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National Union of Students (United Kingdom)

National Union of Students
President Toni Pearce
Founded 1922
Headquarters Macadam House, 275 Gray’s Inn Road, London, WC1X 8QB, UK
International affiliation European Students' Union

The National Union of Students of the United Kingdom (NUS) is a confederation of NUS Scotland in Scotland, NUS Wales/ UCM Cymru in Wales and NUS-USI in Northern Ireland (the latter being co-administered by the Union of Students in Ireland). There is also an NUS Area for London- NUS London.

NUS is a member of the European Students' Union.


  • Membership 1
  • History 2
  • Mission 3
  • Democracy 4
  • NUS Services 5
    • NUS Extra 5.1
    • NUS Charitable Services 5.2
  • Criticisms 6
    • Financial crisis 6.1
    • Durham censorship controversy 6.2
  • Current & recent issues 7
    • Graduate tax/Tuition fees 7.1
    • Fairtrade 7.2
    • Governance review 7.3
    • Islamic State 7.4
  • References 8
  • External links 9
    • Video clips 9.1


There are four types of membership of NUS:

  • Constituent membership is granted to students' unions by National Conference or National Executive Council by a two-thirds majority vote
  • Individual membership is granted automatically to members of students' unions with constituent membership, sabbatical officers of constituent members, members of the National Executive Council and sabbatical conveners of NUS Areas
  • Associate membership is granted by a two-thirds majority vote of National Executive Council to:
    • Student Organisations in Association - any national student organisations
    • Partner Organisations in Association - non-student organisations which sympathise with the NUS
    • Individuals in Association - any individual who supports the objects of the NUS
    • NUS Areas - geographically-defined associations of students' unions
  • Honorary membership is granted by National Conference to "any person or organisation as it sees fit"

Of these types of membership, only constituent members may vote on or submit policy proposals to National Conference. Constituent members and associate members are required to pay a subscription fee as a condition of their membership.[1]


The NUS was formed in 1922 at a meeting held at the University of Birmingham, Birkbeck College, London, LSE, Imperial College London (who first left in 1923 and have subsequently rejoined and left three times, the last time being in June 2008), King's College London (who supplied the first President, Sir Ivison Macadam) and the University of Bristol.

NUS logo used until 2013


NUS' mission is to promote, defend and extend the rights of students by providing students and students’ unions with a collective voice by delivering a range of activity that articulates the needs and aspirations of its members to relevant bodies. They also develop and champion strong students’ unions and deliver a range of activities aimed at building their affiliates’ capacity to engage effectively on a local level, building strong and sustainable organisations that make students’ lives better.


The NUS holds national conferences once a year. National Conference is the sovereign body of NUS, and is where NUS policy is decided. Other conferences, such as Regional Conferences, Women's Conference, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Trans Students' Conference (changed as of 2004), Disabled Students' Conference, Black Students' Conference, Mature and Part-Time Students' Conference and the International Students' Conference (created in 2004) are run to enhance the representation of the specific members they include.

In July 2014, due to the creation of a new NUS London area- the first NUS London conference was held. Most of these conferences, and in particular the elections held at them, are contested by Young Independence, Socialist Students, Socialist Workers' Student Society, Student RESPECT and Student Broad Left. In addition to these political factions, interest groups such as the Federation of Student Islamic Societies and the Union of Jewish Students are deeply involved in the internal democratic processes of NUS.

NUS Services

NUS Services provides collective purchasing, support and marketing services to NUS-affiliated students' unions. Its shareholders consist of over 200 NUS-affiliated students' unions, and it is directed by a board and committees composed of volunteers from these shareholder unions.

The Association for Managers in Students' Unions recently merged with NUS and NUS Services.

NUS Extra

NUS Extra is a discount card which can be purchased by members of students' unions which are affiliated with NUS. It is produced by NUS Services in conjunction with NUS, and affiliated students’ unions receive commission on every card sold to their members.

NUS Charitable Services

NUS has established a new charity to drive improvement in students’ unions. It will focus on students’ union quality, talent management, equality and diversity, strategic development and turnaround, ethical and environmental work, and fundraising.

Ethical and environmental work

NUS' ethical and environmental department originated in 1995, forming a committee tasked with investigating allegations of environmental bad practice at Bass breweries.

As of 2013, the department employs over 25 members of staff, delivering far-reaching behavioural change programmes among staff and students such as Green Impact, Student Switch Off, and Student Eats.

The department is currently managing the pilot year of NUS Students' Green Fund - a £5 million grant from HEFCE, supporting 25 student-led, transformative sustainability projects at students' unions across England.

