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National Union of Students (United Kingdom)

National Union of Students
File:National Union of Students UK logo.png
Abbreviation NUS
Formation Template:If empty
Headquarters Macadam House, 275 Gray’s Inn Road, London, WC1X 8QB, UK
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Products NUS Extra
~600 students' unions
Official language
English, Welsh (NUS Wales)
Toni Pearce
Subsidiaries NUS Services Limited, NUS Holdings Limited, NUS Students' Union Charitable Services, NUS Media Limited
Affiliations European Students' Union
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Formerly called
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The National Union of Students of the United Kingdom (NUS) is a confederation of students' unions in the United Kingdom. Around 600 students' unions are in membership, accounting for more than 95 per cent of all higher and further education unions in the UK. Although the National Union of Students is the central organisation for all affiliated unions in the UK, there are also the devolved national sub-bodies NUS Scotland in Scotland, NUS Wales (UCM Cymru) in Wales and NUS-USI in Northern Ireland (the latter being co-administered by the Union of Students in Ireland). There is also an NUS Area for London, called NUS London.

NUS is a member of the European Students' Union.


There are four types of membership of NUS:

  • Constituent membership is granted to students' unions by National Conference or National Executive Council by a two-thirds majority vote
  • Individual membership is granted automatically to members of students' unions with constituent membership, sabbatical officers of constituent members, members of the National Executive Council and sabbatical conveners of NUS Areas
  • Associate membership is granted by a two-thirds majority vote of National Executive Council to:
    • Student Organisations in Association - any national student organisations
    • Partner Organisations in Association - non-student organisations which sympathise with the NUS
    • Individuals in Association - any individual who supports the objects of the NUS
    • NUS Areas - geographically-defined associations of students' unions
  • Honorary membership is granted by National Conference to "any person or organisation as it sees fit"

Of these types of membership, only constituent members may vote on or submit policy proposals to National Conference. Constituent members and associate members are required to pay a subscription fee as a condition of their membership.[1]


The NUS was formed in 1922 at a meeting held at the University of London. At this meeting, the Inter-Varsity Association and the International Students Bureau (which organised student travel and had been lobbying for a national body) agreed to merge. Founding members included the unions of University of Birmingham, Birkbeck College, London, LSE, Imperial College London (who first left in 1923 and have subsequently rejoined and left three times, the last time being in June 2008), King's College London (who supplied the first President, Sir Ivison Macadam) and the University of Bristol.


NUS' mission is to promote, defend and extend the rights of students by providing students and students’ unions with a collective voice by delivering a range of activity that articulates the needs and aspirations of its members to relevant bodies. They also develop and champion strong students’ unions and deliver a range of activities aimed at building their affiliates’ capacity to engage effectively on a local level, building strong and sustainable organisations that make students’ lives better.


The NUS holds national conferences once a year. National Conference is the sovereign body of NUS, and is where NUS policy is decided. Other conferences, such as Regional Conferences, Women's Conference, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Trans Students' Conference (changed as of 2004), Disabled Students' Conference, Black Students' Conference, Mature and Part-Time Students' Conference and the International Students' Conference (created in 2004) are run to enhance the representation of the specific members they include.

In July 2014, due to the creation of a new NUS London area- the first NUS London conference was held. Most of these conferences, and in particular the elections held at them, are contested by factions including Conservative Future, Labour Students, Liberal Youth, National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts, the Organised Independents, Young Independence, Socialist Students, Socialist Workers' Student Society, Student RESPECT and Student Broad Left. In addition to these political factions, interest groups such as the Federation of Student Islamic Societies and the Union of Jewish Students are deeply involved in the internal democratic processes of NUS.

NUS Services

NUS Services provides collective purchasing, support and marketing services to NUS-affiliated students' unions. Its shareholders consist of over 200 NUS-affiliated students' unions, and it is directed by a board and committees composed of volunteers from these shareholder unions.

The Association for Managers in Students' Unions voted to merge with NUS and NUS Services in 2010.[2][3]

NUS Extra

NUS Extra is a discount card which can be purchased by members of students' unions which are affiliated with NUS. It is produced by NUS Services in conjunction with NUS, and affiliated students’ unions receive commission on every card sold to their members.

NUS Charitable Services

NUS has established a new charity to drive improvement in students’ unions. It will focus on students’ union quality, talent management, equality and diversity, strategic development and turnaround, ethical and environmental work, and fundraising.

Ethical and environmental work

NUS' ethical and environmental department originated in 1995, forming a committee tasked with investigating allegations of environmental bad practice at Bass breweries.

