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The NUS took a progressive turn over Easter as a series of bold policies were passed at the Union’s National Conference in Liverpool.
Students from across the county voted to support the principle of free education, and a 5:1 payscale across the university sector. There was also support for the ‘cops off campus’ campaign, the creation of a legal fund for students facing charges “as a result of repression” and a formal condemnation of the racist policies of the UK Independence Party. Support for free education came just weeks after Germany did away with tuition fees in favour of a graduate tax.
With the NUS’ eyes turned towards next year’s general election many of the policies passed strengthen the national union’s ability to campaign for students and young people in the run up to May 2015. There was robust support for a ‘new deal for the next generation’, a motion calling on the NUS to campaign across the themes of education, work and community and to “use the opportunity of the next general election to win for students both locally and nationally”.
This commitment to campaigning was matched by the re-election of Toni Pearce as NUS President. Winning by a clear majority Pearce shared her vision for “a student movement that’s more representative than we’ve ever been. A student movement that listens, that campaigns from the classroom to the boardroom – on the streets and in your communities”. Pearce will be joined next year by Megan Dunn as the new Vice President (Higher Education); Joe Vinson as Vice President (Further Education); Colum McGuire as Vice President (Welfare); Raechel Mattey as Vice President (Union Development); and Piers Telemacque as Vice President (Society and Citizenship).
Closer to home the head of the Lancaster delegation, LUSU President Joel Pullan said: “The general election needs to be, and will be, the necessary springboard for many students to think more decisively about politics that affect them and their peers. It will enable students to use their voice and their feet with the full support of students unions such as ours.”
He added: “I am also pleased that we’ve taken a national stance against UKIP. At a local level, not doing this would be completely contradictory to many decisive stances we have taken this year already – such as opposing the immigration bill and lobbying the university and MPs to ensure international students are treated fairly and not as second class citizens.”
This desire for a strong national campaign was shared by Lancaster’s Vice President (Education), Joe O’Neill, who said: “We need a national presence to ensure the student movement has the loudest possible voice on issues affecting young people. While it is still vitally important to have local campaigns and to get the vote out in Lancaster we need a national push to remind all politicians, not just our local MPs, that we haven’t the forgotten betrayal of 2010 and we are still here and still ready to fight for our futures and the future of education.”
O’Neill was one of three student delegates elected by Lancaster students to represent them at the conference. He was joined by Lonsdale second year Charlie Edwards and Pendle third year Anna Lee. Unlike some other student unions LUSU had not formally mandated the Lancaster delegation to vote in a particular way on motions or NUS officer elections. Each delegate effectively had a ‘free vote’, acting on their own consciences. This meant the delegation often did not vote as a block for candidates or motions. The conference ended with two motions ensuring the equal representation of men and women in NUS committees and in delegations sent to conference.
From next year all delegations to National Conference will include at least 50 percent women, rounded down. The same motion was debated last year and failed to pass. This year the debate proved equally heated, but ultimately the motion passed with a clear majority. Most of the Lancaster delegation voted in favour of the rule change, the exception being Edwards who abstained from the vote.
Pullan explained why he had chosen the back the new rule: “Looking at Lancaster, to my memory, we have never had a delegation where 50 percent are women. We’ve seen huge improvements at Lancaster this year to increase women’s representation and liberation activism through the introduction of liberation officers, sending people to liberation conference and setting up the Women in Leadership group. If anything passing this motion ensures that all the hard work we’re currently doing at Lancaster is reflected at a national level.”
Edwards countered this, saying he had abstained because: “Lancaster does not have the problems felt by other students unions across the country and depicted in the motion: that women have less of a chance of winning elections than men. That’s fundamentally what the motion aims to prevent. However, the motion goes further and actively slows down the political progress of men and I think no activism, regardless of gender, should aim to slow down the political progress of anyone.”
Students can see how delegates from Lancaster voted at Conference via the Twitter account @LUSUatNUS. More information is available at lusu.co.uk/happening/nus-conference.