Voting began in Ulster University this morning on whether their Students’ Union should remain members of NUS-USI (National Union of Students-Union of Students in Ireland), the overarching body representing students in Northern Ireland.
UUSU (Ulster University Students’ Union) voted to hold a referendum on NUS-USI membership following a Council meeting in late October. Ulster University students last took to the polls on retaining membership of the Union three years ago, when the result was 88% in favour of remaining a member of the body.
Starting at 9am today, students are being asked to vote Yes or No to the question: “Should UUSU remain part of NUS/USI?”. Online polls will remain open until noon on Thursday.
The No campaign, Say GoodBye to NUS-USI, has focused on the €52,000 paid by their SU to NUS-USI annually, arguing that the money could be better spent on other endeavours. In a Facebook post, the campaign stated that through disaffiliation they aim to ensure “the SU focuses on ITS’ OWN students”.
The campaign also aims to “maximise engagement with students to make sure that services are truly front line,” “bring proper democracy for all students,” “ensure proper financial management of the Union,” and upgrade and modernise SU facilities on all campuses, following disaffiliation. The group also aims to see the obtainment of alcohol and entertainments licenses for SU facilities in some of the college campus’.
At a referendum hustings held on Monday, Kevin McStravock, President of UUSU and lead campaigner of the Yes vote, argued that the €52,000 fee “equates to just over £2 per student” each year. “The cost of a coffee is a small price to pay to be part of a collective movement,” he said. “If we go it alone, we will not be able to deliver this scale of activity for the same price.”
At the hustings, McStravock stressed that the “NUS-USI doesn’t just represent students nationally, it also supports us as your Students’ Union to represent your interests here”. Most notably, he cited NUS-USI’s support for the development of the SU’s Strategic Plan which led to an increase of over €250,000 in block grant funding. “We could not have done this without the support of NUS-USI,” he argued.
McStravock spoke of the “broad range of activity” NUS-USI engages in. In particular, he made reference to a student wellbeing survey conducted by the body, which “raised the profile of student mental health and led to an increase in the resources allocated to Student Support in Ulster”. He also praised the upcoming launch of the first Northern-Ireland-wide student survey on sexual consent.
McStravock said: “If you vote no, you are going to leave us isolated from the student movement at a time where Brexit looms and the UK government threatens to change higher education funding. This is something we cannot face alone. We need NUS-USI because together we are stronger.”
Although UUSU is not able to officially support a position, sabbatical officers are allowed to campaign outside of office hours and can take annual leave if they wish to campaign during office hours. McStravock has taken annual leave for most of the campaign period.
The No campaign had not responded to a request for comment at the time of publication.