As of 2013, the department employs over 25 members of staff, delivering far-reaching behavioural change programmes among staff and students such as Green Impact, Student Switch Off, and Student Eats.

The department is currently managing the pilot year of NUS Students' Green Fund - a £5 million grant from HEFCE, supporting 25 student-led, transformative sustainability projects at students' unions across England.


The NUS has come in for criticism from various quarters, particularly from those students' unions who are not affiliated. Sen Ganesh, then president of Imperial College Union, said in 2002 that "NUS's claim to be representative of students is not borne out by their work", especially as "the NUS is dominated by Labour students and this diminishes the ability to address student issues in an impartial fashion."[4]

Another criticism leveled at NUS is the absence of direct democracy in electing national offices. Currently, officers of NUS are elected at conferences by delegates chosen by affiliated union of NUS. Critics from both within and outside the student movement have argued that consultation by unions with their members over who should represent the students' union at national conferences is often minimal, and some have argued in favour of changes to the NUS constitution that would result in a one-member-one-vote policy.[5][6]

The NUS has also been criticised for prioritisation of NUS Extra over campaigning on issues which affect students.[7] Despite it being NUS policy that none of the discounts on the original free NUS card would be moved to NUS Extra, proposed by Cambridge University Students' Union, NUS Treasurer Dave Lewis went against policy and removed the discounts from the original free NUS card.[8]

Other critics have focussed on the organisation's perceived failure to campaign effectively on student issues such as tuition fees and prescription costs[9] and have advocated that students and unions coordinate independently of the NUS to campaign on the national stage.[10][11]

Financial crisis

In the mid-2000s, NUS faced a financial crisis, caused by a coinciding of spiraling expenditure and decreasing income. A series of measures were proposed to address this, of which the most controversial included a series of changes to the constitutional and democratic processes. In 2004, two emergency conferences passed some of the changes proposed, albeit not without fierce dispute between those claiming the proposals were necessary reforms to maintain the existence of the organisation and those arguing that they were aimed at curbing democracy and involvement. The 2006 NUS Conference passed a policy which enabled NUS to launch NUS Extra in September 2006.[12]

Durham censorship controversy

Further information: NUS No Platform Policy
In February 2010, the NUS came under criticism after two of its officers forced a proposed debate on multiculturalism at the University of Durham to be cancelled.[13] The debate, organised by the Durham Union Society – a debating society entirely separate from Durham Students' Union – was to have featured two prominent British National Party members: Yorkshire and the Humber MEP Andrew Brons and Leeds City Councillor Chris Beverley.[14] Upon hearing of BNP involvement in the debate, NUS Black Students' Officer Bellavia Ribeiro-Addy and NUS LGBT Officer Daf Adley jointly sent a letter to both the Durham Union Society and the university demanding its cancellation. The pair stated that the debate would be illegal and threatened to organise a "colossal demonstration" in tandem with Unite Against Fascism, adding that "if any students are hurt in and around this event responsibility will lie with you".[15]

The subsequent cancellation of the debate by Durham Union Society President Anna Birley on safety grounds was met with fierce backlash. NUS President Wes Streeting was prompted to personally appear before the Durham Union Society to apologise for the actions of the officers concerned, though outrage among Durham students was sufficient that a significant number protested outside the debating chamber at the time.[16] A protest group on Facebook quickly amassed over 2,500 members.[17] An official petition was lodged with Durham Students' Union to call for a referendum on disaffiliation from NUS.[18] On 12 March 2010, the referendum concluded with a majority of voting students choosing to disaffiliate.[19]

Another referendum by those in favour of NUS membership was called shortly following the "no" result, and in January 2011, 60% of Durham students taking part in the referendum voted to reaffiliate with the NUS on a turnout of 21.6% (compared with 14.5% turnout to disaffiliate the previous year).[19]

Liar Liar Campaign

In the run up to the 2015 General Election the NUS launched its Liar Liar campaign aimed at unseating MPs who broke promises regarding the cost of education.[20] At an estimated cost of £40,000 and consisting of a social media campaign alongside billboards, the campaign was well received by many students, however also came under criticism for being politically motivated specifically against Liberal Democrat MPs as opposed to members of all parties.[21][22]

Posters promoting the campaign were also removed from several train stations on the grounds that Network Rail is an "arms length public sector body" and must therefore remain politically neutral. The NUS claimed that the removal of the posters was an attempt to "gag" the union.[23]

NUS Toni Pearce defended the union's actions saying that the breach of a promise regarding tuition fees: "Wasn't a minor misdemeanour. It was an outright lie. We have an obligation to hold them to account for this, and we will."[24]

Current & recent issues

Graduate tax/Tuition fees

Under the leadership of Wes Streeting the NUS abandoned its long-standing commitment to free education and backed a graduate tax as its preferred outcome of the Browne Review into higher education funding. Before the 2010 General Election, the NUS invited candidates sign a pledge not to raise tuition fees, receiving over 1000 signatories from prospective parliamentary candidates. This became a very high profile campaign when many Liberal Democrat MPs, who all signed individual NUS pledges stating they would vote against any rise in tuition fees if elected, had to abstain or do the opposite as part of their coalition agreement.

