The National Union of Students, the organisation that represents each and every one of us in that terrifying non-university world, rolled into town on Tuesday for their 2012 national conference. The three day conference is a big deal for the NUS – not only will it be bringing in a tidy one million for the Sheffield economy, but great student minds from all over the country will be debating important issues and electing a new leader to fight for the cause.
This, obviously, all sounds lovely. Our only problem is that most students – or, at least those who aren’t Union officers, committee reps, or nerdy Forge Press editors – have no idea that this conference is even taking place.
Cynicism in student politics has reached a new high on the back of failed campaigns, protests hijacked by political groups and the ever crushing, £9,000 reminder that access to higher education is set to shrink.
You might think that in these circumstances, the NUS would be desperate to reach out to the masses – but those few brave enough to link into to the conference livestream are only treated with a mindboggling string of jargon. The most interesting part of the conference, the presidential candidate hustings, was not even streamed.
Instead, viewers are treated to scenes of delegates voting on passing a motion on whether to vote on a motion – with each motion given its own cryptic code name that can only be deciphered with the relevant paper work. This paperwork, of course, is only available to delegates at the conference – and can only be understood by those with a degree in Bureaucrat. Accessible, it is not.
If students cannot engage with politics at this grassroots level, where lays the hope that they will grow to become interested in national politics- having already become disenchanted by the betrayal of the Lib Dems?
Of course, the NUS do need a certain amount of rules and protocols – but behind the masses of paper work, just how vital is this conference? Nobody is complaining about the work of delegates in battling discrimination or improving access to higher education – but how many of these hundreds of motions are truly needed?
One hot topic of debate at NUS conference, for example, has been whether Union Officers should all have Second Life profiles. Social media might be a wonderful thing – but do we really need orders from on high decreeing officers to spend more time on their computers instead of prioritise what work they think important – for the union they know, love and are paid to represent?
Well, you cry, if nothing else, at least the NUS is a cornerstone of student democracy!
Unfortunately not. Your new and returning president, Liam Burns, was voted in by delegates yesterday morning – given the mandate to represent a few million students with a few hundred votes. Welcome to Sheffield, NUS – to be honest, we’re not quite sure what you’re doing.