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Students from across the UK convened in Brighton in the last week of April for the annual conference of the National Union of Students to debate and make policy, and elect the forthcoming leadership team. Lancaster sent LUSU President Rhiannon Jones, and the delegates elected earlier this year: Lucy Atkinson, Tim Partington, and Joshua Woolf.
The biggest news of the Conference, as is every year, was the election of the next President. The 2016-2017 VP: Further Education Shakira Martin won in the first round with 402 votes, the incumbent President Malia Bouattia received 272 votes, Tom Harwood received 35 votes, and 8 votes were cast to re-open nominations.
Upon her victory, Martin told the conference, “I am honoured and humbled to have been elected as NUS national president. I take this as a vote of trust that our members believe I can lead our national movement to be the fighting and campaigning organisation we need it to be, representing the breadth of our diverse membership.”
Speaking later to Newsnight, she spoke of the importance of encouraging young people to exercise their democratic rights and to help shape the society that they would like to live in, as well as the “need to promote the importance of bringing people together to have healthy debate and respect differences and freedom of speech, but come up with solutions together to be able to make change.”
All four delegates voted for Shakira Martin, and Rhiannon Jones said, “Shakira’s election reinforces the progressive and diverse nature of the student movement. Shakira describes herself as a black, working class single mother.
She has overcome numerous obstacles in order to win this important position and she’ll be able to bring a huge amount of experience, knowledge and dedication to the role. Her achievement is a prime example of the power of education and I wish her well as she takes on this new challenge.”
Lucy Atkinson explained, “She was the only candidate who cared about all students. She’s passionate and hard working and will make a fantastic President.” Tim Partington added that she represented “real change in the NUS, and as a working class mother, brings a whole new perspective.”
Joshua Woolf highlighted the current disillusionment that many students feel with the NUS, reflected in the large number of disaffiliations campaigns around the country last year, and thinks that ,”she will give a positive face to the NUS.”
Bouattia’s term as President focused on improving diversity and oversaw the addition of an officer for transgender students to the executive committee, as well as campaigning against PREVENT, the government’s controversial anti-extremism programme. However, much of her time as President was overshadowed by allegations and investigations into anti-Semitism and was condemned by the Union of Jewish Students and a report by the Home Affairs Select Committee.
Martin will have until next March to make her mark on the NUS.