Joseph Timan reports on some of the motions to be voted on at the NUS Conference, four of which have been submitted by the Guild of Students

Final Year Philosophy Student & Redbrick News Editor
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The Guild of Students has submitted four motions to be debated and voted on at the National Union of Students’ (NUS) national conference which will take place from Tuesday 25th to Thursday 27th April. Of the four motions submitted by the Guild, two were submitted by former Education Officer Izzy Lenga, who is also hoping to be elected Vice President (VP) Welfare at the conference.

Lenga’s first motion, titled ‘Free Period’, comes under the Union Development Zone and seeks to include sanitary products such as tampons, menstrual cups, and sanitary pads in the NUS Purchasing Consortium. The motion cites a successful scheme implemented at the Guild in which students can pick up sanitary products for free.

Also up for debate will be Lenga’s motion on combatting anti-Semitism, which comes under the Welfare Zone. The motion calls on the NUS to ‘reaffirm its commitment to tackling anti-Semitism in all of its forms’, as well as encouraging discourse on the Israel-Palestine conflict which does not involve anti-Semitic behaviour.

One amendment to this motion was submitted by the University of Ulster’s Students’ Union, which seeks to replace the definition of anti-Semitism proposed by Lenga’s motion (known as the International Holocaust Remembrance definition) with a definition provided by ‘noted scholar’ Brian Klug. This definition has been a point of contention throughout all levels of anti-Semitism discourse, including the controversy involving the Labour Party that lead to an official inquiry last year.

Also in the Welfare Zone is a motion submitted by the Guild, alongside students’ unions at the universities of Bristol and Aberdeen. The motion, titled ‘Mental Health: A Culturally Competent Framework’, is largely the work of Ross Strong, the Guild’s Welfare Officer. It calls for an award scheme to encourage students’ unions to employ preemptive measures, participate in awareness activities, and improve their mental health service provisions for students.

Several other motions related to mental health have also been submitted to the Welfare Zone, including ‘Mental Health and Hardship’, ‘Student Mental Health’, and ‘Mental Health First Aid’. Some of these motions, including the Guild’s motion on this topic, have had several amendments submitted which should mean that mental health will dominate much of the debate within the Welfare Zone motions.

Finally, the Guild’s Postgraduate Students’ Officer, Rose Bennett, has submitted a motion titled ‘National Postgraduate Representation’, which seeks to create a more effective model of representation for postgraduate students given the increase in numbers in this part of the student body. This includes making the Postgraduate Students’ Officer, which is currently a voluntary part-time role divided between Taught and Research students, a full-time paid role elected at the Postgraduate Students’ Conference. Bennett was the Guild’s first Postgraduate Students’ Officer, and was recently re-elected to continue in this role for the academic year 2017/18.

Speaking to Redbrick, Guild President Ellie Keiller said: ‘I’m so thrilled that we’re taking four motions to conference this year. These four motions mean that University of Birmingham (UoB) students have had a say in what their national union is doing!

‘From Free Periods to tackling anti-Semitism, UoB students will have a huge impact on what NUS does for the next year if these motions pass. We know that they’re really important issues and by submitting them we’re ensuring that they are acted on – for that I’m really proud!

‘Alongside these, our mental health framework motion and motion for a full time postgraduate officer also gives us the opportunity to not only be supported in work we want to do but also ensures that other unions can do those things too!’

Among the other motions to be debated at the conference, the most prominent ones are likely to be on the Higher Education Bill, Brexit and the National Students’ Survey (NSS) boycott. The NUS has promoted a boycott of the NSS following government plans to use the survey as a metric for the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) that could in turn be used by some universities to raise tuition fees by £250 each year.

Whilst the Guild did not officially endorse the boycott, the NUS has recently announced that the results of at least nine universities who participated in the boycott are expected to be invalid. For the results to be valid, at least 50% of final year undergraduates are required to complete the survey. However, the NUS Press Office claims that completion rates of the survey have been as low as 27.5% at some universities such as the University of Bristol.

Speaking about the success of the boycott, NUS VP for Higher Education, Sorana Vieru, said, ‘The fact that thousands of students across the country have decided to boycott the National Student Survey shows how strongly they feel about the Government using their feedback to raise tuition fees.’

‘Jo Johnson has said countless times that he wants to create a system that listens to students and works in their interests,’ she said. ‘Well, students have spoken loud and clear. Now it is time for the Minister to act, and halt these damaging reforms.’

However, although there will be a motion to continue the boycott of the NSS, amendments to the motion that have been submitted include one that calls for a risk assessment to be conducted and published by the NUS before finalising their decision regarding the boycott. This comes after some students have highlighted that the boycott will affect universities negatively, whilst struggling to achieve its intention. Meanwhile, some universities, such as the universities of West London and Leicester, have submitted an amendment to oppose the boycott.

Other motions submitted for the conference include; a campaign about pay inequality in higher education and employment rights of university staff, working with organisations to increase drug education and amend drug policy by focusing on wellbeing, and a motion by the University of Warwick to abolish the monarchy.

Speaking about the motion titled ‘Drug Education for the Nation’, the Guild’s Education Officer Elect, Adam Goldstone, who will be attending the conference as one of eight Guild delegates, told Redbrick: ‘I’d like this kind of thing to be debated more, but it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen any time soon in wider British politics, so it would be good if we, as students, did’.

Also attending the conference as a delegate for the Guild will be Adam Elmi, who will be doing so for the second time. ‘I’m really excited as this will be the first time the whole student body will be together to shape the direction students would like to take with regards to Brexit and I’m very excited to represent our voice,’ he told Redbrick.

‘I’ll also be voting for the motions our students have passed through our ‘Your Ideas’ platform and elect candidates who will best serve the needs of students across the country’.