Birkbeck Students’ Union has actively supported NUS London’s creation since it was first formed after the sad dissolution of the University of London Union (R.I.P ULU, forever in our hearts). Today we were proud to attend the annual conference & report back that after a slower start, NUS London looks ready to become the pan-London representative body that our students need.
We’re welcomed to UAL (our host Union for this year’s meeting) by Area Convenor Alex Alowade, who has worked and campaigned (and pestered) tirelessly this year to ensure that NUS London has reached all of the area’s FE & HE institutions. In his opening remarks, he makes it clear that this conference is all about bringing London students together into the fight against fees, cuts & austerity, and the resulting discriminations that some of us face every day.
Zooming through the opening of business, Joshi Sidhu (who served as one of BBKSU’s Sabbatical officers & lay trustees once upon a time) takes us through the order paper & the safeguarding protocols. One particular delegate was heartbroken that there was no "NUS Staff Protocol" video but, like an actual budget, this will likely come with NEC recognition. Like Alex, it is clear that Joshi has committed time and passion to London students, creating the website, the logos and many of the document templates from scratch. Joshi has been deputised by NUS London returning officer (who just happens to be our CEO at Birkbeck…see…we really do <3 NUS London) Rob Park, and so they highlight the NUS London Executive & Democratic Procedures committees, and that nominations are currently open for tomorrow’s elections.
As building a supportive, London-wide network is one of the primary aims of NUS London, we’re invited to take the time to introduce ourselves to our fellow delegates and explain what our delegations hope to see NUS London providing for our students in the future. As long-time supporters of NUS London, Birkbeck delegates volunteer to speak first, detailing how our support for NUS London isn’t only to increase the campaigning power of London students, but that we hope it will provide practical support to our officers and Unions. In some ways the consequence of Birkbeck’s unique study structure (evening classes, with many students classed as “mature” who have many responsibilities beyond University life) is that our Union can feel quite isolated. Delegates from other institutions echo some of this sentiment, adding how important it is to remember how many international students come to London, and also detailing the difficulties FE institutions face. It quickly becomes clear that so many of the issues that affect the National movement are reflected in our London area, and that we all hope that NUS London will provide a platform for us to share resources and self-organise (and possibly get some more sports going too!)
Following these introductions, newly elected NUS UK Black Students’ Officer Aadam Muuse takes the stage to greet the NUS London delegates. He tells us of his personal history with ULU, how it lured him into student politics (and look at him now!) and how he agrees that the vacuum it has left must be filled for our movement to be heard. He speaks clearly about how we must conceive the world as we want it to be, and then take steps to get ourselves there.
The first plenary of the day, “No Borders, No Nations, End Deportations” cannot easily be summed up “in a nutshell” as so many honestly important topics were expressed so eloquently (if you missed it, you missed out!). Importantly, Antonia Bright – the National Secretary for Movement for Justice – introduces just some of the human rights violations and humiliations that many students suffer at the hands of our government. She speaks clearly about how our liberation networks must come together to realise that any affront to any person based on the colour of their skin, where they are born, or what they believe, is an attack on all of our rights and invited us all to join the next demonstration at Yarl’s Wood detention Centre on the 10th September. Among a plethora of other points, Ijeoma Moore from the Let Us Learn Campaign moves on to talk about the restrictions on those born outside the UK (regardless of how long they have lived, studied & worked here) that prevent them from accessing Student Finance & how this is rarely explained before students apply, forcing many out of education. As we all pause to consider the implications for so many London Students, Bright rounds off the session with the sentiment that we should all be fighting for a society that treats everyone the way we want to be treated.
We then take an access break (or an access lunch if, like Birkbeck, you haven’t eaten yet).
The second (& final) of today’s plenaries, titled “Aftermath of EU Referendum and our Student Movement” discusses how the conduct and result of the recent EU referendum are already affecting students. Myriam Kane (NUS UK Black Students & International Students committees) speaks passionately about how both sides of the EU debate lied to us with a rhetoric that threw immigrants under multiple buses, and how it is likely that the education sector will face more cuts after article 50 is invoked and EU funding is withdrawn. With Wendy Adubofour (Lambeth College SU), she highlights how the government places multiple double binds on UK immigrants (such as publicly shaming those who do not speak English to an arbitrary standard, while determinedly cutting ESOL programs since the coalition came into power) that tell them they are not welcome in a country where they have worked, paid taxes, and made lives for themselves. During this panel Birkbeck notes (and tweets) that both panels today have been filled with women of colour, ensuring the structural representation of Women & PoC, which is equally important in these grass roots stages of the organisation as it will be once it has NEC approval. Moving to how we can organise against cuts and austerity, Kane speaks about getting involved everywhere in your community: youth centres, workers’ unions, political parties, etc. as while it’s true that individuals can make a difference, movements make an impact. Adubofour brings us back to our own institutions, stating that as student leaders we must be prepared to stand strong for what we need, and not allow college management to try to safeguard us out of Black History Month, or campaigning with our students, or anything else that doesn’t suit their agenda. As we discuss how Unions can play a role in holding politicians to account for lying to us (as conference clearly feels both sides of the EU debate have done) one delegate is so excited by the sense of community & activism being inspired, they literally fall off their chair; at this point we realise we’ve all enjoyed the plenary so much it has run over time, so we move swiftly on (after moving the delegate swiftly back onto their seat).
The day is rounded off with thoughts on what can be considered as issues that uniquely impact London students. This includes some obvious hurdles that many of us experience daily, such as the cost of housing, transport, and the generally high cost of living that often halts our SUs’ activities as well as creating barriers to education for individual students. However, conference also considered that as we’re in the capital, just a stone’s throw from Westminster where the decisions that affect our movement are made, we’re also uniquely poised to do something about it. On this note conference closes for the day, and we all shuffle off to marvel at the Black Blossoms art exhibit downstairs…
If you’re a Birkbeck Student who would like to get involved with NUS London, email us! For anyone interested in NUS London, contact them directly, and for updates on NUS London’s Area Conference, visit their website, or follow @NUSLondon & the #NUSLDN16 & #LDNArea16 hashtags on twitter for live commentary.