Cambridge University Students’ Union votes to remain affiliated with National Union of Students

Cambridge now joins Exeter, Warwick, and Surrey to stay with NUS as Lincoln, Newcastle, and Hull vote to break away

Aftab Ali
Student Editor
Friday 27 May 2016 17:56 BST
The University of Cambridge, pictured
The University of Cambridge, pictured (Getty)

Students at the Cambridge University Students’ Union have voted to remain affiliated with the National Union of Students (NUS) after an institution-wide referendum this week.

Provisional referendum results published Friday have shown 51.52 per cent of voters chose to remain affiliated, while 46.62 per cent voted against. Turnout was 6,178 out of 21,479 registered voters.

The result has come as a blow to the NUS: Let Cambridge Decide camp which had been rigorously campaigning for the student body to break away from the NUS following the controversial election of new president, Malia Bouattia.

Ms Bouattia, 28, had faced allegations of anti-Semitism prior to her election in Brighton last month after a 2011 article she co-authored caused controversy among the Jewish student body, and beyond. In it, she referred to the University of Birmingham as being “something of a Zionist outpost in British higher education.” Ms Bouattia has strongly denied the claims.

NUS’s annual National Conference in April also drew criticism from politicians after delegates presented arguments against commemorating the Holocaust during a debate.

The Cambridge result has come just days after Hull University students voted to break away from the NUS having held a referendum of its own. The students’ unions (SUs) at Lincoln and Newcastle have also announced the same.

Between Lincoln and Newcastle, according to the national student campaigner’s figures, NUS is set to lose just over £70,000 in affiliation fees. The NUS has yet to confirm to the Independent exact costings for Cambridge and how much it made in the last academic year from all affiliated SUs.

NUS said it caps income from affiliations at £4 million and gives back the extra income to SUs through an abatement which they can apply for.

Exeter, Warwick, and Surrey have all voted to remain affiliated, although Surrey did not hold an official university-wide referendum. Several other SUs across the UK have yet to hold referendums, including Oxford.

Oxford SU president, Becky Howe, told the Independent she stands by the institution’s Jewish society, and said there “must be a solid commitment to addressing anti-Semitism in the student movement.”

However, acknowledging that disagreeing with a liberation group has been “the hardest decision of my presidency,” Ms Howe added: “I do not believe disaffiliation is the answer.”

Speaking after the Cambridge result on Friday, co-founders of the Leave campaign, Adam Crafton and Jack May, said they were “disappointed” not to have seen the referendum through.

However, the pair added: “We believe we have awoken the Cambridge student community to the challenges facing Jewish students on British campuses in 2016, and that is an immensely satisfying achievement.

Congratulating the Remain camp, Crafton and May said they hope it will honour its campaigning promises to fight for Jewish students within the NUS. They added: “Our concerns persist. Today, it has emerged Malia Bouattia was investigated by NUS for anti-Semitism last year. Her punishment of an informal warning and an apology does not suffice.”

Both students were making reference to a report in The Tab which claimed Ms Bouattia was investigated for anti-Semitism in 2015, more than a year before she was elected president, something the NUS “failed to disclose” in the wake of the controversy post-election, says the report.

However, the NUS has said the complaint was dealt with over a year ago through an independent investigator in line with NUS policy, adding it was unable to comment specifically on confidential complaints. The Independent has contacted Ms Bouattia for comment regarding the report.

Malia Bouattia interview

Crafton and May said it is “vital” NUS does not see the result as “a legitimisation of the direction their organisation is taking.” They concluded: “Instead, it should see it as a mandate from a very prestigious university to be allowed one last chance to secure the reforms that Jewish students deserve.”

CUSU president, Priscilla Mensah, said she was “proud and encouraged” by the historic levels of engagement in the referendum. She added: “This vote is definitive, and provides the team and me with a strong mandate to take forward the clear and legitimate concerns Cambridge students have raised during this referendum.

“I have been explicit as a campaigner that NUS is far from perfect; with the confidence of Cambridge students, CUSU will continue to engage with NUS in collaboration with SUs across the country to ensure NUS becomes the inclusive and effective organisation students deserve.”

Richard Brooks, NUS vice president of union development, said: “We are currently developing new democratic structures and are planning reforms to our membership model.

“We look forward to implementing these changes with the support of CUSU.”

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