NUS and the war

April 4, 1997

HARRIET SWAIN's mini-history of the National Union of Students (THES, March 21) is incorrect in one respect. Apathy did not strike British students before and during the second world war - rather the opposite.

At that time, the NUS set up faculty committees covering engineering, medical and education students respectively. The union also conducted a (successful) campaign in defence of universities (then threatened); organised the largest annual congress ever in Leeds during the phoney war; changed its constitution to allow affiliation by training college and technical college student unions, recruiting many of these (previously excluded) and rebutted an (illicit) attempt to close it down for the duration.

In 1941, 1,000 students attended the annual congress and 1,500 in 1942. In 1944, the NUS formulated, after discussions throughout the universities and colleges, a full programme covering the future of higher education generally. This was later characterised by Eric (Lord) Ashby and Mary Anderson as "a declaration from the spokesmen for a student estate" - which, they say, later flowered (The Rise of the Student Estate in Britain).

For the record, I attended, on behalf of the NUS, what must have been the last executive committee meeting of the Confederation Internationale des Etudiants, held in Brussels (then neutral) in the autumn of 1939.

NUS activities during the war are effectively recorded in the final chapter Jack Allanson (president 1941-43) wrote for my A Student's View of the Universities.

Brian Simon President NUS, 1939-1940 Pendene Road, Leicester

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