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Liam Burns, the current President for NUS Scotland, has been elected as the 55th President of the National Union of Students.
Burns’ election was the pinnacle event at the NUS National Conference 2011, which took place at The Sage Centre in Gateshead between Tuesday April 12 and Thursday April 14.
The newly elected officer will officially take over the role of NUS President on July 1, when the current President Aaron Porter ends his term in office.
Burns was contested by three other candidates. Thomas Byrne, a Fresher from York University, was eliminated after the first round of voting, along with RON (re-open nominations). Mark Bergfeld, a student activist, was eliminated in the second round. Finally, Liam Burns beat Shane Chowen (current NUS Vice President Further Education) to be elected as NUS President for 2011/2012.
Speaking to NUS immediately after the election announcement, Burns commented: “I am honoured and delighted to have been elected NUS National President for the year to come.”
“It’s going to be a hugely challenging year for both further and higher education. I am looking forward to working tirelessly to defend, extend, and promote the rights of students,” he added.
LUSU President Robbie Pickles supported Burns’ campaign during the election. He said: “This election marks a phenomenal shift in the leadership of the NUS which sees pragmatism married with protest. Liam Burns is the aspiration of values needed to finally carry the NUS into the 21st century.”
Pickles led Lancaster’s delegation to The Sage Centre, which included three elected student representatives and two observers. Ex-President of Cartmel College, Mark Lord, Fylde’s current President, Ste Smith, and current LUSU Vice President (Equality, Welfare and Diversity) Pete Macmillan, were each elected to represent Lancaster at the conference during Lent Term’s Week Eight elections.
Also in attendance was LUSU Vice President (Academic) Robin Hughes, who was present as an observer, with a particular interest in the key debate on funding for higher education. George Gardiner, LUSU President Elect, was the final member of the delegation and gained valuable experience ahead of 2012’s conference, where he will lead Lancaster’s delegation.
Speaking after Burns’ election, Gardiner said: “Liam has an excellent track record, proved by his unanimous support from Scottish unions. It’s an important appointment and one that should stand the NUS in good stead for the year ahead.”
As well as electing a new NUS President, there were many other items on the conference’s agenda. The event was officially opened by Sally Hunt, the General Secretary of University and College Union (UCU). Hunt paid tribute to the NUS and all of the students who protested against the government’s cuts to education.
Aaron Porter, serving as the current NUS President, then delivered his opening remarks to the conference. Porter used the speech to extend his gratitude to people’s hard work over his year in office. He said “I want to thank the National Executive Council, all the members of NUS committees, and every student officer and activist for the work they have done this year.”
His speech went on to criticise government ministers responsible for cuts to education. He explained how the Tories had lived up to expectations but that “the real villains are elsewhere. We call them the Liberal Democrats, because they are liberal with the truth and democratic with the blame, spreading it around and hoping they don’t get caught. But they have been caught.”
Porter took the chance to explain his decision to not seek re-election. He said: “The student movement is much, much bigger than one man” and feared that if he had ran successfully, the year would have not been about issues in higher education, but would have instead been a year of questioning his leadership.
The National Executive Council represents five zones and they are each led by an elected Vice President. The zones are Further Education, Higher Education, Society and Citizenship, Union Development and Welfare. During the three days of conference, each current Vice President delivered a report on their respective zone and the conference’s delegates debated and passed motions that would set the NUS’ agenda and priorities for the next year.
Usman Ali, NUS Vice President (Higher Education), was re-elected at the conference and one motion in his zone received the highest level of debate. Sixteen different institutions proposed seven different amendments to a motion that outlined cuts to educational funding and how the NUS should respond. A discussion was held to discuss which is the most effective lobbying; local level or on a national level. The final motion was passed and ultimately agreed that the NUS was in favour of direct action and local lobbying.
Within other zones, the NUS were mandated to ensure that students’ needs are at the heart of all student accommodation work, and cuts to Further Education were also debated. The NUS intend to hold activist training events in the forthcoming year in recognition of the change in the student campaigning landscape.