NUS' ethical and environmental department turns students' unions into hubs of sustainability at the hearts of wider communities, and empowers students to become part of the solution to our environmental challenges. Read more about them and their strategy here.


The NUS has come in for criticism from various quarters, particularly from those students' unions who are not affiliated. Sen Ganesh, then president of Imperial College Union, said in 2002 that "NUS's claim to be representative of students is not borne out by their work", especially as "the NUS is dominated by Labour students and this diminishes the ability to address student issues in an impartial fashion."[2]

The NUS has in particular come in for criticism for a perceived lack of direct democracy - officers of NUS are elected by delegates from each affiliated union which, depending on the policy of each union, may involve no consultation with their members.

The NUS has also been criticised for prioritisation of NUS Extra over campaigning on issues which affect students.[3] Despite it being NUS policy that none of the discounts on the original free NUS card would be moved to NUS Extra, proposed by Cambridge University Students' Union, NUS Treasurer Dave Lewis went against policy and removed the discounts from the original free NUS card.[4]

Other critics have focussed on the organisation's perceived failure to campaign effectively on student issues such as tuition fees and prescription costs[5] and have advocated that students and unions coordinate independently of the NUS to campaign on the national stage.[6][7]

Financial crisis

In recent years, the NUS has faced a prolonged financial crisis, caused by a coinciding of spiraling expenditure and decreasing income. A series of measures were proposed to address this, of which the most controversial included a series of changes to the constitutional and democratic processes. In 2004, two emergency conferences passed some of the changes proposed, albeit not without fierce dispute between those claiming the proposals were necessary reforms to maintain the existence of the organisation and those arguing that they were aimed at curbing democracy and involvement. The 2006 NUS Conference passed a policy which enabled NUS to launch NUS Extra in September 2006.[8]

Durham censorship controversy

In February 2010, the NUS came under criticism after two of its officers forced a proposed debate on Unite Against Fascism, adding that "if any students are hurt in and around this event responsibility will lie with you".[11]

The subsequent cancellation of the debate by Durham Union Society President Anna Birley on safety grounds was met with fierce backlash. NUS President Wes Streeting was prompted to personally appear before the Durham Union Society to apologise for the actions of the officers concerned, though outrage among Durham students was sufficient that a significant number protested outside the debating chamber at the time.[12] A further protest group on Facebook quickly amassed over 2,500 members. An official petition was soon lodged with Durham Students' Union to call for a referendum on disaffiliation from NUS.[13] On 12 March 2010, the referendum concluded with a majority of voting students choosing to disaffiliate.[14] In January 2011, Durham decided to reaffiliate itself with the NUS.[15]

Current & recent issues

Graduate tax/Tuition fees

Under the leadership of Wes Streeting the NUS abandoned its long-standing commitment to free education and backed a graduate tax as its preferred outcome of the Browne Review into higher education funding. Before the 2010 General Election, the NUS invited candidates sign a pledge not to raise tuition fees, receiving over 1000 signatories from prospective parliamentary candidates. This became a very high profile campaign when many liberal democrat MPs, who all signed individual NUS pledges stating they would vote against any rise in tuition fees if elected, had to abstain or do the opposite as part of their coalition agreement.

The NUS, under new leader a national protest attended by thousands in November 2010, demanding an end to education cuts. Some protestors took the march down Whitehall to Conservative Party headquarters where there was a confrontation with the police and an occupation of the building, Millbank Tower. With an attendance of over 50,000 people, it was the largest British demonstration since the Iraq War protest. This led to various more demos until the rise in tuition fees was passed.

On 8 December 2010, the Daily Telegraph reported that they had seen emails that suggested Aaron Porter had supported, rather than increase tuition fees, cuts of up to 80% should be made to student support packages including grants and loans.[16] Porter responded to the claims on NUS Connect that "In all of these meetings and communications we stated our firm and clear opposition to cuts" and that the distortion of the discussions was "political desperation from a coalition government losing the arguments on its own policies".[17]

On April 9, 2014, the National Union of Students passed policy at its national conference to reverse its position on education funding. The call for a graduate tax was abandoned in favour Amendment 213b which calls for free education funded through progressive taxation.


The Fairtrade NUS Campaign was started by students at the University of Edinburgh in autumn 2005. The campaign, which has now been joined by numerous other students' unions in Britain, is calling for 100% of the hot beverages (tea, coffee, hot chocolate, etc.) sold by member unions of the NUS to be accredited with the Fairtrade Mark.

