By Benjamin Leatham
From the 19th to the 21st of April the elected NUS Delegates (Scott Dawson, Thomas Ron, Ashley Reed, Katie Smith) and I will be at the NUS National Conference in Brighton. At the conference policy is voted on and set for the year ahead, and the NUS President, Vice Presidents and National Executive Council representatives are elected. It’s a big deal!
The deadline for submitting motions to Conference was today. This year we have submitted FOUR motions across a variety of topics. This is compared to the one motion submitted last year. The topics of the motions are:
- Tackling the Crisis of Mental Health on Campuses
- One Member One Vote
- Engaging with the Green Paper
- Preventing Prevent
This is a huge huge huge step forward and shows that we are increasingly engaging with issues on a national level and trying to enact change!
If you are interested in reading the motions we have submitted have a read below.
If you want to find out more about the conference itself or are interested in how motions are passed please get in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Tackling the Crisis of Mental Health on Campuses:
Lead by Scott Dawson
- NUS Policy on mental health is due to lapse.
- 1 in 4 adults in the UK and 1 in 10 children will experience a mental health problem in any given year.
- An NUS mental health poll in November 2015 found 78% of students have experienced problems with mental health in the last year.
- A third (33%) of respondents to the NUS mental health poll also expressed suicidal thoughts.
- 54% of respondents said that they do not seek support for mental health issues.
- In line with national trends, mental health problems amongst students are on the increase; the proportion of disabled students who declared a mental health condition increased from 6% in 2007-09 to 9.6% in 11-12; from 0.4% to 0.8% of the entire student population
- Severe cuts are being made to psychiatric and mental health recovery services up and down the country, with little indicating any progressive change. Transitions services for those between 18 and 25 are particularly badly affected.
- Mental health trusts in England have seen their budgets fall by £600m according to Community Care.
- Demand for mental health services at University is increasing. Counseling services are experiencing a 10% year on year usage increase according to the chair of Universities UK mental well-being working group.
- Financial, employability and housing concerns places a huge pressure on students. With rents rising by 25% alone between 2010-2013 (according to Unipol). This has been linked to a potential rise in MH issues/stress related illnesses.
- The internet is also increasingly becoming a dangerous environment for mental health. 66% of people aged 17-22 will experience some form of online bullying according to Ditch the Label.
- Stress, unhappiness, lack of motivation, anxiety and depression continue to take a toll on students with little national variation.
- Mental health has become an increasingly growing concern among the student population. Incoming students and their families are worried and nervous about mental health support provided at their future college or university.
- Stigma around mental health issues deemed severe, such as personality disorders, psychosis and paranoia are often sidelined and not addressed amongst other mental health struggles.
- The proposals surrounding changes to Disabled Students’ Allowance (DSA) present a considerable challenge. Students are soon to lose provisions of support needed to help pursue higher education.
- We need a national campaign for mental health, which must be led by NUS and implemented at all Higher Education and Further Education institutions.
- We must work on proactive lobbying and campaigning that must be done with the Government and local councils to expand mental health provision.
- There must be more done to prevent online bullying, particularly towards minorities via social media.
- NUS and SU’s must strive to create positive change around mental health.
- NUS must be leading the debate on how Universities ensure that students can access the services they needed and how these are funded.
- To develop ways that mental health support and understanding can be embedded into the structures of students unions by supporting unions to:
- Lobby for relevant support both at a University, Local and National level.
- Ensure that academic policies are clear with fair expectations set in order to avoid undue mental stress upon student populations.
- Integrate mental health into the widening participation agenda, both nationally and locally by providing outreach to people who may not have continued in education as a result of their mental health problems and including mental health in OFFA agreements.
- To help students’ unions to win on achieving well-supported, appropriate services for students, which are responsive to the feedback of students and service users and flexible to students needs both in terms of the type of service (i.e. not a one size fits all, counseling for everyone approach), but also the nature of the service (i.e. number of sessions available, services available in the evenings where possible).
- To support students unions to develop joined-up approaches across institutions and external services.
- To create and establish effective mental health campaigns that address a full range of mental health conditions.
- To continue fighting against the DSA cuts and highlight the connection between disability cuts and the strain on student mental health by encouraging openness.
- To bring the mental health agenda to the forefront of national policy, and look to campaign proactively, through national campaigns, on the topic of mental health.
- Establish effective online campaigns nationally between NUS and SU’s to combat the negative environment created by social media harassment.
- To build student resilience nationally and create a positive campaigning atmosphere around mental health.
One Member One Vote:
Lead: Ben Leatham
- Currently NUS full-time officers are elected solely by delegates to National Conference, with just 0.0001% of members representing over 7 million members
- Many of these delegates are already very engaged with the NUS or similar issues, and although representatives, are not representative of the membership of the NUS as a whole;
- At times doubt has been cast on the representativeness of NUS officers and their positions, and our indirect electoral system has often been cited in such complaints;
- Turnout for NUS delegate elections and engagement by membership is traditionally very low, and the membership struggles to understand the process and why it is relevant to them
- Direct election of NUS officers would be more democratic, would confer greater perceived and actual legitimacy on officers and the actions and positions they take on behalf of members, and would give ordinary members a greater say in holding them to account
- Direct elections would increase their profile, relevance, and importance of NUS full-time officers in the minds of ordinary members by connecting them directly with the decisions they make;
- Increasing numbers of large, national organisations are beginning to adopt a system of direct election to select their representatives, including trade unions, campaigning groups and political parties, including very recently the Labour Party;
- The issue of One Member One Vote was last discussed in full in 2011 and the subsequent Working Group report in 2012 identified a number of challenges to the introduction of the system, particularly access by CMs to lists of their members
- None of these challenges prevent the NUS adopting the principle of working towards One Member One Vote.
