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The National Union of Students (NUS) is the main confederation of students' unions that exist inside the United Kingdommarker. Although the NUS is the central organisation for all affiliated unions in the UK, there are also the devolved national sub-bodies NUS Scotland in Scotlandmarker, NUS Wales in Walesmarker and NUS-USI in Northern Irelandmarker (the latter being co-administered by the Union of Students in Ireland).

NUS is a member of the European Students' Union.


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 Birminghammarker, LSEmarker, Imperial College Londonmarker (who first left in 1923 and have subsequently rejoined and left three times, the last time being in June 2008), King's College Londonmarker (who supplied the first President (Sir Ivison Macadam)) and the University of Bristolmarker.

Financial crisis

In recent years, the NUS has faced a prolonged financial crisis, caused by a coinciding of spiralling 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 an extremely controversial policy enabling the NUS to launch a paid-for student discount card, in September, called 'NUS Extra', on sale to students at GB£10.


All UK students' unions are able to join the NUS (providing they are not controlled by their parent institution and their admission is approved by National Conference). To become a constituent member, unions must pay an affiliation fee to NUS, which is based upon the number of students in the union, and the money received by the union from its parent institution.

The NUS now has over 700 constituent members (the unions of either higher education or further education establishments) through which it represents approximately five million UK students, which equates to approximately 98% of all students and hence potential members. However, a small number of high profile educational institutions are not members. These include the University of Glasgowmarker, University of St Andrewsmarker, University of Dundeemarker, University of Southamptonmarker and Imperial College Londonmarker. In recent years NUS membership has become a controversial issue with some unions seeing general meeting motions and referendums on the membership issue.

The NUS have in the past received criticism for spending significant amounts of time and money in running pro-affiliation campaigns at universities to ensure that they win referendums.

Recent leavers of the NUS have included UMIST (which is now re-affiliated through its merger to form UMSU), the University of Sunderland, the University of Southamptonmarker and Aston Universitymarker as well as Imperial College London. However, these defections have been partly counterbalanced by the entry into membership of the University of Edinburgh. The University of Northampton also re-affiliated itself with the NUS in October 2007, having disaffiliated in 2001.


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 Conference (changed as of 2004), Disabled Students Conference, Black Students' Conference and the International Students' Conference (created in 2004) are run to enhance the representation of the specific members they include.

Most of these conferences, and in particular the elections held at them, are hotly contested by faction including Conservative Future, Education Not for Sale, Labour Students, Liberal Youth, the Organised Independents, Socialist Students, 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 offer a number of services to their constituent members. NUS owns a 25% share in NUS Services. NUS Services started out as a purchasing consortium that allows its members to benefit from bulk purchasing discounts. NUS and NUS Services work closely with the Association for Managers in Students' Unions.


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: "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.”

The NUS has in particular come in for criticism for the way its democratic processes are structured. Unlike individual student unions and despite the rise of online voting in Universities, NUS officers are not directly elected by students, but instead elected by delegates. For extraordinary general meetings, there doesn't even need to be a cross-campus election of delegates . Some have argued that the NUS National Conference is unrepresentative of the opinions of students across the country, once famously starting a campaign to raise the price of alcohol at students' unions, and that in turn the National Executive Committee does not always reflect the wishes and priorities of students.

The NUS has also been criticised for what appears to be an obsession with selling its 'NUS Extra Card', which offers students discounts on certain purchases, rather than confronting issues that actually affect students. Despite an NUS Policy that none of the discounts on the original free NUS card would be moved to the 'NUS Extra Card', proposed by Cambridge University Students' Union, NUS Treasurer Dave Lewis went against policy and removed the discounts from the original free NUS card.

Current & recent issues

AUT/NATFHE (UCU) marking boycott controversy

In 2006 the Association of University Teachers (AUT) and the National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education (NATFHE), announced a one-day strike, to be followed by ongoing "action short of a strike" in the form of an assessment boycott (with the AUT, though not NATFHE, including the setting of exams in the boycott) as part of their pay negotiations with the Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA), with many lecturers and teachers not marking exam papers.

