Student unions in move to pre-empt ministers' plans

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The Independent Online
STUDENT UNIONS yesterday suggested that their own political campaigning should be restricted by granting them charitable status, writes Colin Hughes.

In a radical package of proposals for its own reform, the National Union of Students also said that individual students should be free to opt out of membership.

A union registrar should be appointed inside the higher education funding councils to oversee the proper running of college and university unions, it added.

Those proposals are aimed at pre-empting ministers' plans to make student union membership voluntary. The plans have been prompted by Conservative Party activists, who have long wanted to force the NUS to scale down its political activity.

Tim Boswell, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary responsible for higher education, welcomed the 'NUS recognition that reform of student unions is needed', and confirmed that his own proposals would be published soon.

The NUS executive accepts the need for reform - but, along with most vice-chancellors and principals, it fears the Government's proposals may undermine social and welfare work undertaken by student unions. The union is therefore advocating charitable status to prevent funds being used for improper political campaigns.