Comedian and daytime TV host Steve Harvey used to do a routine about firing black people,
saying “we know if there’s some firing going on, we first”. Though an old joke, it’s likely to be
looked back on with renewed sympathy by workers at the National Union of Students (NUS),
which has begun the process of cutting half its staff. 15 of the 54 workers intended to be let go have already left the organisation, making their exit at the very end of last year, with the rest of the workers expected to leave between January and May.
Those leaving the organisation took ‘voluntary redundancy’. In a statement, the NUS – to
which roughly 600 student unions are affiliated – said “By providing colleagues with choice, in
what is a difficult and emotional time for all of us, our intention was to reduce our staffing costs in
a way that provided a positive exit for those whose applications were accepted”.
Despite a turnover of £24.1mn in 2017, the organisation made a £3.6mn loss, over two
and a half times the size of the £1.4mn loss it made in 2016. Such financial woes have prompted
not just job losses, but also plans to mortgage its London headquarters and scale back the
NUS’s vast array of activities. In 2017, for example, the NUS devoted “significant campaigning”
efforts relating to further, higher and sex education, and also carried out a ‘get out the vote’
campaign to help over a million 18-24 year olds register to vote in time for the 2017 snap general
To those who follow the goings-on of the NUS – whose elections are reported by this
newspaper – news of redundancies will come as little surprise. Reports of it facing bankruptcy
emerged as early as November 2018, a possible factor in Newcastle University students’
decision not to join the NUS, in a referendum held at the end of last year. Although the low
turnout (just 4%) meant that the decision was non-binding, that in itself seems to speak to a lack
of interest in the NUS. Despite the age-old adage that no press is bad press, news of largescale
job cuts is unlikely to rally much enthusiasm.