Disaffiliation from the NUS is certainly possible. The question confronting Oxford students is whether or not it would be desirable. There is no straightforward substitute to the NUS, as approximately 95% of all higher and further education unions are affiliated to it. However, there are two
plausible alternatives. The first is to join an organisation like The National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts (NCAFC). The second is for OUSU to aim to ‘go it alone’ and try to perform the functions that the NUS currently does for it.
1. The National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts
The NCAFC is a democratic, membership-based organisation that was created in February 2010 at a convention hosted by the University of London. The NCAFC took a leading role in the 2010 protests against tuition fees – a role many students felt the NUS under Aaron Porter failed to provide. As the organisation is currently constituted, no Student Unions are currently affiliated to it. This is because members only join only on an individual basis.
However, it is the only student organisation in the country, other than the NUS that currently has an infrastructure in place capable of organising national campaigns across multiple universities. The group is also thought to have many of the democratic and transparent structures that the NUS is sometimes claimed to lack.
OUSU has plenty of potential and is still growing as a students’ union. If Oxford students were to disaffiliate, it would be able to represent students on at least some level, and cooperate with the NUS, as and when
Oxford students want it to.
One of the unions that has done this is the Imperial College Union. A founding member of the NUS in 1922, ICU chose to disaffiliate the following year, due to increased membership costs. Since then, it has repeatedly re-affiliated and disaffiliated.
The ‘No’ campaign, called ‘Believe in Oxford’, will be keen to demonstrate the leadership potential OUSU has shown in the past. For instance, in 2003, OUSU published a paper named ‘The Alternative Future of Higher Education’ that called for direct, progressive taxation to fund Higher Education through increases in income tax at the top end, as well as the introduction of a non-means tested living grant. However, that the current OUSU executive largely want to stay in the NUS should not be ignored.