It probably seems like I tend to go on about the same things most of the time. If it’s not my undying love of student engagement in the community or some old school right-wing ramblings I’m usually talking about the NUS.
As stated before, I see it as a very interesting and somewhat perplexing organisation. Then it hit me… I seem to be very much in the minority here in Loughborough. Much like the European Union in wider society, the NUS is quite simply not a salient issue in people’s consciences and although it may receive a degree of airtime (usually from keeno’s such as myself) it actually means very little to the majority.
Now, I’m sure that many NUS buffs would be revelling in the fact that they’re being compared to the sui generis obelisk that is the EU but I’m afraid that my comparisons only go as deep as one key issue: relevance.
It’s a well-known fact that we here in Loughborough live comfortably in the confines of our own little bubble. We do things differently and we like it that way; we focus on ‘Loughborough issues’.
Every year we have a supplementary referendum on NUS membership, conveniently placed at the end of the Executive Elections voting slip, and that’s it, NUS engagement done for a year.
Presumably most vote by default and simply click ‘yes’ as there has never (in my time) been a ‘for’ or ‘against’ manifesto submitted and after sifting through who will lead your Union next year, that one extra vote might as well be a proxy one.
When people ask ‘what do you campaign for at Loughborough?’ they’re pretty dumbfounded when the answer revolves around the things within arms reach; i.e. saving a hall of residence’s dining hall or common room.
To most other Unions, it’s all about being at odds with the University every step of the way or whinging at how oppressive the government apparently is or even what position their sabbaticals take on issues such as equal marriage or Israel-Palestine.
Why? Because they are NUS issues and at national conference, rather than debating things like the preservation of hall spirit and/or the student experience, themes are locked onto the political spectrum or things that quite frankly have no relevance to the everyday student’s life.
Very infrequently will there be any mention of student engagement or development, whereas at Loughborough they are very much bread and butter issues.
When Rebecca Bridger stood for Vice President: Union Development at last year’s National Conference, there was something very different about her and the motions she backed and proposed, as well as the speeches she made.
Different to everyone except the four Loughborough delegates sat in their sunshine yellow hoodies; rather than rallying cries of marching to action or the depiction of ‘betrayed generations’, there was ‘widening participation’, ‘unlocking student potential’ and, dare I say, some pragmatism.
It’s never fair to generalise, but on the whole, an average Loughborough student is far more interested in what they can get from their time here than what is going on as far away as the next junction of the M1.
I know for certain that even though I am massively into politics and global occurrences I was and still am much more concerned about the repercussions of events within my microenvironment than that happening outside of it.
So how does this all tie together?
By no means am I asserting an opinion on staying in/opting out of the NUS. It’s not my place to be a thought policeman.
What I will say, is when weighing these kinds of matters up, is it a case of scepticism driven by lack of understanding or are we genuinely ill-placed in our arrangement?
Conversely put, are we scared or intimidated by an institution (i.e. NUS/EU) as we lack the relevant knowledge to understand it or are we apathetic because quite frankly it isn’t right for us and we don’t deem it worthy of our time?
As the only candidate in the upcoming delegate election to have sat on conference floor, my experience has led me to the latter conclusion, and whilst I expect turnout and to an extent engagement to be far higher than in previous years, I still find myself wondering whether the votes cast will be informed, by proxy or indeed ‘because your mate is running’.