The NUS, under new leader Aaron Porter, organised a national protest attended by thousands in November 2010, demanding an end to education cuts. The march route passed Whitehall and the Conservative Party headquarters at Millbank Tower. As they marched past the building, some protesters diverted in to the courtyard of Millbank Tower and began an occupation of the building.

With an attendance of over 50,000 people, it was the largest British demonstration since the Iraq War protest. This led to various more demos until the rise in tuition fees was passed.[25]

The day before the vote to allow a rise in tuition fees, the Daily Telegraph reported that they had seen emails that suggested Aaron Porter had supported, rather than increase tuition fees, cuts of up to 80% should be made to student support packages including grants and loans.[26] Porter responded to the claims on NUS Connect that "In all of these meetings and communications we stated our firm and clear opposition to cuts" and that the distortion of the discussions was "political desperation from a coalition government losing the arguments on its own policies".[27]

On April 9, 2014, the National Union of Students passed policy at its national conference to reverse its position on education funding. The call for a graduate tax was abandoned in favour Amendment 213b (listed as 215c)[28] which calls for free education funded through progressive taxation.


The Fairtrade NUS Campaign was started by students at the University of Edinburgh in autumn 2005. The campaign, which has now been joined by numerous other students' unions in Britain, is calling for 100% of the hot beverages (tea, coffee, hot chocolate, etc.) sold by member unions of the NUS to be accredited with the Fairtrade Mark.

The campaign is supported by a number of NGOs and charities, including Oxfam, Trade Justice Movement, People & Planet and CAFOD.

While it is contested amongst the universities about who were the original Fairtrade University, the Fairtrade foundation gave this status first and worked with Oxford Brookes University who spearheaded the movement – with the University of Edinburgh a close second.

Governance review

The 2008 Conference in Blackpool was dominated by the governance review debate and vote. The proposals were for a restructuring of the running of the Union but the vote was lost by 25 votes (a two-thirds majority was required).[29] The review was criticised for what was felt by detractors to be an attack on the organisation's democratic accountability.[30] Its supporters however defended the review as providing a more 'innovative' corporate structure which was hoped to make it more credible in negotiating policy, rather than simply 'reactive'.[31] This was not well received by many in the executive with President, Gemma Tumelty, vowing to press ahead with reform.[32] The perceived lack of progress on governance reform has also prompted Imperial College Union to hold a referendum on disaffiliation.[33]

Revised proposals were drafted and submitted to an extraordinary conference in November 2008. The conference passed the proposals by 4 votes to 1. A second extraordinary conference to ratify the proposals (the constitution requires that any changes are passed by two consecutive conferences) took place on 20 January 2009. The proposals were accepted by a huge majority and the new constitution came into force.

Islamic State

In October 2014, NUS National Executive Committee rejected a motion to condemn the militant group Islamic State because some executive members "felt that the wording of the motion being presented would unfairly demonise all Muslims rather than solely the group of people it set out to rightfully condemn."[34] NUS received much criticism and mockery for this stance given its previous condemnation of UKIP, the right wing political party.[35]

Despite a statement from NUS[36] confirming that "a new motion will be taken to the next NUS National Executive Committee meeting, which will specifically condemn the politics and methods of ISIS and offer solidarity for the Kurdish people," media coverage of the vote caused some student's union members to speculate that the NUS itself has been infiltrated by extremist sympathisers.[37]

At the following executive meeting on December 3, 2014, a similar motion, which condemned ISIS, expressed solidarity with the Kurdish people, and called on NUS to challenge "Islamophobia and all forms of racism being whipped up" was resubmitted and easily passed.[38]


