Annual Members Meeting

NUS Affiliation Endorsement Decision

At the Annual Members Meeting on Monday the 3rd of December students will be asked to vote on whether the Union should hold an NUS referendum.

Students’ Union Charitable Statement:

The Students’ Union current affiliation ends on the 31st July 2018 - on the 3rd December at the Annual Members Meeting University of Portsmouth students will be asked whether you support the previous member decision to remain affiliated with the National Union of Students (NUS) or to call a referendum. This paper provides an overview of the current known position of NUS following recent announcements, the impact on the Students’ Union and a balanced perspective on the strengths and weaknesses of our affiliation.

NUS in “Crisis”

On the 21st November 2018 the NUS released information to Students’ Union’s revealing that after years of decline in satisfaction from Students’ Unions their “finances have reached crisis point” along with their governance structures. 

There is still much unknown about the detail of the NUS financial position and ability to recover. As recently reported through National Media outlets the known financial position is that: 

  • They face an in-year debt of £3,000,000 increasing annually if reform is not actioned
  • They need to streamline central organisational costs by at least 40% by April 2018
  • They have £10,000,000 in assets which provides a strong borrowing position to get through the reform period
  • They have a reported £12,000,000 pension liability which should they go into liquidation would most likely be split amongst Union’s who form part of the same pension scheme, including Portsmouth Students’ Union. 

Without significant and sweeping reform the NUS is likely to enter administration by the Summer of 2019. As such, NUS instigated a process in October 2018 with two key aims: 

  1. Get to Financial and Governance Safety
  2. Radically reform the organisation: it’s purpose, democratic structures, student voice activities and student union support activities 

This reform is being led by a turn-around board featuring a large portion of external expertise and supported by KPMG. NUS is consulting with member Union’s, including Portsmouth, through to December, and then presenting options in March with a final option to be chosen at NUS Conference in April 2018. If passed, changes to reform will immediately be implemented.

NUS and Portsmouth Students’ Union

In November 2016 the Students’ Union held a referendum to allow members a voice on whether to remain affiliated with the NUS. Students chose to remain affiliated. The cost of affiliation to the NUS for 2018/19 was £45,196 + VAT

NUS primarily supports Portsmouth Students’ Union through access to generate income from the NUS Extra Card, now known as Totum, as well as an extensive package of training and conferences for staff, representatives and officers which are only available to affiliated Unions (but do cost extra to the affiliation fee). There are benefits to the collectivism of a national union in the networking and sharing of resources and best practice across the sector to help keep us at the top of our game - something which is also facilitated by the NUS. The NUS have in the past been a voice for students on a national level, leading demonstrations and UK wide campaigns which have delivered changes for students both here and globally.

However, according to the NUS the organisation you see today isn’t the one our members need or deserve. Membership satisfaction rates have plummeted from around 80% to under 50% in the past 5 years, the experience for Union staff and officers is poor and NUS is known for a “toxic culture” that spills out in their events and activities. These are the words of the NUS (NUS Reform, Member and Stakeholder Consultation, November 2018). They have failed to deliver a variety of key campaigns, charge for the majority of training courses and it is believed by many that they have little impact at either a local or national level; this is in part thanks to NUS’s over-complicated, out of date corporate and democratic governance.

What happens if students call for a referendum? 

If, at the Annual Members Meeting, members agree with the past referendum: the Students’ Union will hold a referendum on NUS in November 2019 as part of our normal 3 year cycle. If, however, members do not agree with the past referendum at the Annual Members Meeting: we would need to hold a referendum in this academic year. In practicality this is likely to be in early March after the Students’ Union Officer elections. The referendum would ask the following question:

  • Should the University of Portsmouth Students’ Union be affiliated with the National Union of Students? (Options: Yes or No) 

For the sake of clarity, the outcome of this referendum would result in one of the following outcomes:

  • If students chose ‘Yes’ the Students’ Union would be affiliated with a reformed/reforming NUS post July 2018
  • If student chose ‘No’ the Students’ Union would be removed from a reformed/reforming NUS post July 2018

Regardless of the outcome of any referendum, staff and officers will continue to be actively involved in the NUS reforming process up to the end of our affiliation in July 2018

What are the risks to be considered?

So much is still unknown about the future of NUS and the relationship the Students’ Union has with it in its new model. Ultimately, whilst democratically guided by students, the Students’ Union Board of Trustees is responsible for addressing any significant legal, financial and reputational risks, including the outcome of a referendum, that put the sustainable future of the University of Portsmouth Students’ Union in harm’s way.

If the Students’ Union remains affiliated with the NUS there is the possibility that a successful reform will happen and a focussed representative body on national student matters will re-develop over time with our help and support. The Students’ Union would also continue to receive the benefits of membership through networking, resources and commercial revenues. If however, the NUS does not survive reform, or even past the critical financial deadline of April 2019, the Students’ Union will be directly linked to a failing representative national body.

If the Students’ Union goes to referendum and the outcome is disaffiliation then this will further remove funding from the NUS through our affiliation fees and means that we will not have a voice in the reform process after July 2018. The Union would however benefit from near to £50,000 additional funds to invest directly into the local benefits of Portsmouth students and would not have a long term association or commitment with a reforming national body.  

The Union has identified a wider risk to the potential collapse of the NUS which is the reported £12,000,000 pension deficit. This is a risk that affects Unions nationwide who were in the same pension scheme, it has the potential to bankrupt some smaller Unions which then in turn passes their debts to all remaining Unions, including UPSU and putting us at financial risk. There is a significant amount of detail that is unknown with this risk at the time of writing. The only control measure that UPSU can put in place is to be actively involved, for as long as we can be, in the sustainable recovery of the NUS as a going entity.


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