The Norwich Radical was born in the student movement, and we continue to play an active role within it. We recognise that while official structures are not the sum total of the movement, they are undeniably important. After a momentous year for the National Union of Students, studying it is more important than ever for understanding the political consciousness of the student movement. As we move into election season for the new NUS President, Vice Presidents and National Executive Council, we contacted all candidates in those elections and offered them the space to write about their election campaigns, why they are standing and their vision for NUS.
Submissions are unedited, and are being published in the order we receive them. This candidate is standing for Vice President (Higher Education).
It goes without saying that we live in interesting times. The student movement has been and will be facing some huge challenges in the coming months and years.
At stake is the status of our EU and International Students as Brexit negotiations get underway. The Higher Education Reforms, if passed, threaten to create a tiered University system, with “expensive” Universities, and those at the bottom who cannot guarantee their existence to their students. And on top of that, we have endured systematic institutional racism for decades: Black and Minority Ethnic students have endured a 26% Black Attainment gap, are more likely to drop out of University and are taught by an academic body which is overwhelmingly white.
These issues have been brewing for some time, but it is fair to say that the NUS over the last year has been distracted. We’ve had allegations of anti-Semitism, disunity amongst the core team, and a toxic environment within the movement, which has put many students off. In addition to that, the institution itself was forced to undergo its own institutional racism review and whilst that is welcome, it shows how far the student movement needs to go. Few students across the country see the NUS as a body which is truly fighting for their interests.
However, I believe, more than ever, that with the right leadership and with an understanding of the huge challenges ahead we can put the movement back on track.
We can’t build and attract students to the national movement if they don’t feel that doing so includes them in the national voice.
Which is why throughout this campaign, my aim has not simply been to rally people around specific tactics, or to say that we need to do more of the same. I’ve set out clearly what the challenges will be over the next couple of years and set out strategic plans and directions of travel to lead the movement into the best place for fighting them.
On Brexit, I’ve said that we need a clear manifesto going into the Brexit negotiations, one which seeks to protect EU students here and UK students abroad from dramatic rises in fees.
On the Higher Education and Research Bill, I’ve said that we need to guarantee Student Representation at the Office for Students and continue to campaign for the link between TEF and fees to be cut, without imposing divisive tactics from above which threaten the unity of the student movement.
On Institutional Racism, I’ve made it clear that we need to engage more fully with the Race Equality Charter Mark, currently the only regulatory stick that can be used to encourage Universities to think about their obligations to listen to BME staff and students. But we mustn’t stop there. The Race Equality Charter is not perfect, and we need to make sure that BME students feed into the process at every level.
On Student Finance, I’ve made it clear that whilst I’ll always fight for free education, under this government, who are allowing fees to rise with inflation, we need to talk fee freezes and more transparency over student finance. If this government is going to force us to pay fees then the radical thing to do is to ensure that we are using all the protections against them we have available under the law.
Students have been looking to the NUS to give them a strong voice at a national level. At a time when political events thrust what students want to the bottom of the political agenda, this is needed more than ever. We can’t build and attract students to the national movement if they don’t feel that doing so includes them in the national voice. But having spoken to students from up and down the country, I am confident that National Conference will elect a team which will be focused and will give them back a national voice. I have a strong record fighting for and representing students for years, most recently as President of Cambridge University Students Union, and it would be a privilege to be elected to serve as part of next year’s team.