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. Following a highly controversial year for both the National Union of Students itself and the higher education sector as a whole, we contacted all candidates standing for the President, Vice-President and National Executive Council roles and offered them the space to write about their election campaigns, why they are standing and their visions for NUS.
Voting will take place at NUS National Conference, held this year in Glasgow between March 27th and 29th. Full information on the conference can be found here. The below statement is from Riddi Viswanathan, Block of 15 candidate.
I still remember the time, three years ago, when I arrived into the UK from India, as a 17-year old, weeks after my university course had started. I missed the most awaited week of university life – freshers’ week. Even after I had arrived, I couldn’t attend any of the social events put on by my students’ union and societies because I was under 18. There were literally times when I just wanted to run back home. I questioned if it was all worth it.
I was confronted with a choice – a choice to stand up for the under-representation of international students in my university or to go back home. I chose the former. I actively voiced my concerns to the student leadership at my union and there began my history with student politics.
I co-ran a network called the International Student Network (ISN) giving students the opportunity to discuss their challenges with leaders while also facilitating conversations between home and international students. Following the success of ISN, in 2017, I ran to be the Diversity Officer in my union and was elected onto the executive team as its only international student.
my top priority will be to Internationalise the NUS
During my term as Diversity Officer, I worked to increase international student representation. I expanded employment prospects by creating jobs with visa sponsorships in an era of job cuts, worked on tackling differential attainment gap and created an inclusive welcome week, but most importantly fostered international student leadership. Our union saw a sharp increase in international student engagement within a very short span of time. A huge number of international students put themselves forward as candidates for elections, started voicing their concerns and began getting involved in the democracy of the union. But, we didn’t stop there – I campaigned to create a full-time officer role dedicated to international students and we successfully secured it. From a union with no international student representation to a full-time officer dedicated to international students – we made history. It was the icing on the cake was when I was re-elected as Manchester SU’s first-ever International Students’ Officer.
With respect to international student representation, I can compare the current state of NUS to that of my union in 2014, when I first arrived. That’s not to say that the international student campaign isn’t doing great work – it has indeed been one of the most engaging campaigns motivating international student leaders through leadership conferences, the #Studentsoftheworld campaign, tackling the attainment gap and fighting against Brexit and xenophobia. However, having one International Students’ Officer and a committee of 4 members is not sufficient. I dream to see an NUS with international student leaders taking up full-time officer positions and positions in the executive committee. That’s why I am running for the Block.
Just as the UK needs to realise that the value added by international students is much beyond £23 billion to the economy, it’s time for NUS to explore the additional value added by international students and cater to their unique needs. As international students, we do not just bring with us cash, language, cuisine and culture. We bring that unique insight and diverse perspective which makes ‘Britain’ into ‘Great Britain’.
The NUS needs to deliver more on international student post-study employment, creating global communities and supporting international cultural societies. If elected, my top priority will be to Internationalise the NUS. I will also actively work to support free education, uphold transparency and accountability and put liberation at the heart of the movement as an NEC member.
I have had the privilege of delivering positive changes at Manchester SU. Whenever I go to any NUS conference, I make it a point to not just learn but also contribute. Being a part of the NUS Society and Citizenship committee as well as the International Students’ committee has given me the opportunity to help my fellow officers drive accelerating changes in their organisations by sharing policy papers or delivering workshops. I hope I can continue to represent and contribute, with even more representation at a higher level, by being a part of the NEC.
My ultimate dream for the NUS is to be a movement not just catering to students passionate about activism but a movement that works to empower every student to become a strong leader who knows their rights and voices their opinions.
All images courtesy of Riddi Viswanathan
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