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NUS referendum voting underway as campaigning intensifies

Voting has opened for the referendum on whether Oxford Student Union should remain affiliated with the National Union of Students (NUS). Voting will close at 6pm on 1st March.

The referendum asks students: “Oxford SU is currently affiliated to the National Union of Students (United Kingdom). Should it continue to be affiliated: yes or no?”

The two official campaigns for this referendum are called ‘Vote YES to NUS’ and ‘Say No to NUS’.

‘Vote YES to NUS’ is led by Anas Dayeh, of St John’s College. ‘Say No to NUS’ is co-headed by Ciaron Tobin, of Magdalen College, and Caleb van Ryneveld, of Christ Church College. 

For this referendum, a new by-law has been issued that stipulates that at least 4% of SU members must turnout to vote otherwise the referendum’s result, whatever it may be, will be deemed invalid and have no effect. Considering the recent SU elections had only a 10% turnout, failing to hit this threshold seems like a real possibility.

Say No to NUS believes the NUS is “An Institution in Crisis”. According to their press release: “There is currently no President due to the incumbent being fired following an independent investigation into antisemitism. This marks the third of the last five presidents of the NUS to be involved in an antisemitism scandal, reflecting endemic problems within the organisation. The NUS has been found guilty of such serious failings that the national government has suspended all negotiations and discussion with it.”

Regarding Oxford’s role in the NUS, the No Campaign says that “none of the Officers of the NUS are from Oxford University”. Additionally, “no initiatives have been proposed by the Oxford SU and supported at the National Conference in five years”. Therefore, “outside the NUS, Oxford will be able to advocate directly for students, and push for comprehensive reform to strengthen student representation”.

At the centre of the No Campaign’s disaffiliation argument is the fact that “membership of the NUS costs the Oxford SU over £20,000 a year in dues”. The No Campaign believes this could be better spent on student welfare: “Putting Oxford students front and centre, we can fund our SU campaigns, such as the Liberation and Disabilities Campaigns, more effectively and ensure Oxford students are represented effectively.”

The student unions at Reading, Queen Mary and Warwick universities have already voted to disaffiliate from the NUS. According to the No Campaign, “this referendum presents an opportunity to stand with students across the country in rejecting racism and embracing a positive vision for representative, compassionate and effective student activism”.

Caleb van Ryneveld, joint head of the No Campaign alongside Ciaron Tobin, told Cherwell: “In the recent SU election, hundreds of students backed me to be a Delegate to the NUS on a specific manifesto to campaign for disaffiliation. This highlights the real appetite to make the positive decision to cut ties with the toxic and unrepresentative organisation. There is a clear case for disaffiliation, and with my track record and dedication to this cause I am honoured to be leading the campaign.”

Regarding the 4% threshold, van Ryneveld told Cherwell: “Every vote will count, but the groundswell of support across Oxford for the campaign to vote no to continued affiliation and stand up to the NUS shows reaching the threshold for disaffiliation can be achieved.

“We are directly engaging with students across the University to ensure their concerns are put front and centre of the campaign and encourage anyone interested in getting involved in the events we will be running over the duration of the vote to contact the Say No to NUS campaign directly through social media.”

Vote YES to NUS uses the slogan ‘Stay Connected, Stay Powerful, Stay Affiliated!’

According to the Yes Campaign’s press release, “the NUS is a powerful voice for students across the UK, representing more than 7 million students from over 400 institutions”. Remaining affiliated means Oxford students “can join forces with other students to campaign for the issues we care about, such as education, mental health, climate justice, and social equality”. 

The Yes Campaign argues that “being a member of the NUS is not only beneficial for us as individuals, but also for our Oxford SU as an organisation”, and emphasises that “the NUS provides us with resources, training, support, and opportunities to collaborate with other student unions”.

The Yes Campaign’s list of NUS-derived ‘Big Wins’ include a £15 million University Student Hardship fund, £800 million in rent wins, forcing a U-turn on A Level grades, ending NDAs for sexual misconduct in 54 insitutions, and freezing the student loan threshold. 

The Yes Campaign acknowledges that “the NUS is not perfect, and it has its challenges and limitations”. However, disaffiliation “will isolate [Oxford] from the rest of the student community” and “weaken the student movement as a whole”.

Anas Dayeh, head of the Yes Campaign, told Cherwell: “I have been involved in student activism and advocacy for a long time, and I have seen firsthand the power of collective action and solidarity. I was inspired by the previous successes of the NUS in driving social change and fighting for better education, and I wanted us to continue being part of the movement so that we can work together and push for progress and justice.

“I’m excited to lead this campaign and work towards a better future for our university and students. I’m eager to engage with students and hear their perspectives on the importance of NUS affiliation. Together with other passionate individuals, I’m confident we can make a difference and create a stronger, more united student movement.

“The campaign team is working tirelessly and is confident in their ability to make a strong case for staying affiliated with the NUS. They are optimistic about the potential for their message to resonate with voters and are eager to see the positive impact that staying affiliated with the NUS can have on the university and students across the UK.” 

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