Image courtesy of: the National Union of Students
On 6 February, Kent Union held a debate in Templeman Lecture Theatre to decide whether they should leave or remain in the National Union of Students (NUS).
Within the leave/remain narrative, the debate was riddled with allusions to Brexit and questions of whether leaving the NUS would bring about similar chaos to Kent that Brexit brought to the UK.
The “remain” argument was made by Emily Window, Vice-President (Student Engagement). Her opening statement formed the centre of her argument.
She articulated that NUS allows for not just the student voice but the national voice to be heard.
When asked about whether it would be better to stay and reform the NUS or leave, Window replied by explaining that the NUS is currently undergoing a transitional period. They are merging the campaign and charity boards to form one cohesive voice, strengthening their board in the long run.
“There will be a way forward, but sacrifices have to be made,” she said in response to President Sasha Langeveldt asking about inclusivity after cuts were made to representatives.
She was then asked by InQuire’s Editor-in-Chief George Knight, who was moderating, if she thought the NUS provided effective leadership and representation to students, and replied by saying that she feels the NUS helps with issues such as mental health and Erasmus where Parliament needs to be involved, and the annual fee is a small price to pay.
Window found herself being questioned a lot more directly after this point by Langeveldt. While unsure about what happens at NUS meetings, she said NUS should be trusted.
“If you don’t know as a full-time officer, how can the average student know?” Langeveldt asked, continuing, “If you don’t know what all the things NUS are doing are, how do you know that they’re doing it?”
Window was then asked about the politics of the NUS, answering:
“I personally haven’t been to a NUS conference, but I have heard that it can be very factional and hostile to people with conflicting opinions.”
Her closing statement argued that without NUS, postgraduate loans would not be feasible, nor would railcards or discounts in town.
“We shouldn’t give that up for the sake of a kitchen,” a direct jab at Langeveldt’s proposition for what could be done with the NUS money.
Her closing statement was met with excited applause from the officers in the audience who had been nodding in agreement as she spoke throughout the hour.
Sasha Langeveldt, Students’ Union President, argued to leave the NUS. Her opening statement and the core of her argument was that Kent Union pays around £50,000 a year to the NUS and the student body is not getting its value for money.
She posited that, in staying in the NUS, Kent Union is funding them to “continue their crisis”.
Window’s comment about the debate resembling that of Brexit was met with a sharp retaliation from Langeveldt, telling her that tying herself to the Brexit Remain Campaign was “a cry for pity”.
The question of where the £50,000 would go if Kent Union was to leave was answered with a range of possibilities, from developing the zero-tolerance project to training staff in mental health awareness or expanding common areas.
When asked about the cost of leaving, Langeveldt said there would be no cost beyond what has already been paid to NUS for the upcoming academic year, but Window rebutted with the argument that £1,200 would be lost on sales of totem cards.
This prompted a dispute as to whether the Totem card system is relevant anymore since students use other discount websites such as UniDays, but Window argued that UniDays collects students’ data and sells it to earn its revenue, making Totem cards a safer option.
“If you have Facebook, your data is being sold anyway,” Langeveldt replied.
Before the floor was opened for questions, Langeveldt was asked how the Union would represent students on a national level if it were to leave.
She cited the Southern Unions’ Conference could be turned into a national voice, and that students working on what they are passionate about would attract the press.
She said that the NUS do not come to campus enough and leaving would not mean any less representation than the University already receives.
This was refuted by an officer in the audience who claimed that she had benefited hugely from the training she received from NUS.
Omolade Adedapo, Vice-President (Welfare and Community), asked Langeveldt how student community projects would be supported if not for NUS. Sasha responded by citing the privilege that officers have had by being close to NUS when working on projects such as sex work or equality gaps.
“The average student doesn’t have that privilege; they don’t hear from the NUS.”
She was then asked if, rather than leaving, the Union should educate students on its benefits, but Langeveldt replied saying: “Yes, we can tell the average student what NUS does, but if a full-time officer [referring to Window] doesn’t know then how can we teach the students?”
Ms Langeveldt’s closing statement was that the NUS was nowhere to be seen when the University needed a national voice for the people’s vote and that they should have the freedom to use their funds as they please. She was cut off as her minute lapsed, and the applause was far sparser.
The debate was an hour of intense back-and-forth regarding finance, data privacy, Brexit, and transparency. An audience question about whether the £50,000 would be ring-fenced and how it is spent made explicit in the annual budget review was met with: “Yes, if that’s what the students want.”
However, the audience member replied saying “Students shouldn’t have to ask for transparency, it should be a given.”