Driven by data; ridden with liberty.
The National Executive Committee (NEC) of the National Union of Students (NUS) is responsible for managing the affairs of the NUS, and co-ordinating campaigns. Its membership is comprised of the National President, Vice Presidents, nation, liberation and section officers, and 15 councillors without portfolio, usually called the ‘Block of 15’. There are 26 candidates running for these 15 positions, and their one-page manifestos should be examined. The fact that these elections are run under an alternate vote system, with short speeches and manifestos to identify and demarcate candidates, often leaves the NEC elections to be highly chaotic.
Demonstrating his previous experience as Liverpool Students’ Union President and a member of the Higher Education Zone Committee, Paul Abernethy wants the NUS to be for “education for everyone”, by “showcasing the public good of education”. It’s refreshing to hear realistic demands following that banner. According to Mr Abernethy, the 2015 General Election “could be the most important General Election in a generation”. Similar claims could be made of the 1997 General Election, with the NUS campaigning for the Labour party, under the belief that they would not introduce tuition fees for higher education. The fallout from this betrayal of student trust is a partial explanation of the rise of the Liberal Democrats. Mr Abernethy says that: “I will ensure that everyone is heard, not just the loud few”, but this is a desire, not a formulated policy.
Charles Barry’s manifesto is stuffed full of pledges and oppositional statements. His main three priorities are to “ensure your leadership implements the spirit, not just the letter of Conference policy”, “encourage and grow student participation in our national movement”, and Mr Barry wants to “be the most open and transparent member of the Block ever”. The push towards transparency is particularly necessary, as the NUS do not publish the minutes of its committee meetings. However, Mr Barry opposes “increased marketization of education”, a rather ill-defined concept, and “David Willets”. The name of Minister of State for Universities and Science is David Willetts. Firstly, it is rather petulant to oppose a particular minister; secondly, if I did oppose a minister, I would at least ensure I spelled their name correctly.
Anna Chowcat is currently the Warwick SU’s postgraduate officer, the first year of that post’s existence, and started their university’s first Postgraduate Association. Two of her priorities concern postgraduates: funding, and raising awareness of postgraduates that are unpaid for teaching work. The third is the typical refrain of ‘widening participation’, through lobbying universities to “increase bursaries and remove fee-waivers, increase expenditure on [widening participation] and increase the use of contextual data”. Whilst Ms Chowcat seeks a “sustainable funding system” for postgraduate study, this terminology has usually been used to describe the current £9,000 annual fees for first-time undergraduates, and it is unclear if Ms Chowcat envisages such a system for postgraduates.
Chris Clements is the University of Bath SU President, and Chair of the Union 94 group. Mr Clements wants the NUS to have “a vision with a mission”, “support activities” and “cut the jargon”, stating:
With so much of the focus on creating a vision for the future of education we must not lose sight on our mission, nor our current members. I will push your elected national officers to not just talk about concepts and beliefs.
This is, in itself, a vision for the NUS: one that acts rather than just talks about acting, with all jargon excised. The satiety of jargon within the NUS is truly outstanding, and its removal will require effort from an inert institution.
Ben Dilks is a proud member of Labour Students, and his manifesto holds aloft the endorsement of current NUS President Liam Burns. Mr Dilks wants to ‘win for students nationally’ by initiating a NUS voter registration campaign and ensuring “students are listened to in local authority elections and elections to the devolved parliaments”. No justification is given as why the NUS is best placed to assist in local elections, and why devolved organisations within the NUS, such as NUS Scotland, need the national union for their devolved elections.
Mr Dilks states he will “support all measures brought forward the NUS more representative of its membership, starting with a fully gender balanced National Conference”. If the NUS pursue proportionality along certain lines, such as gender and ethnicity, then it may drift further away from the key purpose of representation: the proportionality of political opinion. The final priority is attempts to release campaign resources to the wider student movement.
Rhiannon Durrans‘ main manifesto begins with the sombre statement:
We are falling apart as a movement; we all have a vision, one vision which can only be achieved by working together. Why are we fighting amongst ourselves? We are making ourselves weak.
After making a call for the unification and fortification of the student movement, there is little surprise that her manifesto carries the endorsement of NUS President candidate Toni Pearce, who is running on a similar platform. In her bold manifesto, Ms Durran says she will “make sure that I regularly check and stay on top of my emails”. Lastly, there is the typical refrain to make the NUS “accessible for all”, with “acronym busters” and other hint sheets.
