We have worked closely with, Megan Dunn, the outgoing President of the National Union of Students (NUS), who is a great advocate for students. But today’s media is full of stories resulting from the election of a new President, Malia Bouattia. The banner headline across the front page of The Times, for example, has a story about a potential mass NUS disaffiliation campaign.
As I recall from my own time as an undergraduate, when there was an intense campaign to disaffiliate the University of Manchester’s Students’ Union from the NUS, it is harder to disaffiliate than is often recognised. So these stories may not result in much change.
Yet one thing is certain: they will send people scurrying back to look at what last year’s higher education green paper said about students’ unions. At the time, I called it ‘simultaneously vague and vaguely threatening.’ The relevant section read not only as if it had been added at the last minute but also as if it had been written by someone with only a passing understanding of the role students’ unions play.
That is why our response to the green paper included a powerful chapter by a senior elected representative from Liverpool University’s Guild of Students, Emma Sims. This showed the benefits students’ unions can bring in terms of engaging students, supporting their welfare and working with the local community.
Today, the immediate risk facing the NUS probably comes less from disparate disaffiliation campaigns that need to reach a high bar to succeed and more from policymakers who want to pump up those vague threats in the green paper into something more substantial.
To that extent, the current crop of media stories could not have come at a worse time for the student movement, less than month before the likely publication of the first major higher education legislation for a dozen years.