NUS – uniformity is strength…?

First a bit of house keeping, I’m sorry I’ve not kept willonline as up to day as I’d have liked. It’s the final semester of my final year at University so the stakes are high. I’ve come to regard my computer as my oppressor and have lost that liberating feeling I used to get from writing!

So, I wanted to jot down some thoughts on the sudden barrage of NUS elections related gossip, rumours and in amongst it all, actual interesting material that’s been going around.

First of all I am sorry to see Aaron Porter go, I think he’s done a good job and was an excellent Vice President Higher Education before that. I don’t envy him in the slightest, I can’t think of a more stressful and at times frustrating job. I’ll be the first to say that the high points of his time as President have been very high indeed.

Frankly, I’m pleased to see such a wide variety of people standing for the positions but I don’t think it goes nearly far enough. I’m always slightly disappointed when everyone runs for President too, it seems the least thematic of the positions and I get the impression many of the candidates simply want it for the power (and prestige) and I am always wary of anyone who wants power.

The blogosphere, Facebook and twitter abound with ‘vote for XXX’ or ‘So and so for President!’ pages which gives you a fair indication of the field to date, surely more will come out though. The variety so far is not discouraging, but still represents quite a limited segment of the student population. Now note that I didn’t say ‘a limited segment of the student movement’ because in fact the candidates usually do represent the movement accurately, the two terms have become dangerously conflated, perhaps in an attempt to improve the image we project to the outside world and stakeholders. The problem may lie in the fact that the movement doesn’t always represent the population, although we’ve seen an encouraging move away from that in the national demos over the past few months.

Don’t get me wrong, I am proud to be a committee member in NUS but I think we fall down by way of two things: 1) a motivation bias, the students who actually want to shape NUS enough usually manage to find a way to do so, it’s the students who don’t have the support networks I worry about, and 2) Students’ Unions are the gatekeepers to NUS and if they don’t allow, promote and encourage a broad range of people to get involved, stand for election as a delegate and a range of other activity then NUS Conference which elects our leadership has a limited stock of people to ‘choose’ from.

Some people might be afraid of anyone outside the ‘left and lefter’ sphere which runs NUS but are we making a mistake in shutting the doors to anyone outside of the cosy circle? I truly believe that a greater plurality of opinion could only serve to make us stronger. When we agreed it would be more passionate and more deeply felt, when we disagreed it would simply be a case of tolerated dissent, as in any liberal society. If we truly had people from all parts, political, social, cultural, of the 7 million member population we could claim more legitimacy and a greater sense of unity. Have we forgotten that unity is strength already? Surely if the spectrum of leaders we follow have views that converge on the most important issues (higher education funding etc) and diverge on those less critical that could only serve to broaden our impact, our appearance of unity and our sense of oneness?

What’s the worst that could happen? We’ve had terrible leaders before and NUS didn’t implode. I’m not suggesting for a moment that we encourage radical fringes to throw themselves into the fray, NUS is still a private members club and so reserves the right to determine its values and drivers, but broadening the field from the very very few who perform the astonishing balancing act that is the Block of 15 for long enough to become popular without annoying one couldn’t hurt.

I want to finish off by saying I wish every candidate the very best in the elections and look forward to seeing them at Conference. I place my trust in the delegates to choose the very best people for the job and elect us leaders we can be proud of.

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