  1. ^ "Articles of Association & Rules" (PDF). National Union of Students. Retrieved 9 September 2013. 
  2. ^ "AMSU votes to merge with NUS". NUS News. NUS. Retrieved 22 December 2014. 
  3. ^ "SUSU: What is NUS" (PDF). Southampton University Students' Union. Retrieved 22 December 2014. 
  4. ^ Adam Keating (2002). "What have NUS ever done for us?". Retrieved 30 May 2006. 
  5. ^ "One Member One Vote Working Group Findings" (PDF). They Work for Students. Retrieved 22 December 2014. 
  6. ^ "#NUSnc14 - And our one member one vote motion.". University of York Students' Union. University of York Students' Union. Retrieved 22 December 2014. 
  7. ^ "NUS: Extra rip-off for students?". Retrieved 31 May 2010. 
  8. ^[dead link]
  9. ^ "NUS – Should we vote to disaffiliate? | The Cambridge Student". 21 January 2010. Retrieved 31 May 2010. 
  10. ^ "NUS Trustee Board: hammering in the final nails… : Education Not For Sale". 14 December 2009. Retrieved 31 May 2010. [dead link]
  11. ^ "Chigbo Guilty Of Election Abuses « THE TAB – – All the latest Cambridge University news online". Retrieved 31 May 2010. 
  12. ^ "NUS CD21 Resolutions - March 2006" (PDF). NUS. Retrieved February 20, 2014. 
  13. ^ "Security concerns stifle free speech". Retrieved 31 May 2010. 
  14. ^ The British National Party – Blog – Labour party thugs dictate what university students can listen to
  15. ^ "Multiculturalism Debate & Potential Anti-Fascist Protests – Van Mildert JCR". 2 February 2010. Retrieved 31 May 2010. [dead link]
  16. ^ "Student union apologises over BNP claim (From the Northern Echo)". 10 February 2010. Retrieved 31 May 2010. 
  17. ^ "NUS mis-handling prompts backlash". Palatinate Newspaper. 22 February 2010. Retrieved 22 December 2014. 
  18. ^ "NUS mis-handling prompts backlash". 8 February 2010. Retrieved 31 May 2010. 
  19. ^ a b Johnson, Daniel (28 January 2011). "60% vote to reaffiliate with NUS". Palatinate Online. Retrieved 8 May 2011. 
  20. ^, Code. "Liar Liar:". Retrieved 2015-04-21. 
  21. ^ "NUS’ ‘Liar Liar’ campaign comes under fire for being politically biased". Retrieved 2015-04-21. 
  22. ^ Dougherty, Sarah. "Blair Blair: a response to the NUS' 'Liar Liar' campaign [[File:Redirect arrow without text.svg|46px|#REDIRECT|link=]][[:mw:Help:Magic words#Other|mw:Help:Magic words#Other]]
    This page is a [[Wikipedia:Soft redirect|soft redirect]].[[Category:Wikipedia soft redirects|National Union of Students (United Kingdom)]] Redbrick"
    . Redbrick. Retrieved 2015-04-21.
      Wikilink embedded in URL title (help)
  23. ^ Meikle, James. "Network Rail orders removal of NUS anti-Lib Dem posters". the Guardian. Retrieved 2015-04-24. 
  24. ^ "Election 2015: Nick Clegg's broken fees pledge defence 'weak' says NUS". Retrieved 2015-04-21. 
  25. ^ "Tuition fees: government wins narrow victory as protests continue". Guardian. 9 December 2010. Retrieved 22 December 2014. 
  26. ^ "National Union of Students secretly urged Government to make deep cuts in student grants". The Daily Telegraph. UK. 8 December 2010. Retrieved 8 December 2010. 
  27. ^ "NUS responds to Telegraph article". NUS Connect. 9 December 2010. Retrieved 9 December 2010. 
  28. ^ NUS National Conference 2014 (PDF). NUS. 8 April 2014. pp. 26–27. Retrieved 22 December 2014. 
  29. ^ MacLeod, Donald (1 April 2008). "Blairite revolution in NUS is defeated". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 19 May 2010. 
  30. ^ NUS Governance Review defeated at last stage | Education|News|News|
  31. ^ Lipsett, Anthea (8 January 2008). "New year, new union". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 19 May 2010. 
  32. ^ "Every single year you boo me. I couldn't care less". The Guardian (London). 2 April 2008. Retrieved 19 May 2010. 
  33. ^ Ashley Brown (19 May 2008). "Live! – Council Calls NUS Referendum". Retrieved 31 May 2010. 
  34. ^ "NUS-statement-on-NEC-motion". nusconnect. 
  35. ^
  36. ^ "NUS-statement-on-NEC-motion". nusconnect. NUS. Retrieved 22 December 2014. 
  37. ^ Merrill, Jamie (15 October 2014). "NUS motion to condemn Isis fails amidst claims of islamophobia". The Independent. Retrieved 16 October 2014. 
  38. ^ "National Union of Students votes to oppose US and UK military intervention in Iraq and Syria". Stop the War. Retrieved 22 December 2014. 

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