I'm Voting Yes to NUS-USI, Yes to my National Voice
By Connor Daly
You know, students do care about their education, their Students’ Union and their politics. Last week we witnessed a record high turnout in our Students’ Union Council elections, in the Gown we read about a disagreement between a current vice-president and former VP over different styles of student activism and engagement. It’s great! What’s difficult to watch, however, is the transformation of a referendum on QUBSU’s affiliation with NUS-USI from a simple yes/no to a painful pro-choice/pro-life contest which regrettably might serve only to divide our Student Council and campus for the foreseeable future. Next Tuesday I’ll be voting Yes to NUS-USI because I know that this is just one of a long, long list of policies which are open for discussion year-on-year and which any student has the power change. If QUBSU was to opt out of NUS-USI I wouldn’t have the opportunity to change this policy, or any NUS-USI policy for that matter. What’s more, our Students’ Union’s ability to oppose any future plans to increase tuition fees, to stand up to dodgy landlords and to seek increased funds for student support would be diminished.
It was in 1972, amidst some of the darkest days of the troubles in Northern Ireland, that the NUS-USI was established and brought together students from all political persuasions. A democratic organisation, its policies have always been open for debate. The truth about the pro-choice/pro-life debate is that this can be settled internally without having to sacrifice the many benefits which come through NUS-USI affiliation. The debate can be settled by students who choose to engage with their national student movement. We cannot simply opt out, sit on the sidelines and hope that this organisation resolves divisive policy of its own accord. As a democratic organisation it is the student members who steer the direction of NUS-USI. If members feel unrepresented, if they disagree with specific policy or the NUS-
USI’s way of doing things then they are encouraged to get involved and change their national movement from within. Nothing and no one can prevent their voice from being heard.
Some will argue that QUBSU’s £50k NUS-USI membership fee is too high
and ask what our students’ union receives in return. My rebuttal is simple. Just recently QUBSU received funding of £15k from NUS Services which went a long way to establishing our SU Lets agency. More than this, it was the joint work of NUS-USI and our university unions and college representatives that successfully vetoed any plans to raise tuition fees in Northern Ireland and protected the Higher Education Budget from further cuts. Full-time NUS-USI staff are regularly in contact with our QUBSU student officers to discuss joint responses to government consultations on a wide range of issues, whether they be welfare-related or otherwise.
Thanks to the work of NUS-USI services each and every graduate leaving QUB will have 60% less debt than their counterparts in England. Even more recently, it was the presence, guidance and representation by NUS-USI in Northern Ireland political debate and in the media that won back the Nursing uniform and book allowance for student nurses for this year. That’s worth £150,000 in QUB students’ pockets.
When I think of the money received by QUBSU to help set up a highly regarded student letting agency in the building, the thousands of pounds each QUB graduate will save not having to pay back higher loans like those studying in England, and the considerable savings among student nurses during their time at University, I'm proud to say that NUS-USI is worth every penny of our affiliation fee.
On Tuesday I’ll be voting Yes to NUS-USI on Queen’s Online not with just one or two NUS-USI policies in mind, but with the knowledge that NUS-USI as a political vehicle has a long tradition of supporting students from different backgrounds and with different opinions. I’m proud to be part of an organisation that after 40 years continues to dedicate its time and resources to winning positive gains and change for students. I’m voting yes to NUS-USI, yes to student democracy, yes to my national voice.
Many thanks to the Gown newspaper for accepting to publish my article. I would always encourage both sides to engage in a proper and respectful debate on the issue.