Initially the NUS leadership, headed by Kat Fletcher, gave support to the lecturers' unionarguing that it was essential to secure an increase in lecturers' wages; The understanding was that the NUS was not supporting the AUT-only boycott of setting or marking exams. However this support was not reflected across all students' unions affiliated to NUS and some tabled an emergency motion to the 2006 NUS National Conference; however this was not debated. This provoked strong criticism that the NUS stance on one of the major education issues of the day had been decided without consultation of the membership.

Subsequently a number of students' unions went public with their opposition to both the boycott and the NUS support for it. A member of the NUS National Executive-elect drafted a counter letter in support, signed by a number of students' unions, whilst direct online petitions of students opposed to the boycott attracted an ever growing number of signatures. . A petition completely in favour of the boycott had attracted rather fewer signatures.

An opinion poll jointly commission by London Student and Times Higher found that 77% of students opposed the boycott, although 67% supported the general principle of increasing lecturers' pay.

Many have criticised the NUS as unrepresentative of its members, and have questioned to what extent the NUS actually represents students' interests. Some students' unions have gone so far as to threaten to withhold part of their affiliation fees. Many other students' unions have maintained support for the teaching unions, including some which have agreed to go beyond the NUS stance, backing the AUT/NATFHE action fully. (The poll was published after many students' unions had already adopted their pro-boycott stance, and it is not clear to what extent the student unions were already aware of student opposition).

The NUS later advised AUT/NATFHE, following feedback from over 100 unions, that their partial support for action could not be indefinite and is wholly dependent on seeking a fast resolution. This, along with criticism meted out to the employers' negotiators (UCEA) by the Parliamentary HE committee chair Barry Sheerman MP, seemed to have an effect as a pay deal was soon reached by the newly merged lecturers' union, the University and College Union (UCU).


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 the UK, 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 hotly contested amongst the Universities about who were the original Fairtrade University,the Fairtrade foundation gave this status first and worked with Oxford Brookes Universitymarker 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). The review was criticised for what was felt by detractors to be an attack on the organisation's democractic accountability . 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'. This was not well received by many in the executive with President, Gemma Tumelty, vowing to press ahead with reform. The perceived lack of progress on governance reform has also prompted Imperial College Union to hold a referendum on disaffiliation..

Revised proposals were drafted and submitted to a 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.


