In the run up to the National Conference of the National Union of Students, we have offered all candidates for President, Vice President, and Block of 15 the opportunity to write articles for us explaining their priorities, their manifesto and why delegates should support them and elect them to their respective roles. Each candidate is allowed between 600 and 1,000 words, and we will publish each article in the order that we receive them.

by Sahaya James

Hello! I’m Sahaya and this year I’m running for NUS National Executive. Reading this back feels somewhat strange and ill-fitting, not because I’m overwhelmed, but because I’m curious how, as someone who enjoys the satisfaction of service and the modest thrills of working and organising behind the scenes, I found myself doing this. I think the answer lies with where my values come from and how I found myself involved in ‘politics’ and ‘activism’ in the first place.

After being home schooled and studying with the Open University, doing a vocational course at an FE College was my first experience of mainstream education, and it quickly became my first real introduction to politics and activism when, aged 15, I was unwittingly elected SU President and Student Governor at my recently merged multi-campus college. I had been involved in some issue-specific campaigns, but seeing first-hand how the cuts and changes to our education system were turning colleges into business corporations that needed to create pitches and compete with other colleges to win funding for every course and provision they offered, turned a casual concern into a passionate desire to fight a stark injustice. This inspired me to become active both on and off campus.

Sahaya James pic free ed demo nov 2014

On campus I quickly realised my job as an unpaid FE college SU President wasn’t just to represent and campaign, but to educate and build the union and student culture from the ground up, In my year in the post I fought against a culture of disengagement and a resistant senior management team to educate, involve and represent the thousands of students at my college. I attempted to change our constitution so that our union was truly democratic and inclusive, actually led by students rather than generally disinterested staff, and so all our campuses were actually represented.

Off campus I become active in campaigning against inequality, injustice, austerity and the unnecessary policies that put profit above people and our environment, helping the team that organised the 10K strong national demo for free education, volunteering as a national organiser for the Student Assembly Against Austerity, helping build last month’s Stand Up To Racism demo, being an active member and elected regional Coordinator for the Green Party and Young Greens.

The past year-and-a-half I’ve been privileged to meet and work with some of the most inspiring, committed and sincere people. I’ve also learnt more about countless injustices that have horrified me and motivated me to help even in the smallest of ways the people working tirelessly to tackle and prevent the often interconnected issues we face. But even in this movement there are things I’ve witnessed that have really saddened and frustrated me, most of all what a tiny minority we are as young people involved in politics or activism and the fact that many amazing activists fighting to restore education as a right rather than a privilege and to protect our right to protest have been forced to work outside and without the support of NUS.

I stand for an NUS that represents and defends student’s rights and interests, but also influences our society: challenging attitudes and shaping our values.

I stand for an NUS that represents and defends student’s rights and interests, but also influences our society: challenging attitudes and shaping our values. The NUS has the money, influence and ability to create real lasting social change by educating, empowering and mobilizing the 7 million students it represents to create a fairer, more inclusive society. Students have been at the forefront of social change and fighting injustice in the past and they can be again! But we need radical new leadership.

What’s needed is imagination and commitment, but no single person can change the NUS, especially not at a rate or with the urgency demanded by an increasingly marketised education system, austerity, climate change and far right racism and xenophobia entering the mainstream and dominating public political discourse. But with passion and dedication we can make 2015 our year.

Alone I’m in no way incredible, but I offer all my time, energy and ideas to building the student movement that not only students but society as a whole so desperately need. This is why I’m standing to join a team that turns NUS into the fighting, inclusive progressive union it needs to be for students and society!

Sahaya James for Block of 15 sticker

Elect me and the following will be the top 5 areas I prioritise:

Protect Further Education and restore its value:

Further Education is undervalued, stigmatised and marginalized by society and the job market and it now faces a devastating attack of cuts. Which sector could be hit so savagely and yet face so little coverage or response? This again goes to show just how little FE’s vital contribution to society, especially to the disadvantaged and those returning to education, is valued. The NUS needs to do SO much more to campaign against these cuts, raise the profile of FE and represent the diversity of the millions of FE students we have across the UK.

We need to end this stigma! If elected I will raise awareness and moblise students and workers to fight these cuts and create a web platform that celebrates the diversity, importance and contribution of FE and its students!

Young and Apathetic?

Young people today are so often wrongly and conveniently dismissed as ‘apathetic’, yet what’s so often the real problem is a lack both of politics to be inspired by and of clear, unbiased political education — not the kind most students learn in the classroom but the kind that opens our eyes to a wider, more vibrant world and human experience, but one that is also ripe with preventable injustice, the type of injustice that students have in the past been at the forefront of fighting and can again be. Creating awareness and instigating a dialogue are perhaps the most humble though key actions needed to create an empowered society that speaks up.

Elect me and I will prioritise making politics and activism more relevant and accessible to every student, especially in FE colleges.

Fund our future – No to austerity, yes to free education!

Whether it’s soaring student debt, rising rents or savage cuts to education and the NHS – students are being brutally hit by austerity. I want to build a dynamic, campaigning NUS that challenges these unnecessary attacks. Elect me and I will:

  • Organise a national demo for free education and against student poverty
  • Fight the cost of living crisis: we need affordable housing, a living wage for all and a new EMA
  • Champion collaboration and solidarity between everyone suffering austerity: students and workers must unite on campuses and nationally

For liberation and equality

Elect me and I will:

  • Work with all the NUS Liberation Campaigns to oppose racism, sexism, LGBTphobia and disability discrimination on campus
  • Ensure Universities and Colleges promote inclusivity, by putting intersectionality and liberation at the heart of how we are taught

One world

Elect me and I will:

  • Urgent action to stop climate change. It’s time to go fossil-free and turn to renewable energy!
  • Freedom for Palestine: end the siege on Gaza now!

You can see all candidates here

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