Written by Bee Hellier |
The National Union of Students (NUS) has announced plans for major reforms to its structure, after years of financial difficulties, organisational concerns and “toxic” politics, with jobs being lost and its London office being put up for sale.
In a press release on 4 March, the NUS detailed its “extensive cost cutting exercise”, which will leave the organisation “around half its previous size by July 2020”.
In late January, President Shakira Martin and Acting CEO Peter Robinson wrote a letter to all NUS members which reported on problems with the “financial health” of the organisation. Explaining that there was a deficit of around £1.7 million and that drastic action had to be taken this financial year in order to stay solvent, a set of reforms have been planned in an attempt to save the organisation.
54 voluntary redundancies have now been completed, and there has been a recruitment freeze on 40 other roles. The number of elected officers will be reduced from 20 to 12, with the LGBT+ Officer, Trans Officer, International Officer and Wales and Scotland Deputies among those who will be cut from 2020 onwards.
The NUS Head Office, based near King’s Cross in London, has also been put up for sale to release cash and allow the repayment of a loan that is needed this year due to a shortfall in income.
Major reforms to the NUS have long been anticipated. A white paper released in January 2019 recognised the failures of the NUS over the past several years, the proposed reforms span from intense and sustained feedback from students’ unions, members and staff.
Consultations on reforms are ongoing, and all current students have until 8th March to give their opinions on the future membership model and officer roles.
“Toxic and inaccessible”
The reforms proposed are profound and highlight the significant shift in the organisation’s culture that has taken place since Martin was first elected in 2017. In response to feedback that students feel unrepresented and disengaged on both a local and national scale, the NUS will split into “two separate bodies with two separate purposes – one to represent student’s voices and one to support and work with student’s unions”.
The NUS has also admitted that its “democratic spaces have become toxic and inaccessible to many individuals whom the student movement wants to engage”. But it is almost certain to face further questions in how the NUS can improve student engagement and accessibility while cutting full-time representatives for international and LGBT+ students.
The NUS still faces challenges despite these wide-ranging proposals. The reform package still needs to be approved by delegates at the National Conference in April. Shakira Martin, who spearheaded the reform agenda, is ineligible for re-election, and will be hoping her successor continues the work she started.
FXU will also be sending delegates to the National Conference, in order to vote on motions and to action these reforms, in Glasgow on the 9-11th April. Voting for delegates will be open for 24 hours, from midday Thursday 7th March. All students can vote through the FXU website.