Letter: If the NUS is a closed shop then so is the local library

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The Independent Online
YOUR article 'Patten ready to outlaw student union closed shop' (27 June) reported on a controversial issue while using the loaded vocabulary of only one of the antagonists.

What justification is there in referring to student unions as 'closed shops'? Would you describe local libraries in these terms? All members of a local borough are entitled to use them, they make representation on behalf of library users to local authorities, and engage in national debates on such matters as VAT on books. No one is forced to use them. This is also the reality of student unions.

Student unions are providers of services and facilitators of student activities. They also ensure, through their representative role, effective communication with policy-makers at university, local and national levels.

The Government's distaste for student unions is based upon a misnomer, perpetuated by your article, that they are analogous with trades unions. They are not. Their spending is regulated by their status as educational charities. Their accounts are audited, as with any company. Their funding is solely determined by their parent institutions, who can withdraw all or part of such support.

This may explain why the majority of vice-chancellors (not the most left-wing body in the country) oppose the abolition of universal membership - perhaps a more accurate definition of Mr Patten's 'closed shop'. Your article led not to illumination, but rather to a further muddying of turbulent waters.

Mat Davies

President, University of Bristol Students' Union

Clifton, Bristol

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