NUS Conference: Day 1 Report
This year, NUS Conference takes us to the wonderful city of Glasgow. Upon arrival, I was delighted to know that you can have vegetarian haggis – what a world we live in! Before we go in to my report for the day, we need to address a few basic questions.
NUS stands for the ‘National Union of Students’, a confederation of Students’ Unions which gives a voice to all students across the UK. NUS are responsible for campaigns and projects designed to improve the lives of students. NUS’ reputation is far reaching and they often have a key role in wider Higher Education issues (apart from representation on the Office for Students board, but that’s a story for another day).
National Conference is the policy-making body of NUS. Around a thousand delegates from hundreds of students’ unions gather annually to debate and vote on motions regarding the political leadership of NUS for the next academic year. NUS is the largest democratic gathering of students in the world and the conference always attracts national press coverage. Full-time officers, National Executive Council and Student Directors are also elected at NUS Conference.
Conference was a sea of colour, yellow tshirts from Abdi’s campaign team clash with the green of Ali’s. Day one tends to be pleasant, delegates are well rested and freebies are everywhere. From the balcony, there was a massive crowd of hope and passionate student leaders eager to get started. Robbie Young (Vice-President Society and Citizenship) as chair opened the conference and began his repertoire of Spice Girl fun facts. Opening remarks came from Bailie Christy Mearns who welcomed us to the city of Glasgow before Marius Deaconu offered solidarity as a representative from the National Alliance of Student Organisations in Romania.
Next up was Shakira Martin’s opening remarks. A strong, charismatic and dedicated President, Shakira is personable and relatable. As former Vice-President (Further Education) she understands the challenges that colleges face and has grown in confidence since she was elected in Brighton this time last year. Shakira always speaks from the heart and never holds back. She roused up the crowd with Retweetable phrases such as: ‘education is the silver bullet, education is everything.’
Opening of Business
Ali Milani, Vice President (Union Development) had the incredible job of introducing 9 new students’ unions to the NUS family. Most Higher Education students’ unions are affiliated with NUS but not every Further Education college is. The motion very clearly passed! Minutes of Conference 2017 were also presented for approval, they passed with no questions asked.
Priority Zone Report – President
It was now the time for Shakira Martin’s accountability report. This is an opportunity for Shakira to reflect on her achievements which range from a student funding review, the poverty commission, challenging racism and discrimination, fighting for apprenticeship wages and changing the culture of NUS. It was now time for Shakira to take questions from delegates about what she has been up to…
Shakira responded to questions regarding the poverty commission, accessible education, student funding and UCU strikes with fire in her belly. Delegates then voted to pass her support.
Now it was down to the nitty gritty. Here is where the debate began. The full list of motions can be found here.
Motion 101 – Student Poverty
Amendments: 101a (passed), 101b (passed) and 101c (passed)
Priority Zone Report – Education
Next up for their accountability was Vice-President (Further Education) Emily Chapman. She has been working hard on three key issues – Learner Voice, transport and adult education. FEstival and #MyFEJourney were particularly strong campaigns which have attracted national attention. It is clear that Further Education is under increased pressure due to funding cuts, but Emily has been fighting hard and worked with the National Society of Apprentices (NSOA) who also experience similar issues. Emily then took questions regarding FE students’ unions, democracy review and the FE funding review.
A sharp intake of breathe as it was time for Mr ‘Smooth Jazz’ Vice-President (Higher Education) Amatey Doku’s report. He has been focusing on Brexit demands and how to get a good deal for students, tackling the black attainment gap, producing the Race Equality Charter guide and representing students in the media and on numerous committees. Amatey then took questions regarding the quality code, value for money, involving students’ unions in the black attainment gap, teaching excellence framework, supporting grassroots campaigns and regulatory review from Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland.
FE101 (Time for investment in FE/colleges) – Motion Passed
HE101 (Tackling the black attainment gap) – Motion Passed
HE102 (Students and Brexit)
Amendment 102a (parts 2 and 3 are kept)
There was a lot of controversy as ‘Part 2’ of HE102 referred to ‘to campaign for a second referendum on the deal negotiated on Brexit.’ Brexit was discussed at length for around 45 minutes. All amendments and the motion passed.
The guillotine was then extended so that we had more time to speak about Education motions.
HE103 (High course costs are destroying mental health)
Amendments 103a (passed), 103b (passed)
FE102 (The Scrouge of Day 42) – Motion passed
HE104 (Quality of Teaching)
Parts 1 and 2 removed
FE103 (There is progression data for most learners; why not us?) – Motion passed
HE105 (Postgraduate Tuition Fees and Funding)
Amendment 105a (passed)
At this stage, a procedural motion fell which means that the remaining Education Zone motions would NOT go to the National Executive Council and wouldn’t really go anywhere actually.
Priority Zone Report – Union Development
Time for motions was over and we heard an accountability video from Vice President (Union Development) Ali Milani. Ali has been focusing his year so far around the activities fund for clubs and societies, developing the FE family and liberation groups. Ali then received questions regarding FE full-time officers, the applicability of the activities fund to colleges, the diversification of NUS Extra, NSOA representation, student media and representative sport clubs.
Union Development Motions
UD101 (Our Unions Have, and always will be, political)
Amendment 101a (passed)
UD102 (A new strategy for engaging disability specialist students’ union)
Amendement 102a (passed)
CURVEBALL: Procedural motion to bring Motion UD128 forward to a vote before the guillotine is called.
UD128 (We Want Welsh) – motion passed
Back on track…UD103 (Media Response Unit) – motion passed
UD104 (‘Welfare and Inclusivity’ positions on SU Sports Team Committee) – motion passed
UD105 (National Postgraduate Representation) – motion passed
UD106 (Protecting Students in Nightclubs and Bars) – motion passed
UD107 (Hello, is it Nightline you’re looking for?) – motion passed
UD108 (Unions should pay the real living wage, as defined by the Living Wage Foundation) – motion passed
UD109 (Asset learner forum) – motion passed
UD110 (Updating the Education Act) – motion passed
UD111 (Defending Free Speech)
Amendment 111a (not passed)
CONFERENCE CLOSED FOR DAY ONE
After a quiet start to the day with some relatively uncontroversial accountability questions, the debate really got going in the Education zone regarding Brexit. The debate essentially hinged on Motion 102a ADD amendment regarding a second referendum on the deal negotiated by Brexit. Ultimately, this lengthy discussion meant that Education motions related to a national demo and free education were not heard. It is surprising that Brexit formed part of this zone, but alas, here we are. Conference voted for the motions to NOT be heard at NEC, so they will disappear in to the abyss.
Barring some interesting moments regarding free speech and protecting officers who have been targeted by the national press, it was a very civil day. 7/10 I’ll be back tomorrow after the UV party.