November 2018 saw the National Union of Students (NUS) announce a three million pound deficit. Or rather, the debt was leaked; the only way the public, and more importantly students, found out about this was through a leaked letter between our NUS president Shakira Martin, and chief executive Peter Robertson. It had always been known that the NUS was struggling to sell its NUS extra discount card (newly called Totum), but the scale of financial trouble had never been made public until now. This means that NUS was either covering this up, or was simply horrifically incompetent.
A three million pound deficit raises both eyebrows and questions. Where has all this money gone? What on earth has it been spent on? How long has the NUS been keeping this under wraps? The NUS's mission statement is to represent students and the leadership is always keen to reiterate this. But a student body that espouses to being representative and a voice for students, and yet meanwhile fails to inform them of the finances of the organisation, is clearly failing in this noble goal. And yet, this failure has failed to spur the NUS on. Like with the lecture strikes, the NUS happily advertises it's representational and democratic credentials, but remains completely silent when an issue arises.
So far we know the NUS has had a 'strategic' meeting(s) on the matter, but we don't know how many have occurred, nor what they exactly involved. This is because the NUS does not publicise these meetings and make available the minutes. They have not put any effort at all in attempting to inform students what the discussions are, and the strategy in conversation. It was the same situation for the lecture strikes last year, in which despite student attempts to contact the leadership most were largely ignored. With this situation, it has been the same again.
From what we hear a strategy has been planned to deal with this deficit, although this has not been formally publicised, and one assumes this will be voted on in conference. But what students need right now is transparency. We as Kent students and members of Kent Union fork out £50,000 a year on the NUS and we deserve to know what is going on and where this money is being spent. We need to know the facts. We should have been able to see this bankruptcy coming. If the NUS won't tell us, Student Unions need to put their money where their mouths are and demand answers. They must publicise the NUS's justifications to student populations. Accountability is key here, and it is accountability that is lacking.
This Freshers’ Fair, the NUS in its capacity as Totum had a stall in Eliot College. The people at the stall, however, knew nothing on the deficit situation. These people were not here as representatives, but to sell their Totum product on behalf of NUS. They didn't know about the deficit nor could they tell me how much NUS pays towards 'Totum' services! But what they could say, in their marketing speech, is that the benefits of buying Totum discount card is that this money goes back to the SUs. But there is no point in giving money to an organisation which won't tell you where this money is going. Especially considering, according to the 3 million deficit, it is seemingly going nowhere.
You may remember a figure called Tom Hardwood who ran for NUS President in the second year of his undergrad degree at Durham. In 2017, he made a jokey election video when he successfully ran for NUS delegate elections. Among his pledges, which included ending Freddo chocolate inflation, was a promise to begin every lecture with a pledge of alliance to the NUS. Our student unions are non-ironically performing this pledge. Our unions keep unquestioningly accepting a shambolic status quo, rather than seeking answers and reforming a depressed and sinking institution.