NUS President Gemma Tumelty Speaks to InQuire Live

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By Luke Walter on 23.2.2024

NUS President Gemma Tumelty Speaks to InQuire Live

Gemma Tumelty, the current President of the NUS, has been one of the main initiators and supporters of the NUS Governance ‘White Paper’. ” InQuire Live interviewed Gemma, asking her some of the questions students have raised over the ‘recent governance review and the proposed changes.

IL: We wanted this interview because there is a lot of student apathy. How will the proposed changes in the Governance Review reconnect or re-engage with those apathetic students?

GT: The NUS was in need of restructuring, it was a shame that the NUS did not have the right structures. Students are more concerned about their individual rights in being protected. Under the new NUS changes it is not necessary for the 7 million students to be involved. There are now more NUS campaigns; the issue is not one of apathy. Being a student has changed, they have to work part-time jobs, they find it difficult to pay fees, etc. The student experience has changed; students no longer have the time to protest and to demonstrate. The new NUS structures have to be an umbrella for Student Unions to work through.

IL: Extra- ordinary conferences are controversial to say the least, they usually have a less representation than the national conference, and delegates are not elected by the student body, they also happen to be rather expensive, the last one cost £300,000. Why could the decision on the ‘White Paper’ not wait until the 2008 national conference?

GT: This is nonsense. Over 900 delegates, the same as one would expect at the annual conference, attended the extra-ordinary conference. The majority of delegates had been directly elected by students. The conference was broken and the appetite for change was there and so thus the mandate to allow us to change. The changes had to take place within a year to allow the NUS to become a positive campaigning force. If the membership doesn’t want the planned changes they can throw them out at the Annual Conference this April.

IL: Some groups on the left, criticised the authors of the Governance ‘Green Paper’, particularly the £100,000 consultancy fee, they argued this should be better spent elsewhere. Why did the authors of the ‘Governance Review’ opt to spend £100,000 on outside consultants? Why was there not a longer consultancy with students who were not members of their Student Union political clique?

GT: These are more lies. There was no outside influence. The NUS was in a difficult financial situation in 2006, there was a £1.4 million deficit. In order to bring down the deficit the NUS had to lose staff and bring in ‘interim’ membership. The £100,000 spending refers to the bringing in of ‘interim’ membership and not money spent on consultants.

IL: Other groups have called the proposed changes ‘undemocratic’. Are these self- describing democratic groups behaving acting conservatively, or are their criticisms justified and founded?

GT: Lies! Student Unions called for the change of name of the ‘Annual Conference’ to ‘Congress.’ We have done away with the ‘Block of 12.’ There will be an increased representation of students with disabilities, students from minority backgrounds, postgraduate students, part- time students and further education students. The Senate will increase representation and make it more diverse. Those opposing the new measures do very well under the current system and wish to keep hold of that system.

IL: There has been some quiet by the NUS and Student Unions over campaigning to scrap fees; rather we have only seen ‘keep the cap’ campaigns. Should the NUS and Student Unions now take up a more ‘militant’ campaign against tuition fees, or continue with the ‘keep the cap’ campaigns?

GT: I agree, but we have to work in the confines of the debate. Scrapping fees is not on the table, the debate is about the cap and the current student funding model. There are important issues, poor people being put off of applying [to universities], bursaries being withheld from students, and there is a lot of talk of changing the current system and going forward with those changes.

IL: One final question, have you started or will you start campaigning for any of the NUS President candidates?

GT: I am backing Wes Streeting. He is best to lead the NUS with the new changes, and to take on the Government’s plans. He went through with and oversaw the horrible issues on staffing, and has supported the changes.

Gemma Tumuletly will remain NUS president until the NUS elections take place during the Annual Conference on the 1st April.


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