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Sam Rozati: There's never been a better time to get involved in the NUS

Conhomepic In March 2007, Former CF NME Sam Rozati was elected to the National Executive of the National Union of Students. Here, Sam argues that Top-Up Fees have made students ready to ditch the socialist answers of old, for Conservative answers to the problems modern students face.

Everyone knows that the  NUS is a body for unemployable, unwashed, idealistic, class-jealous “students” who do little studious activity and concentrate instead on trying to save the world from capitalism, George Bush and the evil menace of KitKat Chunky bars.

Everyone also knows that NUS National Conferences – much like Trade Union conferences – are simply a convention for 1000-odd “students” to congregate and fight over who is better “Gordon Brown or George Galloway”.

And yet, the last NUS Conference elected me – a Conservative – on to its National Executive. And despite no campaign budget or outside support, I was just 5 votes away from being elected National Treasurer against a candidate supported by all the Labour Party-backed NUS “factions”. That same conference booed when people stood up to bash David Cameron and booed again when the RESPECT Party tried to promote their political agenda.

So what changed? Quite simply – the introduction of Top-Up Fees. 

No matter what your view on Top-Up Fees, it is indisputable that it has made students think of themselves more like customers of their College or University. They are paying for their education, so they expect better teaching, better facilities and a better student experience.

Once upon a time, students would collect their Term grant and then go to fight idealistic battles against “the system”. Now students worry about employability, the standard of their degree courses and even how they’ll manage to pay next month's rent – and this change in attitude is changing student politics. 

Students’ Unions need to spend more time making sure students get value for money. In the past, when NUS battles focused on issues such as Apartheid in South Africa, Labour held the moral high ground. Now the issues are financial. How do you sort the financial black hole in NUS finances? How do we get maximum value for money for students? How do we ensure good facilities on campus? In answer to all of these questions, Conservatives can find natural authority to speak on behalf of students.

You may have read about the recent decision by HSBC to charge interest on graduate overdrafts when they had previously been advertised as interest free. Surely these small-scale, day-to-day, bread and butter issues, are exactly the kind of things that we as Conservatives campaign for in our local constituencies? NUS fought HSBC and won a U-Turn on this issue. This wasn’t some idealistic campaign. It was a practical issue that actually made a difference to student lives. Why shouldn’t we as Conservatives be a part of that? We’re better at dealing with the small things that make a big difference – and no one can say that victories like “we saved your overdraft” wouldn’t help the party as a whole.

So clearly, the change in student attitudes post-Top Up Fees present a massive opportunity for Conservatives in NUS. But what about on a personal level? Why get involved?

In your college or University – you will have a Students’ Union. It may not be a part of NUS, you may have never heard anything from it. But it will exist – the 1994 Education Act says it must. A Students’ Union will also hold charitable status. So by getting involved, you could become a Trustee of a multi-million pound charity – not bad for someone who hasn’t even finished their studies yet!

Why spend a GAP year giving some company £1000s to do a project that may do more harm than good. See when you could spend that GAP year as President of a Students’ Union with 10000s of members and a budget of over £5m? Giving something back to the community that gave you so much for the past few years whilst boosting your experience and CV at the same time.

Prefer to get involved in business instead of charity? NUSSL is the retail wholesale arm of the NUS. It has a huge multi-million pound turnover, and its board has student positions. Sitting on the board of a company with an annual turnover of over £120m isn’t too bad either, is it?

Personally – I chose to sit on the National Executive of the NUS. It gives me the opportunity to travel across the country (expenses paid), speaking to “normal” students in colleges and Universities everywhere. As a part-time “Block of Twelve” member – I can continue my career (I graduated from University this year) – but I also get paid £270 per month for being on the block – again, not too bad is it?

If you run a Conservative Future group or society – please get in touch about how we can get your members involved, boosting their CV and boosting the credibility of the party amongst students.

These are just a select few of the positions and opportunities available. For the first time that anyone can remember, Conservatives can make progress in NUS. If I had put in any real, professional effort into winning my position as National Treasurer, I would have won. That’s not being arrogant. It’s not me personally that gained credibility, but moderate centre-right ideas. But as well as this new opportunity for Conservatives, the modern needs of students means that we should want to get involved and address these real, substantial issues that effect student lives every day.

Student attitudes are changing. For the first time in a generation students are willing to listen to what the Conservatives have to say. Let’s give them something worth listening to.


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