The campaign is supported by a number of NGOs and charities, including Oxfam, Trade Justice Movement, People & Planet and CAFOD.

While it is contested amongst the universities about who were the original Fairtrade University, the Fairtrade foundation gave this status first and worked with Oxford Brookes University who spearheaded the movement – with the University of Edinburgh a close second.

Governance review

The 2008 Conference in Blackpool was dominated by the governance review debate and vote. The proposals were for a restructuring of the running of the Union but the vote was lost by 25 votes (a two-thirds majority was required).[18] The review was criticised for what was felt by detractors to be an attack on the organisation's democratic accountability.[19] Its supporters however defended the review as providing a more 'innovative' corporate structure which was hoped to make it more credible in negotiating policy, rather than simply 'reactive'.[20] This was not well received by many in the executive with President, Gemma Tumelty, vowing to press ahead with reform.[21] The perceived lack of progress on governance reform has also prompted Imperial College Union to hold a referendum on disaffiliation.[22]

Revised proposals were drafted and submitted to an extraordinary conference in November 2008. The conference passed the proposals by 4 votes to 1. A second extraordinary conference to ratify the proposals (the constitution requires that any changes are passed by two consecutive conferences) took place on 20 January 2009. The proposals were accepted by a huge majority and the new constitution came into force.

Islamic State

In October 2014, the NUS rejected a call to condemn the militant group Islamic State, saying that such a declaration would be Islamophobic. This caused some student's union members to speculate that the NUS itself has been infiltrated by extremist sympathisers.[23]


  1. ^ "Articles of Association & Rules". National Union of Students. Retrieved 9 September 2013. 
  2. ^ Adam Keating (2002). "What have NUS ever done for us?". Retrieved 30 May 2006. 
  3. ^ "NUS: Extra rip-off for students?". Retrieved 31 May 2010. 
  4. ^
  5. ^ "NUS – Should we vote to disaffiliate? | The Cambridge Student". 21 January 2010. Retrieved 31 May 2010. 
  6. ^ "NUS Trustee Board: hammering in the final nails… : Education Not For Sale". 14 December 2009. Retrieved 31 May 2010. 
  7. ^ "Chigbo Guilty Of Election Abuses « THE TAB – – All the latest Cambridge University news online". Retrieved 31 May 2010. 
  8. ^ "NUS CD21 Resolutions - March 2006". NUS. Retrieved February 20, 2014. 
  9. ^ "Security concerns stifle free speech". Retrieved 31 May 2010. 
  10. ^ The British National Party – Blog – Labour party thugs dictate what university students can listen to
  11. ^ "Multiculturalism Debate & Potential Anti-Fascist Protests – Van Mildert JCR". 2 February 2010. Retrieved 31 May 2010. 
  12. ^ "Student union apologises over BNP claim (From the Northern Echo)". 10 February 2010. Retrieved 31 May 2010. 
  13. ^ "NUS mis-handling prompts backlash". 8 February 2010. Retrieved 31 May 2010. 
  14. ^
  15. ^ Johnson, Daniel (28 January 2011). "60% vote to reaffiliate with NUS". Palatinate Online. Retrieved 8 May 2011. 
  16. ^ "National Union of Students secretly urged Government to make deep cuts in student grants". The Daily Telegraph. UK. 8 December 2010. Retrieved 8 December 2010. 
  17. ^ "NUS responds to Telegraph article". NUS Connect. 9 December 2010. Retrieved 9 December 2010. 
  18. ^ MacLeod, Donald (1 April 2008). "Blairite revolution in NUS is defeated". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 19 May 2010. 
  19. ^ NUS Governance Review defeated at last stage | Education|News|News|
  20. ^ Lipsett, Anthea (8 January 2008). "New year, new union". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 19 May 2010. 
  21. ^ "Every single year you boo me. I couldn't care less". The Guardian (London). 2 April 2008. Retrieved 19 May 2010. 
  22. ^ Ashley Brown (19 May 2008). "Live! – Council Calls NUS Referendum". Retrieved 31 May 2010. 
  23. ^ Merrill, Jamie (15 October 2014). "NUS motion to condemn Isis fails amidst claims of islamophobia".  

External links

  • NUS website
  • Membership website for NUS, NUS Services and AMSU
  • TheyWorkForStudents – A hub of information on the NUS, helping to increase scrutiny, openness and accountability
  • Catalogue of the NUS archives, held at the Modern Records Centre, University of Warwick

Video clips

  • NUS UK YouTube channel
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