Delegate Report by Harriet Tollerson
Glasgow, 26th March- 29th March 2018
Attended Alongside: President (Sodiq Akinbade), Phylicia Philips (Course Rep Chair), Nelly Kibirige ( President Elect) and Sami Arjuband (President of ISOC, 4x NUS Delegate)
Personal Aims for the Conference
After being elected to be an NUS delegate for LSBSU in the November ByElections, I admittedly had little idea of what the role would entail once we arrived at national conference. Apart from aiming to represent both the views of our students, our union and ourselves all at once when voting for motions. This is a challenge I was looking forward to achieving as successfully as possible.
Upon arrival, I went to the conference venue to register as a delegate and to familiarise myself with the area. It was apparent straight away that the campaigns being ran by those hoping to be elected to NUS national positions took any opportunity to talk to delegates. This tactic of handing out stickers/ leaflets and info packs as well as campaign teams wearing bright t-shirts to endorse candidates is a tactic that ensures complete engagement from voters and is one that could be used by candidates in our own union elections.
For the first day of conference I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. I attended the delegate briefing session at 10am so as I knew how the process worked and learned about the motion and procedural motion system. As it turns out: this knowledge came in frequent use… I was introduced to the role of the DPC and the role they play in conference as well as that of the Chairs. There was also a brief section on jargon, which would also come in very useful. As a first-time delegate, I would highly recommend this training session- especially to someone with little to no knowledge of policy and how governmental/ legal systems work, as I believe the understanding of all of these systems to be similar in concept.
Once seated in the London delegation area of conference floor, it was clear that this was a very formal and professional conference. The opening remarks by the president were very compelling and seemed to be very on point with issues that our union should be concerned about due to our student demographic.
The priority motion; PC101, for Student Poverty is highly alarming and upon further reading and attending a workshop later in the day looking into the Poverty Commission, I believe that this is a motion that we should look at adopting into our organisation. We could very easily run a campaign mirroring the NUS’ to raise awareness and support for those students from impoverished backgrounds. I believe that this is something that would greatly improve the student experience of students at LSBU, due to figures showing that an alarmingly high rate of our students come from the ‘free school meal’ system, in turn suggesting that they will almost definitely be from poorer households. Although there may not be anything we can do to directly influence their situations, running campaigns to reduce the prices in our campus canteens and lobbying the university to introduce more grants for those that come from poorer socio-economic backgrounds, and to promote studying at LSBU to those in the local area I believe that we could do much good for all those studying at LSBU and the local community.
As well as this, the amendments that were approved alongside the main motion ( PC101a, 101b & 101c) would be so beneficial to almost all of our students, and I hope to see the NUS succeed in their efforts to lobby the government, particularly on amendment PC101b- payment of student maintenance loans before term starts.
However, it was clear 10 minutes into debate on Higher Education policy, that many delegates believe that national conference is a platform to be speaking about any and every political issue… A motion that started off as protecting EU students’ rights (HE102), very quickly became a debate about whether the NUS should be campaigning for a second EU referendum or not. This lasted far longer than it should have and prevented us from discussing more realistic and achievable aims as an organisation designed to represent the interests of students and their education.
It was also during this session that I got to grips with the Procedural Motions system. Multiple were submitted throughout these debates including ‘vote to overturn the last decision/ of no confidence of the chair’, ‘extend the guillotine’ and parts. The role and duties of the DPC are something that I would like to investigate more.
Union Development on the other hand was far less dramatic and it seems to me that a lot of the motions seemed to be submitted were fairly ‘tame’. However, I did not see the necessity in all of the motions voted in. UD104, “’Welfare and Inclusivity’ position on SU Sports Teams” I don’t personally believe is a measure for the NUS to take on. I believe that individual unions should be able to make the call on whether they need these positions on their teams committees or not. In our Union I believe that our sports teams are all very inclusive and although they may not be representative of our student body as a whole, this isn’t necessarily the fault of the teams themselves, and definitely isn’t because our teams are non-inclusive. Despite this, gauging the political mood of the room, I did not nominate myself to go up and make a speech against this motion, as I know that other delegates would view me as being ‘anti-inclusivity’ (I’m not…) and wouldn’t want people to misinterpret what I have to say, and this reflect badly upon the union.