Years of office Name Institution(s) Faction
1922 Ivison S Macadam King's College Londonmarker
1922-23 A Gordon Bagnall University of Oxfordmarker
1923-24 Ralph Nunn May University of Birminghammarker
1924-25 F G G Carr University of Cambridgemarker
1925-26 W J Langford University of Reading
1926-27 J E Meredith University of Wales, Bangormarker
1927-29 F O Darvall University of Reading
1929-30 Sam Cohen University College, Cardiffmarker
1930-31 H Trevor Lloyd University of Bristolmarker
1931-33 Denis Follows University of London and University of Nottinghammarker
1933-34 Charles G Gilmore University of London
1934-36 F Lincoln Ralphs University of Sheffield
1936-38 F Fraser Milne University of London
1938-39 R R S Ward University of Sheffield
1939-40 Brian Simon University of Cambridgemarker and University of London
1940-41 P A H Rivett University of Leedsmarker
1941-42 S G Checkland University of Birminghammarker
1942-44 Jack T Allanson University of Manchester
1944-46 A T James University of London
1946-47 G Mcleavy University of Leedsmarker
1947-49 W Bonney Rust University of London
1949-51 Stanley K Jenkins University College, Cardiffmarker
1951-52 John M Thompson University of Manchester
1952-54 Fred Jarvis University of Oxfordmarker
1954-56 Frank H Copplestone University of Nottinghammarker
1956-58 Roland Freeman University of London
1958-60 Dennis J Grennan University of Southamptonmarker
1960-62 J Gwyn Morgan University of Wales, Aberystwythmarker
1962-64 A R Hughes University of Wales, Aberystwythmarker
1964-66 T William Savage Queen's University of Belfastmarker
1966-68 T Geoff Martin Queen's University of Belfastmarker
1968-69 Trevor A Fisk University of London
1969-71 Jack Straw University of Leedsmarker Radical Student Alliance
1971-73 Digby Jacks University of London Left Caucus
1973-75 John Randall University of Yorkmarker Independent
1975-77 Charles Clarke University of Cambridgemarker Broad Left
1977-78 Sue Slipman University of Wales, Lampetermarker Broad Left
1978-80 Trevor Phillips Imperial College Londonmarker Broad Left
1980-82 David Aaronovitch University of Manchester Broad Left
1982-84 Neil Stewart University of Aberdeen NOLS
1984-86 Phil Woolas University of Manchestermarker NOLS
1986-88 Vicky Phillips University of East Angliamarker NOLS
1988-90 Maeve Sherlock University of Liverpoolmarker NOLS
1990-92 Stephen Twigg University of Oxfordmarker NOLS
1992-94 Lorna Fitzsimons Loughborough Collegemarker NOLS
1994-96 Jim Murphy University of Strathclyde NOLS
1996-98 Douglas Trainer University of Strathclyde NOLS
1998-00 Andrew Pakes University of Hull NOLS
2000-02 Owain James University of Warwickmarker Organised Independent
2002-04 Mandy Telford University of Strathclyde NOLS
2004-06 Kat Fletcher Sheffield Collegemarker and University of Leedsmarker Campaign for Free Education (2004-05)
Independent (2005-06)
2006-08 Gemma Tumelty Liverpool John Moores Universitymarker Organised Independent
2008-10 Wes Streeting University of Cambridgemarker NOLS

Area organisation

National Union of Students Areas are support organisations, affiliation to which is open to individual students' unions which are usually (but not always) already affiliated members of the UK-wide National Union of Students of the United Kingdom ("NUS"). Membership of an Area organisation is optional (determined by the normal democratic process at each students' union) and is paid for by subscription in addition to the cost of affiliation to the national body.

Area organisations meet together to support each other through the Areas Political Convention (formerly the Areas National Convention), and are able to attend the National Union's annual conference as non-voting observers. Additionally Area Conveners have sometimes been members of the Executive Committees of the "special regions" (Scotland (NUS Scotland), Wales (NUS Wales), and Northern Ireland (NUS-USI).)

The position of "Areas" within the Constitution of the National Union has long been somewhat controversial. They do not feature in all printed editions of the Constitution, but have not been officially dissolved by the decision-making Annual Conference of the national body. They are nominally autonomous or semi-autonomous, but often use some of the same branding and certainly have access to the resources of their regional and national offices.

The current National Union of Students website has this to say about areas:

At one time almost all NUS regions contained several Area organisations; Scotland for example was divided into "NUS North of Scotland Area", "NUS West of Scotland Area" and "NUS East of Scotland Area". In this example, the East of Scotland organisation tended to work very closely with the national (Scottish) organisation due to being based in the same city, Edinburghmarker. In more remote parts of the country, the Area organisations are intended to form a useful first point of contact and readily accessible person to assist the local student unions.

Areas normally have a "Convener" who is generally a current student or one who has just graduated, and will take a year, theoretically (but not always) paid, to work for the Area — known as a "sabbatical" in the case of current students, and in this sense following the model of the sabbatical officers of students' unions at individual educational institutions. Occasionally the Convener would serve two or even more years in office. Those Areas able to afford the costs may send their Convener to a training session provided by the National Union. In any event, the regional organisation will normally provide training and support.

