National Union of Students of the United Kingdom

National Union of Students of the United Kingdom

Infobox Political Youth Organization
name_english = National Union of Students (NUS)

colorcode = Black
foundation = 1922
headquarters = Centro 3, Mandela Street, Camden, London
international = European Students' Union
website = []

The National Union of Students (NUS) is the main confederation of students' unions that exist inside the United Kingdom. Although the NUS is the central organisation for all affiliated unions in the UK, there are also the devolved national sub-bodies NUS Scotland in Scotland, NUS Wales in Wales and NUS-USI in Northern Ireland (the latter being co-administered by the Union of Students in Ireland).

NUS is a member of the European Students' Union.


The NUS was formed in 1922 at a meeting held at the University of London. At this meeting, the Inter-Varsity Association and the International Students Bureau (which organised student travel and had been lobbying for a national body) agreed to merge.Founding members included the unions of University of Birmingham, Imperial College London (who first left in 1923 and have subsequently rejoined and left three times, the last time being in June 2008), King's College London (who supplied the first President (Sir Ivison Macadam)) and the University of Bristol.

Financial crisis

In recent years, the NUS has faced a prolonged financial crisis, caused by a coinciding of spiralling expenditure and decreasing income. A series of measures were proposed to address this, of which the most controversial included a series of changes to the constitutional and democratic processes. In 2004, two emergency conferences passed some of the changes proposed, albeit not without fierce dispute between those claiming the proposals were necessary reforms to maintain the existence of the organisation and those arguing that they were aimed at curbing democracy and involvement. The 2006 NUS Conference passed a policy enabling the NUS to launch a paid-for student discount card, in September, called 'NUS Extra', on sale to students at GB£10.


All UK students' unions are able to join the NUS (providing they are not controlled by their parent institution and their admission is approved by National Conference). To become a constituent member, unions must pay an affiliation fee to NUS, which is based upon the number of students in the union, and the money received by the union from its parent institution.

The NUS now has over 700 constituent members (the unions of either higher education or further education establishments) through which it represents approximately 5 million UK students, which equates to approximately 98% of all students and hence potential members. However, a small number of high profile educational institutions are not members. These include the University of Glasgow, University of St Andrews, University of Dundee, University of Southampton and Imperial College London. In recent years NUS membership has become a controversial issue with some unions seeing general meeting motions and referendums on the membership issue.

The NUS have in the past received criticism for spending significant amounts of time and money in running pro-affiliation campaigns at universities to ensure that they win referendums.

Recent leavers of the NUS have included UMIST (which is now re-affiliated through its merger to form UMSU), the University of Sunderland, the University of Southampton and Aston University as well as Imperial College London. However, these defections have been partly counterbalanced by the entry into membership of the University of Edinburgh. The University of Northampton also re-affiliated itself with the NUS in October 2007, having disaffiliated in 2001.


The NUS holds national conferences once a year. National Conference is the sovereign body of NUS, and is where NUS policy is decided. Other conferences, such as Regional Conferences, Women's Conference, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Trans Conference (changed as of 2004), Disabled Students Conference, Black Students' Conference and the International Students' Conference (created in 2004) are run to enhance the representation of the specific members they include.

Most of these conferences, and in particular the elections held at them, are hotly contested by factions including Conservative Future, Education Not for Sale, Labour Students, Liberal Democrat Youth and Students, the Organised Independents, Socialist Students, Student RESPECT, and Student Broad Left. In addition to these political factions, interest groups such as the Federation of Student Islamic Societies and the Union of Jewish Students are deeply involved in the internal democratic processes of NUS.


NUS offer a number of services to their constituent members. NUS owns a 25% share in NUS Services. NUS Services started out as a purchasing consortium that allows its members to benefit from bulk purchasing discounts. NUS and NUS Services work closely with the Association for Managers in Students' Unions.


The NUS has come in for criticism from various quarters, particularly from those students' unions who are not affiliated. Sen Ganesh, then president of Imperial College Union, said in 2002: "NUS's claim to be representative of students is not borne out by their work". cite news
url=|title="What have NUS ever done for us?"
author=Adam Keating

The NUS has in particular come in for criticism for the way its democratic processes are structured. Unlike individual student unions and despite the rise of online voting in Universities, NUS officers are not directly elected by students, but instead selected by delegates. For extraordinary general meetings, there doesn't even need to be a cross-campus election of delegates cite news
title="NUS constitution"
] . Some have argued that the NUS National Conference is unrepresentative of the opinions of students across the country and that in turn the National Executive Committee does not always reflect the wishes and priorities of studentscite news
] . The NUS have countered, arguing that many of the criticisms are inaccuratecite news
] .

