The students’ union (SU) at the University of Exeter has become the first to confirm it will remain affiliated with the National Union of Students (NUS) after an intense campaign and record voting turnout.
From the 5,334 votes cast - around 30.8 per cent of the university’s population - a total of 2,546 students voted to leave the NUS, while 2,690 voted to remain affiliated, a difference of just 144.
The turnout at the SU - known as the Guild - has become one of the highest-ever in a single stand-alone vote at any SU, as well as the highest at the Guild itself.
SUs from across the nation have been confirming disaffiliation campaigns and holding referendums after a controversial NUS National Conference in Brighton last month, with particular discord being felt over the election of the new National President, Malia Bouattia, who faced allegations of anti-Semitism.
Ms Bouattia, though, has strongly denied the claims.
Politicians also criticised delegates for presenting arguments against commemorating the Holocaust during a debate.
Guild president and leader of the Stay campaign, Laura-Jane Tiley, described how the interests of Exeter students are best-served by being part of the NUS. She said: “It is great we have been able to convince a majority of students voting that this is the case.
“Like the Leave campaign, we do believe the NUS needs to change, but that the best way of doing this is to remain a part of the organisation.”
Acknowledging how the National Conference in Brighton highlighted some of the “problems with the NUS,” Ms Tiley added: “it is important to recognise this vote was initiated by students before the conference ignited the wider debate that has seen Lincoln already choose to disaffiliate.”
The Leave camp, Exiter, said in a statement it would be engaging with the Guild in a review to “highlight concerns,” particularly over the duration of the referendum and at “how a multimillion pound organisation can pump all its resources into an Exeter vote, where only £60 was allocated to both sides.”
Exiter added: “We do not feel there was parity between both sides and we take the result with a pinch of salt. We will be asking for another referendum in 2016/17 with clearly defined regulations and enforcement of them.”
Richard Brooks, NUS vice president (union development), said students at Exeter Guild remain part of “a strong student movement.” He added: “Together, we will prepare to make our voices are heard, as we await the Government’s proposals on the future of higher education.
“Plans to reform our membership model are currently being put in place, and we are already looking to the long-term future of NUS as we work on the strategy that will carry us through to our 100th anniversary in 2022.”
After announcing disaffiliation on Thursday, Dominic Fearon, NUSU president, said it was clear Newcastle students felt the NUS “no longer represents their views, does not prioritise correctly, and is not effective at achieving change.”
ULSU president, Hayley Jayne Wilkinson, also described how, as a group of elected officers, they “no longer felt confident” the NUS represented the views of Lincoln students.
The campaign on whether to stay or break away from the national student campaigner at Exeter had been thrown into turmoil over the past week amid claims the Stay camp was “harassing and intimidating” students into remaining affiliated.
The Stay camp and Ms Tiley have not yet responded to the Independent’s request for comment on the claims, however, an NUS spokesperson told the Independent: “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.”
A Guild spokesman also confirmed to the Independent on Thursday that no complaints had been made by any students in relation to the alleged intimidation, and urged anyone affected to get in touch with the Guild for help and support and to go through its official complaints procedure.
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