Liberation Conference Policy - Mainstreaming

Mainstreaming Liberation in our Work and Governance

You can download the full set of submissions on this topic here.

Which Students’ Unions have been involved in proposing?
National Union of Students

What’s the issue and how does it affect students?
Liberation is often considered by many people, including in the student movement, to be an ‘additional’ or ‘separate’ issue to the work that our political and educational institutions should be mainly focusing on. They may say, for example, that they can’t work on anti-racism at the moment, as they want to ‘prioritise’ a cost-of-living campaign. This represents the way that liberation is discussed and a lack of understanding of the ways in which systems of oppression, such as classism, racism, sexism, transphobia, ableism, and queerphobia intersect, and affect many more people - in both the student movement and broader society - than they don’t.
Liberation Conference has independent policy-making power, to give students in liberation groups the ability to discuss and pass policy which affects them. However, some policy goes to National Conference even though it affects students in liberation groups, and ends up being discussed by students who are not in those liberation groups and may not have the relevant experience or knowledge.
People do this for various reasons: they may have a desire for policy to be discussed by other affected groups, such as students on low-incomes, international students, mature students, or student parents. It may be partly also because we are all socialised into the same structures of oppression, and can reproduce them in our own ways of working and organising as a result, so many people consider Liberation Conference to be less important than National Conference. It can often be that Liberation issues are seen as separate, and not brought in - as they should be - to feed into all major decisions made across NUS’s conferences and work. Further Education (FE) concerns can be similarly unconsciously treated as secondary, as well as issues raised in nations other than England.

What changes would we like to see in society to change this?
There is an urgent need for the differences between National and Liberation conferences to be made clear early in the academic year to students, SU/SA staff, and elected officers. This would also improve accessibility as it would make engagement with NUS democracy clearer and easier to understand, and enable more people to get involved. Apart from this, however, there is a need to make changes to the way that liberation issues are mainstreamed across conferences, the preparation for conferences, and the way that this work takes place at NUS between conferences, too.


Impact Assessment

How does it impact FE students / Apprentices?
Students and learners in liberation groups within FE and apprenticeships are sometimes not represented equally in liberation spaces or other NUS spaces. The spaces created for FE students and apprentices to self-determine must also feed back into the NUS’s other work. This will improve policy, as well as NUS’s work overall.

How does it impact on black*, disabled, LGBT+, trans and women students?
Properly funded education means that low-income students wouldn’t have to work longer hours than others to survive, allowing them to focus on learning. It would exclude fewer disabled students who may not be able to work alongside studying. Education which solves society’s issues is education focused on collective liberation.

How does it impact on International Students, Postgraduate Students, Part Time and Mature Students?
With better processes for mainstreaming liberation concerns, which also affect PG students, Mature, and Part Time students in liberation groups, these processes should also require us to consider other students’ experiences as part of the processes, such as those issues faced by migrants, part-time, and mature students.
Is there a particular impact or response for small and specialist institutions?
There is good practice from small and specialist SUs/SAs in considering the needs of all their student groups in an intersectional way; this work should also open up spaces where the NUS deliberately consults with specialist SUs/SAs about how its work affects them and their students.

Does this apply across the UK or specifically in England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland?
Would there be different consequences for the proposal in different parts of the UK?
These processes for ways of working across will make it more likely that we have clarity on which decisions need feed-in from other groups, including nations Presidents, SUs/SAs in different regions, and which structures we might need to support this better.

What action could NUS, students and SUs take to work on this?
Liberation students and organisers, including liberation staff in SUs/SAs, have a lot of experience of working in intersectional, collaborative ways that make different groups of students feel heard and respected. We need to take this collectivism to national conference and other parts of the student movement.
- Set up a working group to consider how to mainstream liberation across NUS’s work and conferences, as well as create processes to meaningfully include other student groups and anti-oppressive campaigns (no matter what their stated issue is).
- Consider the timeline of other conferences relative to National Conference.
- Consider how Liberation Steering and Liberation Campaigns Committee can work with Democratic Procedures Committee to assess policy going to each conference for its impact on various student groups.
- Ensure there is a plan for local and regional structures which can communicate more effectively to students, elected officers, and SU staff about NUS’s work and conferences.