Following a week of official campaigning and months of agitation, students at the University of York have voted for their union to remain affiliated with the National Union of Students (NUS).
Over 2,500 students participated in a referendum, titled ‘Should YUSU remain affiliated with the NUS?’. The referendum usually takes place once every three years, the next being due in 2017, but it was held a year early this year following a policy submission to the union.
Voting began on the 1st of June and was due to end on the 8th; however, the discovery of a mistake relating to how YUSU benefits financially from affiliation with the NUS resulted in voting being stretched to include the 9th also.
2,740 students, representing 15.7% of the student body, voted in the referendum. Of that number, 1461 voted in favour of the motion; 1233 voted against it; and 46 voted to abstain, with one spoilt ballot.
A poll carried out by the campus newspaper Nouse in the middle of the voting period predicted that 65% of the voting students would call for YUSU to sever its ties with the NUS. Most of these respondents felt that the NUS either did not represent their views as a student or that the NUS is an undemocratic organisation that reforms reluctantly.
Chris Wall, leader of the pro-NUS side, wrote on Facebook:
Delighted that York students have decided to REMAIN affiliated with the NUS. This is a vote that says we stand for unity and not isolation. However, it is not a vote that says the NUS should continue in the same manner it has. A significant proportion of York students are unhappy with the NUS, we need to listen to that voice. I welcome anyone from the ‘No2NUS’ campaign or any student to talk with myself or any of the other full time officers on their thoughts on what needs to be done. It’s clear, we need a stronger engagement, transparency and presence from the NUS and I can only hope that next years officers take that forward.
I will be holding the NUS to their promise of a seat at the table to promote OMOV/OSOV. I will be holding them to their promise on reform. I will be ensuring YUSU harness this opportunity to take the voice they’ve been given to try to push for change.
I’m glad that York students have made this decision. We have given a stronger voice to the most marginalised, we have given a voice on a national level to York students, and I promise that York is stronger because of it.Let’s not now be complacent though. Let’s take this energy and push for change.
Robin Brabham, leader of the anti-NUS side, told The Yorker:
I am of course dismayed to see that YUSU will remain affiliated with NUS. A strong campaign was run and I am happy that students now know far more, for better and for worse, about NUS. I look forward to seeing the Yes side now put into action their claims that NUS can be reformed from within.
The low 53% approval rating for NUS is very troubling for all students. NUS must hear our voice and address the serious concerns by both sides during this referendum: put an end to structural anti-Semitism, pass motions which are not merely bizarre and unhelpful token efforts, and give students a direct say in their union by implementing OMOV and further democratic reform.
Desire for a referendum in York, as well as in many other universities, came about following a number of controversial events at the 2016 NUS Conference, held in Brighton. Students from a wide array of political societies and publications wrote and signed an open letter, published in draft form by Nouse and in final form by The Yorker, expressing their disdain for the organisation.
The open letter described the NUS as an undemocratic organisation with a political agenda, resistant to change and disturbingly hostile to the welfare of Jewish students and gay representatives in the LGBTQ movements.
Ben Leatham, the YUSU President, wrote on social media:
I am firmly of the belief that working together will bring more benefits for more students but we need to build on the conversation that we have started to ensure that the NUS is truly representing all students. This means articulating a clear vision for change and ensuring that all members of the student body have the opportunity to remain involved in this conversation.
York joins Exeter, Warwick, Oxford, Cambridge and other universities in choosing to remain affiliated to the National Union of Students following a referendum.
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