6 Things I Learnt From NUS SU's 2018

By Joe Inwood | Oxford SU President | Wed 11 Jul 2018



As part of making the SU as open as can be, this year the sabbatical officer team will be keeping you updated on our work through blog posts like these.

Last week, I went to the annual Students’ Unions conference at Birmingham NEC with our staff members Sarah and Liam. Having previously avoided both the NUS and large soulless conference venues, I was a bit apprehensive as we made our way up by train. Oxford SU and the NUS have a somewhat chequered history. After a voided referendum in 2014, students here voted in 2016 by 57% to 41% to remain affiliated[1]. Since then, campaigners from Oxford have been at the forefront of some of the work of the NUS - but other students remain sceptical. Here is what I learnt from SUs 2018, and why it deserves a second thought!

  • There are inspiring sabbatical officers campaigning all over the country for a better student experience
    • From innovation in mental health policy, to new Presidents starting out with exciting new ideas on how to engage all students with their SU, meeting other sabbs was the highlight of the conference without a doubt. I left Birmingham with lots to think about, ideas to follow up on, and full of energy for the year ahead.
  • The NUS probably isn’t how you think it is
    • We watched England vs Colombia in a casino sports bar…
    • Surprise surprise, the NUS is fundamentally made up of a load of people who want to make a positive change in their education. Aside from the infighting and the factions, there is plenty of space for getting things done. Who would have thought?
  • The role of the university in the community is so important
    • As we heard from keynote speaker Kehinde Andrews[2], the university as a public institution has a responsibility to open its arms to the wider community. In all our town vs gown arguments we can sometimes forget that injustice in the city of Oxford is so often tied to our university.
    • Follow Rosanna, our new VP Charities & Community in her role @OxfordSU_CC
    • Get involved in our Living Wage campaign and homelessness campaign On Your Doorstep!
  • Government reforms to Higher Education are a mess
    • Among the many acronyms flung at us from above[3] –OfS, TEF, REF and beyond – come the sinister phrases ‘risk-based regulation’ and ‘market exit’. This means that the government is happy to see struggling universities fail – and in fact their framework is set up for this to happen.
    • Follow Lucas, our new VP Access & Academic Affairs for more on how we are working to resist these damaging policies @OxfordSU_AccAff !
  • Birmingham is the Balti capital of the UK
    • As a Mancunian, I’ve long been prejudiced against Birmingham and its claims to be the second city – but they know how to make a good curry. Credit where it’s due.
  • National campaigns coordinated by the NUS make a real difference
    • Sometimes it can feel like we’re shouting into the void when we campaign for change – especially in a place like Oxford, where things move very slowly. Getting results for students is easier said than done, but the resources available through the NUS on an organised national level are seriously useful. One of the busiest sessions at SUs 2018 was on how to campaign for better mental health provision on campus – we had really productive discussions on how to push for a holistic, institutional approach in our universities. Looking ahead to our training event Lead and Change, I’m full of hope that this year we will see real progress.

[1] (


[3] Oxford is full of acronyms – but not here at 4 Worcester Street! (bye OUSU)