Because of their local perspective and autonomous nature, it is not uncommon for Areas to be involved in conflicts with the national organisation. Conversely, political groupings (and the fulfilling of obvious functions and shared goals) within the bodies sometimes draws them into very close co-operation.

West Midlands Area National Union of Students

West Midlands Area National Union of Students (WMANUS) is the oldest of the current National Union of Students Areas and operates as a semi-autonomous organisation of the National Union of Students of the United Kingdom. WMANUS works with affiliated Students' Unions in the West Midlands of Englandmarker on campaigns, training, union development and other issues of relevance to students in the region. Area organisations are now starting to re-establish themselves across England with the establishment of the South East Area National Union of Students (SEANUS) and the Anglian Union of Students (ANGUS) - with others looking to follow.

WMANUS has two full-time convenors who are supported by a part-time Executive Committee. It holds two Conferences (Spring and Winter) every year to discuss policy, elect its new Executive committee and determine the direction and work of the Area. Its main aims are to represent all students of affiliated Student Union/Associations/Guilds on educational and welfare issues across the West Midlands region. It runs regional wide campaigns as well as specific training events for its Constituent Members (CMs).

Liberation Campaigns

LGBT Campaign

The first national officers were elected in 2000, after NUS Annual Conference voted to change the constitution in order for the positions to be created, despite some opposition. There are two officers for the NUS LGBT Campaign, one is open place and elected by LGBT student delegates to the NUS LGBT Conference, the other is a woman's place and is elected only by women delegates.

Year Open Place Officer Women's Place Officer
2000/1 Beth Aze Vicki Austin
2001/2 Carli Harper-Penman Vicki Austin
2002/3 Daniel Murphy Carli Harper-Penman
2003/4 Carli Harper-Penman Sarah Thompson
2004/5 Ben Miskell Kat Louis
2005/6 James-J Walsh Kat Louis
2006/7 Scott Cuthbertson Claire Anderson
2007/8 Scott Cuthbertson Claire Anderson
2008/9 Daf Adley Lucy Brookes
2009/10 Daf Adley Lucy Brookes

Disabled Students' Campaign

Formerly the Students With Disabilities Campaign, the name was changed in 2006. Alex Kemp was the first NUS Disabled Students' Officer under the new title. However in many individual students' unions the phrase is still "Students With Disabilities".

Year Disabled Students' Officer
2000/1 Linda McGowan
2001/2 Chris O'Sullivan
2002/3 Barry Farleigh
2003/4 Barry Farleigh
2004/5 Sian Davies
2005/6 Sian Davies
2006/7 Alex Kemp
2007/8 Alex Kemp
2008/9 Adam Hyland
2009/10 Adam Hyland

Black Students' Campaign

Year Black Students' Officer
2000/1 Denis Fernando
2001/2 Denis Fernando
2002/3 Michelle Codrington
2003/4 Michelle Codrington
2004/5 Pav Akhtar
2005/6 Pav Akhtar
2006/7 Ruqayyah Collector
2007/8 Ruqayyah Collector
2008/9 Bellavia Ribeiro-Addy
2009/10 Bellavia Ribeiro-Addy

Women's Campaign

Year Women's Officer
2000/1 Helen Russell
2001/2 Kat Fletcher
2002/3 Kat Fletcher
2003/4 Hannah Essex
2004/5 Jo Salmon
2005/6 Jo Salmon
2006/7 Kat Stark
2007/8 Kat Stark
2008/9 Katie Curtis
2009/10 Olivia Bailey


Many of these links no longer function. Please rectify.
  3. Ucea ordered to explain pay dispute comments | Education |
  4. Blairite revolution in NUS is defeated | Mortarboard | Guardian Unlimited
  5. NUS Governance Review defeated at last stage | Education | News | News |
  6. Anthea Lipsett on changes within the NUS | Students |
  7. Students vote against union's governance changes | Education | Education Guardian
  8. Live! - Council Calls NUS Referendum

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