The NUS has also been criticized for what appears to be an obsession with selling its 'NUS Extra Card', which offers students discounts on certain purchases, rather than confronting issues that actually affect students. []

Current & recent issues

AUT/NATFHE (UCU) marking boycott controversy

In 2006 the Association of University Teachers (AUT) and the National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education (NATFHE), announced a one-day strike, to be followed by ongoing "action short of a strike" in the form of an assessment boycott (with the AUT, though not NATFHE, including the setting of exams in the boycott) as part of their pay negotiations with the Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA), with many lecturers and teachers not marking exam papers.

Initially the NUS leadership, headed by Kat Fletcher, gave support to the lecturers' unionarguing that it was essential to secure an increase in lecturers' wages; The understanding was that the NUS was not supporting the AUT-only boycott of setting or marking examscite news
title="Do the right thing"
] . However this support was not reflected across all students' unions affiliated to NUS and some tabled an emergency motion to the 2006 NUS National Conference; however this was not debated. This provoked strong criticism that the NUS stance on one of the major education issues of the day had been decided without consultation of the membershipcite news
title="A National Union of Students?"
author=James Dixon
] .

Subsequently a number of students' unions went public with their opposition to both the boycott and the NUS support for itcite news
title="Students vent anger over lecturers' boycott"
] . A member of the NUS National Executive-elect drafted a counter letter in support, signed by a number of students' unionscite news
title="Students divided over lecturers' pay dispute"
] , whilst direct online petitions of students opposed to the boycott attracted an ever growing number of signatures. cite news
title="Petition against the AUT assessment boycott"
] cite news
title="Give Us Our Marks"
] . A petition completely in favour of the boycott had attracted rather fewer signaturescite news
title="Support our lecturers: don't let the bosses divide us!"
publisher=Education Not for Sale
] .

An opinion poll jointly commission by "London Student" and "Times Higher" found that 77% of students opposed the boycott, although 67% supported the general principle of increasing lecturers' paycite news
title="THE BOYCOTT BITES: Employers play games as exams postponed last-minute"
publisher=London Student
] .

Many have criticised the NUS as unrepresentative of its members, and have questioned to what extent the NUS actually represents students' interests. Some students' unions have gone so far as to threaten to withhold part of their affiliation feescite news
url=,,1777033,00.html|title="Student unions threaten to withhold NUS fees"
] . Many other students' unions have maintained support for the teaching unions, including some which have agreed to go beyond the NUS stance, backing the AUT/NATFHE action fully. (The poll was published after many students' unions had already adopted their pro-boycott stance, and it is not clear to what extent the student unions were already aware of student opposition).

The NUS later advised AUT/NATFHE, following feedback from over 100 unions, that their partial support for action could not be indefinite and is wholly dependent on seeking a fast resolution. This, along with criticism meted out to the employers' negotiators (UCEA) by the Parliamentary HE committee chair Barry Sheerman MP, [ [,,1781447,00.html Ucea ordered to explain pay dispute comments | Education | ] ] seemed to have an effect as a pay deal was soon reached by the newly merged lecturers' union, the University and College Union (UCU)cite news
url=|title="Lecturers' pay deal 'is in reach'"
publisher=BBC News Online
] cite news
url=|title="University pay talks reach deal'"
publisher=BBC News Online
] .


The Fairtrade NUS Campaign was started by students at the University of Edinburgh in autumn 2005. The campaign, which has now been joined by numerous other students' unions in the UK, is calling for 100% of the hot beverages (tea, coffee, hot chocolate etc.) sold by member unions of the NUS to be accredited with the Fairtrade Mark.

The campaign is supported by a number of NGOs and charities, including Oxfam, Trade Justice Movement, People & Planet and CAFOD.

While it is hotly contested amongst the Universities about who were the original Fairtrade University,the Fairtrade foundation gave this status first and worked with Oxford Brookes University who spearheaded the movement - with the University of Edinburgh a close second.

Governance review

The 2008 Conference in Blackpool was dominated by the governance review debate and vote. The proposals were for a restructuring of the running of the Union but the vote was lost by 25 votes. [ [ Blairite revolution in NUS is defeated | Mortarboard | Guardian Unlimited ] ] The review was criticised for what was felt by detractors to be an attack on the organisation's democractic accountability [ [ NUS Governance Review defeated at last stage | Education | News | News | ] ] . Its supporters however defended the review as providing a more 'innovative' corporate structure which was hoped to make it more credible in negotiating policy, rather than simply 'reactive'. [ [,,2236692,00.html Anthea Lipsett on changes within the NUS | Students | ] ] This was not well received by many in the executive with President, Gemma Tumelty, vowing to press ahead with reform. [ [,,2270226,00.html Students vote against union's governance changes | Education | Education Guardian ] ] The perceived lack of progress on governance reform has also prompted Imperial College Union to hold a referendum on disaffiliation. [ [ Live! - Council Calls NUS Referendum ] ] .


Black Students' Campaign

Women's Campaign


External links

* [ NUS Home]
* [ NUS Website for Union Officers] (open until until January 2009)
* [ NUS Services Limited Website]
* [ Talk to NUS - volunteer site to contact representatives]

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