This was a day that will surely not be forgotten in NUS national conference history…
The day began again with excitement about the election for the National President and elections of the other Vice Presidents.
Starting with the Liberation Adoptions, it was interesting to see how the different liberation officers have worked together on campaigns throughout the last year. For example, the Women's Officer and the Black Students officer have worked together to produce a report into gendered islamophobia, and the experience of Muslim Women in further and higher education. This report would be interesting to read, and would highly recommend that union staff do the same.
Welfare Zone discussed mostly mental health policy and how this is implemented and represented within unions and Universities. There was a lot of discussion around motion W101b, ‘Meaningful Mental Health campaigns not puppy rooms’. This is a motion that I voted against, as I believe that the campaign that we run here and the inclusion of the farm animals that visit the Southwark campus raises the profile of the student union greatly. Not only that, but its hard to resist cuddling a rabbit in-between lectures, and that is a great way for us as a union to get chatting to students that wouldn’t usually involve themselves with any other union campaign or activity. Above all else, it is “the wedge in the door to speaking to students about mental health and what our unions can do to provide help should they ever need it” to quote one delegate speaking against the amendment.
Debate continued, until it was time to hear from our presidential candidates. All three talked about the work that they would like to see done, but it was clear that the current president be reelected to continue her unapologetic vision for the direction of the NUS and its policy for the next year, and her focus on an inclusive union for all. The other candidates did however pick up on the lack of the NUS involvement in the UCU strikes and although I know that our university didn’t take part in the strikes, I would be interested to know what protocol we have in place as a union if our academic staff were to have taken strike action.
After this, the infamous sit in protest took place. I am pleased to say that none of our delegates took part in this, and we made the decision to vacate the conference floor, to reduce the audience that was given to this massive disruption of procedure.
When conference finally resumed later at 19:00 we finished voting on the society and citizenship motions. I choose to abstain from voting on motion SC 102 due to the fact that this motion seemed to be focussing a lot on the needs of students that are not even resident in this country, and campaigning for them to have funding. Whilst I fundamentally agree with the motion itself I did not feel that any part of this motion was a relevant discussion to be having at a National Student Conference, and this type of discussion was perhaps better effective if had at a national legislative level. This belief that I have about this motion could have been applied to most motions at this conference overall, and I would be interested in looking into producing a motion for national conference next year on behalf of our union that would raise this as a concern… that the NUS seems to be developing into a legislative body with ambitions far higher than it actually has the power to control. NUS should be focussing on the needs and wants of its constituent members, and however well intentioned it is to provide solidarity with refugees from the middle east and beyond, there is no power that the NUS holds that could actually change the global situation of the Refugee Crisis.
From chatting to people around me, many other delegates felt the same- and I wonder if the way that delegates vote so publicly (holding their voting card in the air for all to see) dissuades so many from voting how they really believe. Due to the stigma of voting against a motion and seeming like a person who doesn’t care about the needs of others…
The final day consisted of a lot of listening to speeches made by delegates wishing to be elected for the Vice Presidents, NEC’s block of 15, student directors and for the DPC.
After that business was concluded and we voted through the AGM motions as a whole, as well as hearing closing remarks from the President Shakira Martin. She spoke passionately about the good of further and higher education and the massive influence that we have on peoples lives through education.
It was then that another protest broke out, as many students walked out in protest to the President naming a delegate that was heckling her during her speech. Once we were dismissed from conference floor, I walked outside and realised that there was another protest being held facing the venue with a group of roughly 50 delegates chanting “not our president…”. It may not have been their first choice to have Shakira Martin reelected to office, however she now represents the national union and therefore represents them. Once again, I am glad to say that none of our delegates participated in this.
Once our goodbyes were said to the SEC Armadillo and all those inside and outside, we swiftly left the conference area to pack our bags to prepare for the long journey home again…
Needless to say that the NUS national Conference 2018 was a learning experience. LSBSU did not submit any motions, and I found my purpose as a delegate to this convention to sit quietly and learn all that I can about the NUS as an organisation and those that are within it, and the politics that underlie it. Although I have learnt a lot from this conference, I hope to be able to attend many more like it in the future to be able to understand more about the NUS and the part that our union has in all of its politics.