of the nation by engaging directly with a nationwide students’ association.
For years St Andrews has been a bit of an anomaly in its rejection of NUS membership. We’ve been independent since 1975 and in 2012 the vote against affiliation was decisive, with 75 per cent of the 26 per cent turnout voting No – we’re not a university simply apathetic to the idea of becoming part of a national body, but one fundamentally opposed to one.
We’re one of a growing number of universities, including Glasgow, Southampton and Imperial, who have rejected the offer to join such a large bureaucracy, instead, sensibly adopting our own methods of democratic representation. Membership of the NUS is prohibitively expensive, even the yes campaign in 2012 conceded that membership would initially cost the Union £19,000.
We don’t have these funds after the redevelopment of the Union. At the moment Union budgeting poses no controversies or problems; our Students’ Association is relatively cheap and spends its money on societies and facilities that clearly benefit us. Within the NUS we would see very little return on our investment. Getting an extra 10 per cent off at ASOS seems a marginal outcome at best, especially considered the emergence of alternative student discount schemes like UNiDAYS that we can take advantage of anyway. What exactly does this £19,000 membership pay for? Yes campaigners would argue that membership of a national organisation like the NUS provides students with a louder voice and more political purchasing power, but this simply doesn’t feel true. The NUS are almost entirely disregarded by key areas of influence, dismissed as over-militant and uncooperative and it’s entirely fallacious to pretend that the fairly prestigious University of St Andrews, its students and its notable alumni are not a force to be reckoned with.
As one of the largest universities in Scotland, our opinions have significant scope to affect policy and public discourse alone. We’re distanced from policies that are often portrayed as ridiculous in the media (like the decision to use jazz hands instead of applause to avoid triggering anxiety at the NUS Women’s Conference in March, accused of both damaging feminism and being dangerously out of touch with the majority of its members) or the ones that actively harm discussion and debate like the NUS’ ‘no platform’ policy. Time and time again the NUS has been criticised for being non-inclusive, bureaucratic and oppressively self-righteous to an almost laughable extent.
By ostracizing students who do not subscribe to an overwhelmingly left wing and liberal agenda, the NUS actively deters democracy and representation. Mechanisms like the ‘No Platform’ policy would serve only to censor and silence extreme and unpleasant views rather than openly countering and exposing them. Perhaps if we were a university that actually struggled with engagement, calls to give St Andrews’ students a voice might be more convincing, but to all intents and purposes we achieve far greater voter turnouts without NUS intervention.
If anything a more distanced organisation controlling aspects of our university life would limit the agency of the student body. At the moment we adopt progressive policies to solve our problems instead of being dictated to about what we should care about. This ability to be able to rule ourselves is something that I believe the student body genuinely values for good reason. Despite often feeling like we’re in a bubble, St Andrews is an international university with international influence. We have an outward, progressive perspective that would simply be hampered by the NUS, an organisation that shows every sign of collapsing in on itself imminently. There is a national trend towards disaffiliation; St Andrews is just ahead of the curve.