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National Union of Students Evaluating “Radical” Changes to Survive £3m Deficit

Jude Omidiran, BA Economics & Development
News Editor of The SOAS Spirit

The National Union of Students has confirmed that it is facing deep financial difficulties following the emergence of a leaked letter warning of a potential £3m deficit should their “income streams suffer as much as [they] predict”. A shortfall of this size cannot be bridged with their existing reserves. The bankruptcy threat is attributed to structural issues and simultaneous hits to several of their revenue streams.

The NUS is a confederation of students’ unions in the UK, organising to represent the interests of students around the country, while also funding research to influence national policy. Its funding comes from affiliation fees from individual students’ unions, including SOAS Students’ Union, as well as services provision and its student discount card Totum (formerly NUS Extra).

“The letter calls on the intended recipients’ SUs to take part in ‘reshaping our governance to address the root causes of our issues.”

The document was co-authored by National President Shakira Martin and sent to executives of affiliated students’ unions, promising urgent reform in multiple areas, after already having taken professional advice on maintaining enough funds to survive. The descriptively-named “get to safety” measures are revealed, with a list of options that includes mortgaging buildings, staff cuts and slashes to their range of services to “free up some cash.” The letter calls on the intended recipients’ SUs to take part in “reshaping our governance to address the root causes of our issues.”

The letter also discloses, in vague terms, some of the causes of the crisis, citing “structural problems” compounded by the union’s well-documented struggles adapting to increased competition in the student discount market. This comes alongside parallel hits to income from the NUS’s trading and policy & strategic support services, in a perfect storm that has been “rarely” been faced before.

The NUS organised a “Strategic Conversation” event to gather and engage stakeholders from students’ unions on the 27th and 28th of November. Peter Baran, General Manager of SOAS SU, attended the event, telling The SOAS Spirit that he saw the problems as having been caused by “internal complexity of decision making, and budget holding”. Though the NUS has yet to release an account of the meeting on their website or social media, Baran shared that “it seems NUS will be shedding a significant number of staff, cutting back on some of their functions and slimming down their expensive labyrinthine democratic processes.”

This is not the union’s first brush with financial problems, having successfully navigated a £700,000 deficit in 2005. The period saw a reduction in the scale of annual conferences, a reassessment of affiliation fees, and the sale of its London headquarters to reestablish its main operations in Manchester.

Photo Credits: NUS

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