The campaign on whether to stay or break away from the National Union of Students (NUS) at Exeter University has been thrown into turmoil amid claims the Stay camp is “harassing and intimidating” students into remaining affiliated.
Campaigners and students - including those from the disaffiliation group, Exiter - have taken to social media, alleging members of the Stay With NUS team have been “running door to door harassing students.”
Other claims have included NUS campaigners “disrupting finalists” in libraries on laptops and “pressuring them to vote immediately,” with one student saying they felt “very uncomfortable” with Stay being in their flat, adding: “The international students I live with had no clue what they were voting for but went along anyway.”
One of the campaigners with Exiter, Charlie Evans, said he was “getting tired” and wanted to highlight “some of disparities we’ve faced.”
He described how the Exiter Facebook page had received “many messages” from students said to be “concerned by Stay With NUS intimidation tactics,” adding it was “disgraceful.”
In an online post, Mr Evans said: “The NUS has sent text messages to 3,000 students in Exeter, demanding they vote Stay. The Stay campaign have bused in about 12 NUS officers, including the president and three vice-presidents, of course, their travel expenses not taken off their campaign budget.”
According to Exeposé, the new president-elect of the NUS, Malia Bouattia, visited the university this week to spend a full day campaigning, where she spoke to students about the benefits of staying with the NUS.
The Stay campaign has cautioned that, should Exeter’s students’ union - known as the Guild - leave, the NUS will not be able to tell it how to best represent Exeter students, insisting that “there’s never been a better time for change.”
Sorana Vieru, NUS vice president for higher education, added: “This year is a key time for affecting change within NUS. With an ongoing governance and democratic review, this is the best time to stay involved and influence.”
Speaking to the Independent about the claims, an NUS spokesperson said the national campaigner is keen to ensure students understand the importance of being part of a national union, so they can then make an informed decision when casting their vote.
The spokesperson continued: “A collective voice is particularly crucial at this time, with an imminent higher education bill threatening to overhaul the sector, which would have a huge impact on every student at the University of Exeter.
“Many of the students campaigning to disaffiliate from NUS are using unsubstantiated claims to promote their cause. It is important students are able to hear first-hand from those who are directly involved with NUS.
“Text messages are only sent to students who have given permission to receive them. However, as always, we are willing to listen to our members’ feedback.
“NUS has been instrumental in forming rules for union democracy, and we would expect all parties to abide by them.
“Students’ unions have robust procedures and we are sure any reported complaints will be appropriately investigated and dealt with.”
A spokesman for the Guild echoed the NUS’s statement and told the Independent no complaints had been made by any students involved in the alleged intimidation.
He urged anyone who has any complaint to make to do so by getting in touch with the Guild and going through its official complaints procedure.
So far, almost 4,700 students at the university have voted in the referendum, one of the highest-ever turnouts in a stand-alone vote at a students’ union. Voting closes at midnight and the results will be announced at 9am on Friday.
On Monday, the students’ union at the University of Lincoln (ULSU) became the first to officially announce it will disaffiliate from the NUS.
ULSU president, Hayley Jayne Wilkinson, described how, as a group of elected officers, they “no longer felt confident” the NUS represented the views of Lincoln students.
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