A revolutionary approach to democracy, to “re-energise” the student movement, has been unveiled as part of reform plans for NUS (National Union of Students).

After decisions at National Conference 2019, by over 700 students, the voice of students has been working to implement members’ desire for an approach to democracy that is truly student-led, inclusive, accessible and participatory.

NUS’ conference season opens with NUS Wales conference, 26-27 February, where attendees will experience some of the simplified democratic processes and increased transparency for the first time. Fellow nation-based conferences will include different elements with National Conference in March 2020 a showcase for the new approach in totality.

National Conference 2020 will include, for example, open forums for students’ to think collaboratively about the big issues they and their students’ unions face, allow them to set the agenda for discussions and decision-making at conference, and provide greater opportunities to prioritise and develop NUS policy.

This is an exciting change for NUS, pioneering a new approach to democracy based on four key principles:

  1. Inclusiveness: ensuring we reach political equality by having a representative mix of students and equal opportunity to influence decision-making. 
  2. Considered judgment: This is where technical information is vital. In building any model we need to provide students with the right tools to make meaningful decisions.
  3. Popular control: Ensuring that any decisions made and acted on reflect the genuine will of students. It’s important that there is a real opportunity to shape and inform decisions at all stages.
  4. Transparency: The need for both transparency in how leaders act and implement decisions (through accountability), but also transparency in the process of making decisions.

NUS President Zamzam Ibrahim, said:

“We’re trailblazing a different kind of politics and history shows that when students lead others follow. We want to be a model for how a genuinely powerful democracy can work to make real change happen and want every single student who engages with us to feel that their voices are heard and they’re influencing real change.

“Our members had been telling us for some time that our governance and democracy weren’t working and the historic decisions last April provided the platform for change to happen. Our Turnaround and Reform programme is all about putting members back in control of their national organisation and its fantastic that we’re now able to start revealing what this will look like.

“We know from the recent general election and discussions on Brexit over the past three years, how disconnected people in general feel about democracy. For too long students have felt the same about NUS, so we’re re-energising our democracy with the the biggest democratic step forward NUS has made in over half a century.

“Our conferences this season are the start of a deliberate step towards a much more open and deliberative democracy with more students chairing, facilitating, discussing, questioning and debating; with more expansive exploration of the issues, going deeper into the top challenges facing students today; with more focus on impact, solutions and practical actions that could make a real difference; and with more opportunities to influence the shape of NUS, with time to talk, face to face, with NUS’ future leaders.


“Importantly the changes we make this year aren’t a one-off experience; change for us is about continuously evolving how we work, so every conference improves on the last, and every delegate leaves each event inspired about the year ahead.”

NUS National Conference 2020 takes place from Tuesday 31 March to Thursday 2 April 2020 at the ACC, Liverpool. 

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