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Exclusive: NUS int’l office protests cuts

The international officer at the UK’s National Union of Students has written an open letter in protest at the cuts to that position, and others, announced this week in a letter to the body’s membership.

Yinbo Yu, the NUS international students' officer, photographed after a PIE News interview in 2018. Photo: The PIE News

"Defunding the NUS International Students’ Campaign compounds the concerns of those students"

Yinbo Yu, who won a second term in 2018, said the dissolution of his position in for the 2019/20 academic year would be “significantly damaging” to international students who require “direct representation and expertise”, which he said could not be provided under the NUS plan.

Yu and the other signatories, who include other NUS representatives, wrote that to not protest “in the strongest possible terms” would be a dereliction of duty.

“We must make clear our concerns and urgent request that the Trustees revise their approach on this issue”

Under the current proposals, international students with academic concerns will be represented by the officer for HE or FE, respectively, and any immigration or visa issues will come under the remit of the VP for Welfare.

The situation arose after it was revealed that the Union had debts of at least £3m. In a letter to members on January 22, seen by The PIE News, NUS president Shakira Martin and the CEO Peter Robertson said an external review by KPMG had advised that cuts would allow a deficit reduction of £1.7m. These cuts involve the voluntary redundancy of 54 members of staff, as well as the “pausing” of funding to eight elected offices.

Part of the letter to NUS members seen by The PIE News

Although the letter suggests this is a one-year measure, and students can petition the Union at their national conference, one source with knowledge of the events told The PIE News this was very unlikely to succeed due to the time restraints (proposals for conference must be submitted by February 8) and the fact that the current leadership had already made up their minds on the matter.

In today’s letter Yu explained that with the recent Immigration White Paper, Brexit and future student visa regulations unresolved, “effective representation by NUS is doubly important”.

“It’s dangerous to pigeonhole international students issues”

“Defunding the NUS International Students’ Campaign compounds the concerns of those students who naturally feel reticent about raising issues individually in a country in which they are not citizens, and such a move would have both long-term and short-term implications,” it continues.

Speaking on the condition of anonymity, one international student told The PIE that such cuts would be “dangerous” and would reduce the UK’s offer to prospective students, as it would affect how ‘welcome’ inbound students feel at British institutions.

“It’s dangerous to suggest that the range of issues faced by international students can be designated as ‘welfare’ or ‘education’ only: the reality is that they are often highly complex and require specialist representation.

“This is particularly the case given the uncertainties and challenges surrounding Brexit, which only makes the situation worse day by day.  International students need to feel welcome, and the NUS should seek to represent not alienate those students.” they said.

The signatories said they “recognise” the financial difficulties the NUS is in, but insisted that “our need to speak for those facing considerable and urgent challenges means we must make clear our concerns and urgent request that the Trustees revise their approach on this issue”.

In a statement, an NUS spokesperson reiterated the measure is “interim” and that the savings would “ensure… a degree of financial stability”.

“Even with the savings we’ve made so far this year (2018/19), we know that we will still post a deficit in year, and in subsequent years, without further action. 2019/20 will be a transition year which will require extraordinary action to ensure solvency and deliver a degree of financial stability.

“Because of this, the NUS Joint Board meeting last week decided to maintain funding for 12 paid officer posts in 2019/20 and pause funding for eight.  This ensures that those officers we are electing are given the support and resources they need to deliver for students. This is an interim measure and specific to our transitional year of 2019/20.”

 “What happens next will be decided by NUS members, when they respond to the consultation and vote on NUS reform later this year,” they added.

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