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NUS asks its members to DRIVE NUS reform

By NUS

Monday 4 March 2019

NUS (National Union of Students) has published proposals to reform the near 100-year-old organisation today (4 March 2019).

Following four months of member consultation, and an extensive cost reduction plan to ensure it remains solvent, NUS has outlined a new governance structure which proposes simplification, a reduction in fees charged to members and a modern approach to campaigning and service delivery.

If it is to survive and thrive, members have been told they need to DRIVE NUS reform at the upcoming NUS National Conference (9-11 April). A detailed motion will be presented which asks students’ unions to:

  • Debate NUS’ future
  • Recognise its new financial reality
  • Imagine new ways of working
  • Vote for reform; and
  • Engage in the new NUS.

Under the reform proposals NUS will split up its current group of companies and create two separate bodies with two separate purposes – one to represent students’ voices and one to support and work with students’ unions. Both will be funded and owned by students’ unions, with additional funding coming from commercial activities and investments. Under the proposals, students’ unions will have more clarity and control over how NUS funds are spent. 

Members of the students’ union body will be able to purchase additional services beyond a core membership package of advice, building of SUs, and crisis support (‘ABC’ support). NUS will curate rather than deliver services, enabling groups of members to help shape, commission, and even deliver the services they want.

Further transparency and a clear line of sight over finances will be provided to both bodies via one board made up of up to seven student officers, four student union members and four independent lay members. Up to ten full time officer positions have been included in the student body governance model, including a UK wide president and nation presidents for Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales; each of these roles will hold guaranteed seats on the board. Officers will be elected for a two-year period, as recommended by the Runnymede Trust in its Institutional Racism Review of NUS in 2016.

Dedicated student voice conferences and steering committees for student voice conferences will remain for Liberation, Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales and the UK. Policy-making and elections will be separated allowing the development of modern, innovative, healthy debating spaces – NUS has acknowledged that its democratic spaces have become toxic and inaccessible to many individuals with whom the student movement wants to engage.

Elected officers will form a cabinet and work together to develop a NUS Manifesto and costed work plan that sets out clear, national campaigning priorities across the UK. Officers will remain accountable to the membership (students’ unions) and their members (students), through new engagement methods, including digital solutions, and report regularly on progress to students, member students’ unions and the NUS board.

Detailed financial modelling including over 460 scenarios has been undertaken to help determine the viability of the various options proposed by officers, members and interest groups as part of the October 2018 to February 2019 consultation period. The results were then whittled down to one base model, which indicates that while now solvent, NUS will need to be around half its previous size by July 2020. The organisation will also need to take further action in the coming years to become viable in the short to medium term and sustainable in the long term.     

The NUS Reform proposals, which include articles of association, rules for student voice, and a detailed motion for debate and vote at NUS’ upcoming annual conference, will now be open for a period of amendment. Detailed guidance and briefing packs are being provided to election candidates, conference delegates, students’ union staff, students’ union officers and trustees, so all interest groups can understand the impact of any amendments on solvency, stability and future sustainability.

Members have until 12 noon on the 18th of March 2019 to submit any amendments to the motion and will debate and vote on the proposals in April at NUS annual conference (9-11 April) in Glasgow.

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Notes to editors

NUS has been seeking to reform since 2014. It has held eight consultations or reviews since that time and taken cumulatively the reform proposals are the result of the broadest consultation exercise ever undertaken by the organisation.

NUS Group is made up of multiple legal entities at present with over 10 democratic conferences, over 200 elected student leaders and 66 decision-making bodies. Under the new proposals one board will have a clear line of sight across the two separate organisations with five conferences leading policy development for the national student voice body - Liberation, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the UK.

NUS advised its members and staff in October 2018 that it was facing potential insolvency in March 2019. However, a plan of action was prepared and as a result NUS is now solvent. A loan has been secured to cover the in (financial) year cash shortfall; the NUS’ London office has been put up for sale; an extensive cost cutting exercise has been completed resulting in 54 redundancies and a recruitment freeze on 40 other roles; and interim budget measures put in place for 2019/20, which will see a reduction in elected officers from 20 to 12.

The NUS Reform proposals, notes and guidance and related Articles of Association, Rules and Conference Motion were developed by the NUS Turnaround Board, following detailed consultation, and approved for publication by the NUS UK Board. An executive summary of the proposals is available here.