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Investigation: The NUS Referendum

first_imgThis investigation also includes C+ examining the NUS Extra Card, what the alternatives to the NUS are, Tom Rutland and Eleanor Sharman on the pros and cons of NUS membership and James Elliott on how the NUS works. A referendum will be held between Monday and Wednesday of 4th Week on whether OUSU’s membership of the NUS should be renewed for the academic year 2014-2015. The official question put to students shall be: “OUSU is currently affiliated to the National Union of Students (NUS). Should it continue to be affiliated: yes or no?”The decision to hold the referendum was made at 7th Week OUSU Council in Trinity Term 2013. The Education Act (1994) requires OUSU to decide annually whether it wishes to remain affiliated to external organisations such as the NUS. The decision to affiliate to the NUS was previously made by OUSU Council. However, due to changes in OUSU’s funding, a referendum is now to be held.OUSU’s membership of the NUS was previously paid for by earmarked funding from the University block grant. This meant that, if OUSU was not affiliated with the NUS, it would not otherwise get this funding. However, in its budget for the academic year 2013-2014, OUSU had its block grant from the University increased to approximately £500,000. As part of this, the earmarking of funds was removed.For the first time, OUSU now has full discretion on how its block grant from the University is spent. This means that OUSU now has the option of spending the part of its grant previously reserved for NUS membership elsewhere. In 2012-2013, NUS affiliation cost OUSU £25,308 and was projected to cost £27,987.80 for 2013-2014, at the time that the motion to hold the referendum was passed.[mm-hide-text]%%IMG_ORIGINAL%%9599%%[/mm-hide-text] A C+ Investigation in the 5th Week of Hilary Term 2014 found Oxford’s cost of NUS affiliation to be £26,118 in 2013-2014 – 3.26% of OUSU’s £801,318 budget. However, the cost of NUS affiliation as a percentage of OUSU’s budget will be higher in future years, as part of the current block grant given by the University to OUSU is a one-off deal due to a loss of £58,000 which OUSU incurred in 2009. The leaders of the respective ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ campaigns for the referendum were chosen on Sunday of 1st week. Nominations to lead either of the campaigns were open from Sunday 27th April until Saturday 3rd May. However, both campaigns had only one nomination each.Current OUSU President Tom Rutland was elected leader of the ‘Yes’ campaign, while former Chair of OUSU Council, Jack Matthews, was elected to lead the ‘No’.Both candidates attended the NUS Conference this year, for which Oxford had seven delegates. The NUS National Conference took place in Liverpool between 8th and 10th April. Motions passed at the conference, included motions to oppose UKIP, oppose the privatisation of student loans and introduce gender balancing for all NUS committees and delegations. Current NUS President Toni Pearce was also re-elected.The ‘No’ campaign has already begun campaigning on social media, branding itself ‘Believe in Oxford’. The campaign has so far attempted to ask Oxford students whether they feel the NUS represents them. ‘Believe in Oxford’ have also attempted to emphasise how cost of affiliating to the NUS, roughly £25,000, could be spent elsewhere.Matthews has previously campaigned extensively for reform of the NUS, creating the website TheyWorkForStudents.co.uk. The website aims to ‘unlock’ the NUS by making the NUS’ governing documents more readily accessible, as well as providing information on how the NUS is run and the contact details of NUS officers. In a recent blog post, Matthews compared the idea of disaffiliation from the NUS to that of a “strike”, using OUSU’s payment to the NUS as an incentive for the organisation to change.‘Yes’ campaign leader Tom Rutland wrote a note on Facebook in April laying out what the NUS does for students. The piece emphasised the importance of rallying and organising students together on a national level. Rutland also listed some of the NUS’ achievements in the past year, including securing £45 million in postgraduate student support and the training that they provide to Students’ Union officers. [mm-hide-text]%%IMG_ORIGINAL%%9602%%[/mm-hide-text] Cherwell has conducted a survey of 150 Oxford students to test students’ thoughts on the matter. The survey found that the majority of students currently favour re-affiliation, despite being unsure of what the NUS does. The survey shows that 66% of respondents either ‘disagree’ or ‘strongly disagree’ with the statement that they understand what the NUS does for Oxford students, while a further 11% of students answered ‘neutral’.In contrast, only 10% of students said that they ‘strongly agree’ that they know what the NUS does. Even if this is combined with the percentage that ‘agree’ with the statement, that means that only 23% of respondents claim to understand what the NUS does.Most students surveyed currently wished to remain affiliated with the NUS, despite the majority of them not understanding what it does, with 47% of respondents answering that they ‘agree’ or ‘strongly agree’ that OUSU should remain affiliated.Importantly, 33% of students are still undecided about which way they will vote, meaning a large body of students have not yet formed an opinion on the issue. Furthermore, while our survey suggests that the ‘Yes’ campaign are starting with an advantage, the majority of students still do not back actively re-affiliation.It appears voter turnout will have a major impact upon the outcome, with only 20.8% of the student population voting in the OUSU elections in Michaelmas.Given the extensive coverage this received and the more immediate relevance of those elections for Oxford students, the turnout for this referendum is likely to be lower.When Cherwell asked students whether they were going to vote in the NUS affiliation referendum only 38% said they planned on doing so. In addition, 34% of students claimed they did not plan on voting, while 28% responded that they had not yet decided.Therefore, even if most students are currently sympathetic to remaining in the NUS, whether they feel strongly enough to participate in the referendum will be a key determinant in its outcome.Voting will take place between Monday and Wednesday of 4th Week.last_img read more

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