NUS is poised to become a charity: Annual conference re-elects president

Click to follow
THE National Union of Students, once a byword for left-wing militancy, is poised to turn itself into a charity.

Delegates at its annual conference in Blackpool re-elected a president committed to a package of radical reforms which the union leadership hopes will pre-empt hostile legislation.

Lorna Fitzsimons said yesterday that her election was a mandate for the proposals which include a conscience clause, allowing individuals to opt out of their college or university student union. There are to be three-yearly ballots of student unions on whether to continue to affiliate to the NUS.

The moves will limit future campaigns to educational and student issues. A registrar of student unions would oversee the proper use of union funds.

The union is gearing up to fight proposals from John Patten, Secretary of State for Education, for voluntary membership of student unions. At present students automatically become members of the union at their institution.

The union is funded by a grant from the college or university to provide services ranging from sports clubs to welfare services. Voluntary membership, with students having to buy into their student union, would undermine the position of the NUS locally and nationally.

What the union leadership is proposing is to continue block grants negotiated with university or college authorities and automatic entitlement to service and representation, but allow individuals to opt out. Some student unions already do this.

The re-election of Lorna Fitzsimons as president by 490 votes to 376 cast for her Left Unity opponent Janine Booth was a victory for the Labour-led national executive over left-wingers who accused it of a sell-out.

Ms Fitzsimons told delegates that all student unions in Scotland had charitable status and this did not prevent them from campaigning on issues such as Aids. The move to charitable status would 're-focus the whole system on the student, which I think will be far healthier', she said.

The debate continues today.