Three out of the four Sabbatical Officers at the University have collectively penned an open letter concerning the organisation of an NUS National Conference held in April. The letter, signed by all the Sabbs excluding Matt Bate, VP Activities (who did not attend the event), has revealed feelings of discontent and disappointment towards the NUS.
The complaint, signed by representatives of over 30 students’ unions, complains about the “atmosphere of intimidation, fear and inaccessibility that perpetuated during the entirety of Conference”. It highlights a lack of variety with the speakers on stage, a problem which created a conference that catered for “the few rather than the many”.
The Guild representatives also cite concerns with a number of problems involving the running of the event. Major issues are raised regarding the voting system, which reportedly took over 20 minutes to complete, whilst votes were manually counted by the chair of the conference based on their “visual assessment”of the delegates present. This process is described in the letter as “woeful”, as well as “inaccurate, archaic and frequently open to challenge”.
The result of the election for NUS president is also questioned by the Sabbs, who are critical of the fact that only two candidates ran for the position. The letter states that the election felt “more like a coronation than a democracy”.
There is also reference to the “grueling” length of the day for delegates. The accessibility of the event was underlined as a key issue, particularly for disabled delegates where the letter comments that: “The number of complaints made particularly by disabled students about the lack of access requirements being met by the NUS – including the stressful, noisy, intimidating atmosphere was appalling.”
In addition, the letter compares the conference to the NUS’ ‘Quality Student Union’s Tool’, a document outlining what standards are expected from students’ unions affiliated with the NUS. The letter alleges, “that the organisation has failed, following the showing at conference, to meet and emulate its own ‘standards”.
A Guild spokesperson commented: “Three of the four Sabbatical Officers attended the NUS Conference on 21-23 April and felt disappointed by the lack of effective democracy, representation and organisation throughout the conference. Together with other officers across the country, a raw and emotional open letter was written to the NUS.”
This letter comes after 78 per cent of participating Exeter students voted against leaving the NUS in a referendum last December.
Speaking about the letter, John Chilvers, leader of the ‘Stay’ campaign, said: “Although this letter highlights a number of problems within the NUS, we must remember the benefits that membership brings students at the University. I firmly believe the best way to achieve change is by staying in the NUS and working with it.”
The letter will be published in The Times Higher Education in the near future.