The National Union of Students (NUS) has announced to its 600 affiliated student’s unions that ‘ “the NUS group is facing financial difficulty”’ and are taking ‘ “urgent action”’ to stabilise their predicted £3million deficit. This comes less than one month before Newcastle University Students take a vote on whether to re-associate with the NUS.
In an earnest letter by President Shakira Martin and acting Chief Executive Peter Robertson, it is claimed that three of the NUS income streams have been challenged simultaneously alongside internal structural issues this year, accounting for the need to take immediate action. The NUS has received competition from other companies providing student discounts such as UNIDAYS, as well as competition in trading and strategic support. In order to quickly generate some income, they have vowed to make redundancies and to reduce some of their activity, aiming to be financially viable in six months time. Longer term, the company explains in the letter, reforms will be in place to drastically simplify and modernise the NUS, and it is rumoured that they will need to mortgage their headquarters in order to stay solvent.
It is interesting that in 2005 the NUS was in a deficit of £677,000 and subsequently went on to sell its London headquarters and move to Manchester to cut costs. Martin Ings, treasurer told the Guardian in 2005; ‘ “students aren’t spending as much money as they used to, nor do they have the time to go out as much. When student unions are struggling they have to cut the big cost, and that’s their affiliation cost.”’ From this 2005 deficit crisis arose the idea to monetise the then free NUS extra card, which it was believed, would bring in a sizable income.
The National Union of Students is a membership organisation that works to represent the views of students and student’s unions. In the 2015/16 academic year, Newcastle University Student’s union paid £51,490 for NUS affiliation which was the last year they were a member. President of the Newcastle University Student’s Union for 2015/16, Dominic Fearon noted that Newcastle students felt that the NUS ‘ “ no longer represents their views, does not prioritise correctly, and is not effective at achieving change.”’ Large disaffiliation numbers are a contributing factor to the company’s losses, Hull, Lincoln and Loughborough all disassociated from the NUS in 2016 alongside Newcastle.
During this financial strain Martin and Robertson implore members to ‘work with [the NUS] to protect the interests of students and student’s unions from competitors who exist for the purpose of profit and not people at their heart.”’ The referendum opens to Newcastle University students on 3rd December, only then we will decide whether to stand with the company in monetary difficulty or assert our independence from them once more.