By Barbara Ntumy, NUS NEC (Black Students’ Campaign) and Deputy President of London Met University Students’ Union
On Monday 18 July I attended my first ever NUS National Executive Council (NEC) meeting.
This is the body that decides NUS policy, holds NUS National Officers to account and provides a space to discuss and decide the next steps for the student movement in between NUS’ National Conference, which take place every April.
I was elected to the NUS NEC earlier this year to represent Black students. I’ll be writing a brief report of some of the key issues discussed and decisions made at each NUS NEC – and this one is the first.
Fighting against cuts, fees and the cost of living crisis
At every NUS NEC meeting we hear reports from National Officers on the work they have been doing since the last meeting.
At this meeting we heard about the great work being done by the Liberation and Nations Officers.
We also heard about the work NUS is doing to fight for affordable accommodation, principally by support campus campaigns against the rises in university rent which have become absolutely extortionate.
The central focus for NUS this year has got to be fighting against the massive cuts facing HE and FE as well as the increase in tuition fees that is coming in with the Tories’ new Higher Education Bill.
It is really important that NUS is leading the fight back against this and is organising a national demonstration to defend education alongside the UCU on Saturday 19 November. Building this demonstration on every campus has got to be the number 1 priority for the whole student movement in the autumn term.
Uniting against racism and fascism
In February the NUS NEC made a mistake by passing a motion that undermines the principle of self-organisation in the fight against racism.
Since it was created, the NUS Anti Racism Anti Fascism Campaign has been co-convened by the NUS Black Students’ Officer and a Jewish student (in consultation with the Union of Jewish Students), at the appointment of the NUS National President. Alongside this the NUS National President has also been responsible for appointing the NUS Anti Racism Anti Fascism Campaign Committee which included a number of representatives of the different groups of students who are under threat from racism and fascism.
The policy change by the NUS NEC in February attacked the principle of self-organisation for Jewish students. It replaced a representative of Jewish students with someone elected by members of the NUS NEC, including those that do not experience racism. I believe it was a mistake to remove a guaranteed Jewish representative from the leadership of NUS’ Anti-Racism Anti-Fascism work.
I submitted the following motion to this July NUS NEC which aimed to overturn the decision made in February by restoring the convention that the NUS National President should appoint two co-convenors of the NUS Anti Racism Anti Fascism Campaign – one of whom should be the NUS Black Students’ Officer and one of whom should be a Jewish student, appointed in consultation with the Union of Jewish Students.
This motion passed with a good majority.
NUS NEC believes:
1. Racism, Islamphobia and anti-Semitism must be vigorously opposed to defend students on our college and university campuses.
2. In the wake of the EU referendum racism in all its forms is rising and it is vital that NUS provides leadership in tackling racism.
3. It is a top priority for the NUS to unite all students to root out of evils of racism, Islamphobia and anti-Semitism.
4. All students have a role to play in the fight against racism, with those who experience racism leading the movement.
NUS NEC further believes:
1. Since it was created, the NUS Anti Racism Anti Fascism Campaign has been co-convened by the NUS Black Students’ Officer and a Jewish student, at the appointment of the NUS National President. The NUS National President has also been responsible for appointing the NUS Anti Racism Anti Fascism Campaign Committee.
2. The NUS Black Students’ Campaign represents 1 million students of Africa, Arab, Asian and Caribbean descent. The Union of Jewish Students represents over 8,500 students studying in the UK and Ireland.
NUS NEC resolves:
1. That the NUS National President should appoint two Co-Convenors of the NUS Anti Racism Anti Fascism Campaign, one of whom should be the NUS Black Students’ Officer and one of whom should be a Jewish student, appointed in consultation with the Union of Jewish Students.
Unfortunately, despite the fact that this motion passed, it is not the policy of the NUS. This is because the motion below also passed (with fewer votes) and because of the inter-relationship deleted my motion above.
1. Racism and fascism are rising across society, including on campuses, and the recent EU referendum has brought to light many instances of racism, antisemitism, Islamophobia and xenophobia.
2. The Anti Racism and Anti Fascism committee is defined as a special committee of the NUS NEC, constituted under the NUS Rules.
3. There is currently no clause, provision or process in the NUS Rules as to the constitution of the ARAF committee, other than that the ARAF convenors are to be selected by the NEC.
4. This includes a lack of any reserved/guaranteed places on the committee for any member of any liberation group, and/or any marginalised group of students.