- To commit in principle to direct National Elections for all officer positions currently elected by Conference, with equal voting rights for all individual members;
- To mandate the VP Union Development to support and encourage all CMs to gain direct access to their own members for democratic processes as soon as possible and in the meantime to explore approaches like aggregating results of general meetings and/or referenda across CMs;
- To mandate VP Union Development to research how elections could best be implemented consistent with all of the above, including researching polling systems and other relevant issues including, but not limited to, security, fairness, accessibility, legal implications and cost. This shall take the form of a report to be presented by next Conference (2017) and shall include full, costed proposals for the details of a recommended system (including plans, rules and timetables for nominations, campaigning, polling and assumption of office) and the constitutional changes that would be necessary
- To affirm sectional elections and liberation campaigns will retain the right to elect officers and make policy however they choose
- To commit to hold the first direct National Elections by 2018.
Engaging with the Green Paper
Lead: Thomas Ron
- The government’s Green Paper represents the most significant restructure of higher education in recent times
- The Green Paper’s reliance on metrics to assess the quality of our teaching stifles innovation in teaching
- The Teaching Excellence Framework’s suggestion to allow institutions to increase tuition fees creates further marketization within our sector
- The idea to allow more private universities risks creating inferior institutions and taking valuable resources from our existing universities
- Making universities exempt from Freedom of Information enquiries will hurt transparency and limit students’ ability to hold universities to account
- The plans to reform Student Unions are yet another example of the government’s opposition to the student movement
- To oppose any rise in tuition fees linked to the Teaching Excellence Framework
- To fight any attempt to weaken Student Unions or the Student Movement
- To provide resources to help SU officers to:
- Engage productively with their universities to ensure the student view is heard as plans set out in the Green Paper are further developed.
- Lobby MPs to oppose the provisions in the Green Paper that are unsatisfactory to students
- Continue to lobby to secure policy proposals that would make it more friendly towards the partnership between students and universities that we seek to achieve
- Lobby Jo Johnson, Minister for Universities, with the concerns over the Green Paper to get a change in direction
NUS Motion- Preventing Prevent
Lead: Katie Smith
- The Government’s Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015 places a statutory requirement on public bodies and ‘specified authorities’ – including universities –to implement the ‘Prevent’ agenda.
- The Prevent agenda, as part of the Government’s ‘anti-extremism’ work has been used to create an expansive surveillance architecture to spy on the public and to police dissent, systematically targeting minorities and vulnerable individuals.
- Under Prevent, lecturers have been known to report students as being ‘at risk of radicalisation’ for merely taking an interest in political affairs in class, or for observing their religion more closely, whilst politically active students have found themselves visited by counter-terrorism officers. Lecturers and academics are also expected to have “training” to make them suitable for the role of reporting, yet when the approach is fundamentally flawed the results of such reports cannot be trusted.
- The Government’s counter-terrorism/security policy is fundamentally flawed in its approach; its operant concepts of ‘extremism’ and ‘radicalism’ are ill-defined and open to abuse for political ends.
- Multiple University Vice Chancellors have spoken out against Prevent, including those from Oxford University, Portsmouth University and Winchester University.
- Islamophobia is massively on the rise across Europe, is state-sponsored and legitimised by the mainstream media.
- Alienating minority groups and those targeted by Prevent is actually counter-productive in the war on terror.
- The government’s identified ‘warning signs’ of “radicalisation” are highly problematic and renders suspect those with mental health difficulties. Prevent measures therefore not only encourage racial profiling but also put vulnerable groups at risk.
- The Act discourages free expression and analysis of ideas. Academics, as well as anyone in a public sector job, should not have to be part of this surveillance.
- We fundamentally believe that universities and colleges are places for education, not surveillance 6. The implementation of the Prevent Strategy on campus will not only isolate Muslim students but undermine the civil liberties of other groups such as environmental, political and humanitarian activists.
- That the National Union of Students (NUS) and University and Colleges Union (UCU) have both passed motions at their conferences opposing the Act and Prevent
- As charities, student unions are not legally bound to engage with Prevent and should seek to boycott it.
- We can beat Prevent with collective, democratic action that disrupts its functioning and workers responsible for Prevent duties are particularly well-placed to take such action.
- To mandate the Officers in student unions to not engage with the Prevent strategy or implement the proposals of the Act, and to boycott it as far as legally possible.
- To work with campus trade unions on combating the Prevent strategy and its implementation on campuses.
- To educate students on the details and dangers of the Prevent Strategy through Student Unions and their Officers.
- Help student unions and students to work with campus trade union branches to encourage, concretely assist and support such action and defend workers against victimisation.
- To lobby universities and members of the NUS to be more open and transparent about how they are engaging with Prevent and other similar initiatives. This involves:
- Demanding publications of how the policy is operating within the university and Students' Union.
- This includes access to materials used to train staff and students.
- Holding consultations with the student body regarding how this affects students.