NUS-USI Policies

Our policies are shaped by students – from the submission of ideas from student officers and representatives at students’ unions, through discussions, workshops, and debate by students in our democratic conferences. They reflect the problems students want to solve and offer potential solutions for how these issues could be addressed.
 
Every year we provide a policy-making space for students through our 5 democratic conferences. These include our National and Liberation conferences, covering policy discussion across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, and our distinct policy-making spaces in the devolved nations – NUS Scotland, NUS Wales, and NUS-USI Conferences.
 
Policies passed at our conferences are considered by the Officer Executive who use them to create NUS UK’s five campaigning priorities.

Policies passed at NUS-USI Conference 2022: 

Student Housing Co-operatives

What is the issue facing students? There remains both persistent and numerous issues with students being able to access affordable and quality accommodation for students across NI. The lack of supply is especially evident with issues in the summer of 2021 where Queen’s University was over-subscribed to the point of being unlikely to provide lodging to any student within a 40-mile radius of the campus for the 2021-’22 academic year. Through lack of supply and high demand, many students are finding accommodation options extremely difficult to fund. With private student accommodation costing on average £6,698 for a forty-week contract, and the maximum finance available to NI undergraduate students being £6,428, the average rent surpasses the entirety of the maximum student finance, leaving many locked out of accessing accommodation, or having to work alongside studies to afford basic living-costs. And while according to the same NUS report from 2021, Northern Ireland’s institution-provided student accommodation averages comparatively cheaper at £4,565 for a forty-week contract, some Ulster University accommodation prices have also increased far beyond the rates of inflation in recent years. NUS research from 2019 found that 40% of students living in private housing were in hazardous properties. 42% lived with damp and mould growing on their walls and ceilings. 20% shared their homes with mice, rats, slugs or other pests. 16% of students reported that there were electrical hazards in their home, and a further 9% reported an issue with gas safety, despite it being illegal to rent out a property in this condition. 
 
Why is this important to us as a movement?  The transient nature of students makes the demographic one which can be easily exploited by landlords, as short tenancy agreements result in repairs often being indefinitely deferred to the next tenants. Furthermore, as many students arrive directly from high school and are unlikely to have received any education on housing rights, there is a lack of awareness about the quality of accommodation students are entitled to. Accommodation is a hugely important aspect of the student experience, due to its impact on one’s ability to socialise, foster positive mental health, and focus on academic goals, with each being interlinked. The World Health Organisation notes, “that various aspects of housing are associated with, and potentially may reinforce or enhance, social pathologies such as depression, isolation, anxiety, etc.”
 
What would the world look like if we solved it?  The democratic control over accommodation which co-operative housing models are based upon would help ensure students can most effectively have their accommodation needs met, especially regarding wellbeing, affordability, and sustainability. Student housing co-operatives have been found to offer higher affordability and quality to current alternatives, and can address numerous issues which students face regarding accommodation. Student Housing Co-operatives also empower students to act towards a more sustainable future through equitable housing models. The likes of Edinburgh Student Housing Co-op recently renovating their empty garage into an events hub using only recycled and sustainably-sourced materials demonstrates the capacity for environmental action which control over one’s property enables. Additionally, the ‘Independent Commission for Co-operative and Mutual Housing’ found that co-operative housing consistently delivers long-term benefits with regards to community-building in communities impacted by a lack of trust. Therefore, the world would have gained a step in the right direction for fairer and cheaper accommodation through founding a student housing co-op for students in Northern Ireland.
 
Ideas for implementation 
1. NUS-USI to explore and research the business case around the foundation of a Student Housing Co-operative.
2. To act on the findings of the business plan.
3. To work with Student Co-op Homes, Co-operative Alternatives, Member Organisations, and any other relevant stakeholders in the design of a potential pilot project.
4. Due to the high volume of housing issues reported in the Holylands, the most appropriate campus for piloting such a scheme would be in Belfast.
5. That if the housing co-operative is decided to be progressed and found to be successful, to encourage further expansion of the project across the region.

Palestinian Solidarity

Outline the issue facing students A report released on 1st February 2022 by Amnesty International has analysed Israel’s intent to create and maintain a system of oppression and domination over Palestinians and examined its key components: territorial fragmentation; segregation and control; dispossession of land and property; and denial of economic and social rights. It has concluded that this system amounts to apartheid. The student movement in Northern Ireland has an important history of standing up for international justice. The creation of NUS-USI itself is evidence of students leading the way and supporting each other in times of conflict, having been formed over 20 years before the Good Friday agreement and ensuring students were represented across the traditional divide. Institutions across Northern Ireland are still invested in the arms trade and as students we have a responsibility to support the Palestinian people and campaign against this. 

 
Why is this important to us as a movement?  As a student movement, it is vital that we stand up against international breaches of human rights. We believe that fundamental human rights and international law should be acknowledged and adhered to by states and businesses. The student movement has often been at the forefront of important societal change, both locally, and internationally, including standing together against apartheid in South Africa, fighting for civil rights in the USA in the 1960’s and now organising collectively to tackle the growing climate crisis. At a time when human rights movements are recognising the urgency of the moment and ramping up their support for the Palestinian cause, it is indefensible for governments and bodies of power and influence to dismiss their calls for justice and liberation. It is also unconscionable for any third level education institution to continue to invest in the arms trade and be complicit in the violent dispossession of the Palestinian people. Apartheid has no place in our world and we must stand together against it.  
 
What would the world look like if we solved it? Just as individual sanctions against apartheid in South Africa led ultimately to its demise there, so individual and collective sanctions against the state of Israel will end apartheid and suffering in Palestine. Israel must dismantle this cruel system and the international community must pressure it to do so. In 2005, Palestinian civil society called for a campaign of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel until it complies with international law, allowing the realisation of Palestinian rights. A truly global movement against Israeli Apartheid has rapidly emerged in response to this call ever since. It is vital that we support the asks of Palestinian civil society, and continue to endorse the global BDS movement against the state of Israel until it ends this occupation and complies with international law. 

Tackling Gender-Based Violence

Outline the issue facing students Gender-Based Violence is an epidemic across the world. Statistics show that Northern Ireland is the most dangerous place in Europe to be a woman, with three times more murders of women than England or Wales, yet Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK or Ireland without a strategy to tackle Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG). The United Nations High Commissioner described gender-based violence as "one of the most pervasive violations of human rights in the world [yet] one of the least prosecuted crimes". 

 
Why is this important to us as a movement?  In Northern Ireland, students represent a significant proportion of the population most vulnerable to Gender-Based Violence, with students’ unions serving as front-line support and signposting services. Despite this, student representatives continue to deal with educational institutions treating the issue as new and unchangeable. We need legislative support through a strategy.  
 
What would the world look like if we solved it? The Northern Ireland Executive would have a Violence against Women & Girls strategy, including representation of the specific needs of students within the strategy. This would include the responsibility of educational institutions to address the issue. Local councils would provide a named contact for students to report safety issues around campus and surrounding areas. Students’ Unions would have support to ensure they can lead on campaigns to tackle these issues locally National Unions would have an intersectional approach to the issue which recognises the added vulnerabilities associated with being disabled, a migrant, working class etc. 

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