On Monday the 4th of December, the Guild’s Annual General Meeting (AGM) raised the question of whether the Exeter Students’ Guild should maintain its membership with the National Union of Students. The Guild has since faced backlash from students who believe the vote at the AGM surrounding the Guild’s affiliation with the NUS was not democratic.
When the call for the vote was raised, the chair, Tom Sylvester, asked whether anyone in the audience was able to voice their approval to which only two individuals raised their hands–a proposer and a seconder. Following this, the Q&A session heard a question from a student and representative of the Guild at the NUS national conference, Ed Barradell, who voiced that the vote was in no way a resounding yes.
“Despite key issues around antisemitism and democratic failings in the NUS, the Guild remains affiliated–how does the board believe this is in line with the Guild’s core value of radical inclusivity?”– Ed Barradell
Barradell asked: “Despite key issues around antisemitism and democratic failings in the NUS, the Guild remains affiliated–how does the board believe this is in line with the Guild’s core value of radical inclusivity?”
Guild Trustee Alex Martin responded by citing the reports released by the NUS to address their anti-semitism. Additionally, he referenced the National Union of Jewish Students (NJS) sentiments that they are not in favour of disaffiliation. He also mentions that if Jewish students are uncomfortable with the Guild’s NUS membership, they would revisit the affiliation.
“if students continue to disagree with the Guild affiliation within the NUS, a petition with the signatures of 4% of the student body could call a referendum and change the Guild’s stance.”– Trustee, Alex Martin
Regarding anti-democratic issues, Martin commended the work done by both the Education Officer, Alex Standley, and the representative Barradell, in seeking to change NUS issues such as its reliance on very low turnout delegate elections and ignoring conference policy. Furthermore, he explained that he has personal issues with the general problems within the NUS and that he was glad students were expressing their concerns. He noted that “if students continue to disagree with the Guild affiliation within the NUS, a petition with the signatures of 4% of the student body could call a referendum and change the Guild’s stance.”
Students disagreed with this, believing that the AGM was the time to have this vote.
In a 2022 statement made by former Guild President Lily Margoroli, she referenced the potential for disaffiliation following the investigation of anti-semitism within the NUS. It reads: “The most important thing we want to say is that we (your Students’ Guild) are a membership organization led by you, our members, which means you decide which organisations (such as the NUS) we are affiliated with and those that we are not affiliated with.”
Other students at the AGM voice their opinion of the vote. Third-year student Elliot Laver believes the vote “wasn’t at all a vote.”
The Chair, Sylvester, explains “I was told by Guild’s Leadership and Governance Senior Coordinator that the Guild’s voting policy on the matter required a single affirmative vote, and a second to that vote.” At the same time, he points to the AGM’s quorum, the minimum number of members that must be present for the meeting to be valid, being at around 25. He states “if my numbers are correct that is about 0.1% of the Guild’s total members. The average for student societies is usually around 10-25%.”
When it comes to the continued affiliation, Sylvester comments that if what Martin says is true regarding the decision of the NJS, then “I’m happy for the Guild to stay in. I think the best way to effect change on the NUS could be from within.”
Combined with a perceived lack of direct systems for students to have their voices heard and a general lack of students feeling the Guild represents them, students maintain that there are “some slightly weak mechanisms at play.”
Nevertheless, the Guild has been working to accrue more student engagement within their systems. In a published report, the Guild has heard over 11,000 pieces of student feedback. The recent implementation of the first EDI advisory board is also a call to support “radical inclusivity”.
Students left the AGM wondering if a referendum is on its way.