5. As it currently stands under the NUS Rules, the ARAF committee could theoretically be convened by members of the NEC who do not define into any liberation group, and/or any group affected by racism/fascism.
Conversely, in 2013 the ARAF committee was co-convened by two Black members of the NEC.
6. This unclear and inconsistent process for selecting the ARAF convenors and committee has long been a point of contention. Controversy was further ignited following the NEC meeting that passed motion 3: ARAF Convenors, in part exacerbated by misunderstanding and/or confusion about the existing process.
7. It is clear that there are demands for greater resources to be allocated to the ARAF campaign, and the controversy highlighted the need for a new system of deciding the committee.
8. The ARAF campaign has a crucial role to play in this time of rising intolerance towards oppressed and minoritised groups in society and on campus, and should be a point of political unity across NUS to enable it to be as effective as possible in combatting racism and fascism.
9. That in supporting ARAF more broadly throughout NUS we strive to uphold the principles of liberation, equality, intersectionality, self-determination.
1. Anti Racism and Anti Fascism should be at the core of what NUS does.
2. The historic lack of support given to the ARAF campaign has not allowed for it to function to its full potential, so relying on the status quo is untenable.
3. Many Jewish students were at the forefront of disaffiliation campaigns due to concerns of antisemitism in our movement.
4. Despite only four students’ unions voting to disaffiliate from NUS, over 13,000 students voted for their students’ union to disaffiliate, with many highlighting the concerns of antisemitism in our movement and it is vital NUS acknowledges this.
5. The controversy also highlighted the importance of NEC to consult with those affected by its decisions rather than rushing into mistakes.
6. Therefore it is important to open up a consultation on the ARAF committee system among those affected by its work before deciding this new system, to ensure that its work is as inclusive as possible of those groups of student affected by racism and/or fascism.
7. This includes groups on behalf of whom the ARAF committee works – such as students defining into some of the liberation groups and international students – as well as groups of students who don’t have formal representative positions within NUS – including many students of faith.
8. As the NEC cannot change the NUS Rules we cannot enforce any changes to the selection process of the ARAF committee/convenors, but should facilitate a wider consultation with this year’s ARAF committee, the Faith and Belief committee and the liberation campaigns and the International Students’ Campaign into how the ARAF committee and campaign should function in future.
1. The NEC to elect an ARAF committee comprised of 7 NEC members who self-define into groups affected by racism and/or fascism
2. The committee will have a reserved place for the BSO and the BSC NEC
3.The committee will have a reserved place for a Jewish member
4. The committee will have a reserved place for a Muslim member
5. The committee will have a reserved place for a LGBTQ+ member
6. The committee will have a reserved place for an International/migrant member
7. The committee will have one open place for any members of the NEC
8. The committee will also work with representative of student organisations who are affected by racism and/or fascism such as UJS and FOSIS
9. The NEC members of the ARAF committee will be mandated to appoint two co-convenors for the ARAF conference from within the ARAF committee
10. To provide resources to the ARAF committee to serve its function for the 2016/2017 year.
11. To facilitate a consultation with the 2016/17 ARAF committee, the Faith & Belief committee and the NUS Black Students’ Campaign, LGBT+ Campaign, Disabled Students’ Campaign and International Students’ Campaign into a new system for selecting the ARAF committee.
12. That the newly formed committee will be tasked – alongside the normal running of its activities – with reviewing the current way the ARAF campaign functions and propose changes to its remit, structures and institutional support, to be discussed on the NEC and brought to national conference 2017
Moving forward, I believe it is vital that the alliance between Black students and Jewish students which came together in the NUS Anti Racism Anti Fascism Campaign should be maintained and built upon. And I will continue to argue for that within the NUS.
The fight over the EU is not over
I also submitted a motion to the NUS NEC on what the student movement should do in the wake of Brexit.
The motion I put forward would commit NUS to campaign against the racism and xenophobia unleashed by the Brexit vote, to intervene in the negotiations over what the Brexit terms should be, defend freedom of movement for people as a central priority as well as demand that the British people are given the opportunity to vote on the terms of Brexit once these are negotiated.
We ran out of time before we reached this motion – but it is something I will be raising again.
You can read the motion I submitted on Brexit here.
Keep in touch
Please get in touch if you’d like to discuss any of the issues mentioned in this report – I’d be more than happy to have a chat with you.
The NUS National Executive will be meeting again in September – let me know whether there is anything you think should be discussed at this meeting.
You can contact me on email on Barbara.firstname.lastname@example.org.