Tomas Evans is part of the Socialist Worker Student Society, and bursts out of the corner with fighting talk: “We cannot wait until the next General Election to defend education and the welfare state – by 2015, the damage will already be done.” Damning the current government’s “neoliberal assault on education”, Mr Evans wants to “fight for free, fully funded education – an education for liberation that is accessible for all”.
Apart from international solidarity with students worldwide, Mr Evans attacks Cambridge Union, who “invited Europe’s biggest Nazi, Marine Le Pen, to speak”; and the student newspapers in Leeds and Cardiff who published interviews with BNP leader Nick Griffin. A ferocious supporter of the No Platform policy, Mr Evans states:
The UKBA’s racist attack on LMU international students was a direct result of neoliberalism and racist immigration policy – our Union must be at the forefront of fighting against the Tories’ racism and bigotry.
Finally, Mr Evans wants the NUS to be part of a “mass movement against austerity”, despite also wanting the NUS to be “democratic”.
The most noticeable aspect of Harry Fox’s manifesto is the background filled with Pokéballs. Whilst I’m sure Mr Fox wants to be the very best, like no one ever was; what matters in this election is not his favourite Eevee evolution, but his policies. Seeing Further Education as his “second chance”, Mr Fox has pushed the importance of Further Education in the NUS, who comprise a large majority of the NUS’s 7 million membership. Mr Fox wants to grow the Green Impact campaign, believing that this is “paramount to the student movement, building a future for the next generation, whilst saving money and resources for our generation”, serving to build links between students’ unions and their institutions. The other key pledge is to drive to lower the voting age to 16.
Currently a member of the HE Zone Committee and Sheffield Hallam Education Officer, Jessica Goldstone adorns her manifesto with medals and Olympic fervour. Claiming that “my university, and probably yours behaves like a business. I am not prepared to let that happen”, Ms Goldstone wants students to be more active on their campuses, to make further and higher education the main crux of the 2015 General Election, and protect students on campus, noting that “women remain woefully unrepresented”. According to Ms Goldstone, the NUS should be “training course reps to be political, to shape the universities we want to see”. Undoubtedly, many students’ unions would see this move as an unacceptable transgression in their internal affairs, which often seek to maintain and evolve representation, rather than seeking a particular kind of representation. The battleground of the 2015 General Election is, simply, out of the control of the NUS.
A Block candidate for the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts faction, Rosie Huzzard describes herself as “a socialist, a feminist and labour movement activist”. Ms Huzzard wants to campaign on further education issues, such as restoring maintenance grants “to a decent level”, and building ‘international solidarity’. In a campaign move against other students:
I will launch a national campaign against the bigoted antics of privileged “lads” and right-wingers – from racist and sexist “banter” to the likes of “natives and colonials” parties and “blacking up”.
Unaware that the NUS should have a view on banking reform, Ms Huzzard desires:
I will campaign to tax the rich and expropriate the banks – our goal should be a workers’ government that serves the majority as Cameron and Clegg serve the rich.
I am unaware if Ms Huzzard knows what ‘expropriate’ means, or if she genuinely supports the state seizure and cannibalisation of British banks.
Richard Laverick is the LGBT+ Officer of Union of UEA Students, and has a simple manifesto. Mr Laverick wants to be “a reliable, friendly point of contact in the NUS for any student wanting to share their passions or concerns”, and “a strong voice for smaller, specialist, out of the way and forgotten unions”. The concern for these smaller unions is admirable, as the NUS may tend to focus on larger unions. The aim of Mr Laverick’s manifesto is for him to be a template, an avatar upon which representations can be made.
James McAsh is the second NCAFC candidate for the Block of 15, seeking to transmute the Block from a “scrutiny body” to its original purpose as “the eyes and ears of the NUS”. James McAsh makes the case that education should be a ‘social good’, which means that:
The richest in society have enough wealth to fund education and public services for all, while the most vulnerable in society are struggling to get by. The bare minimum that a civilised society would do is tax the rich to fund education and public services.
The current level of government spending is just under £700bn a year, which is an amount almost impossible to maintain by progressive taxation – a 100% tax on incomes over £150,000 would mean only £67.9bn a year for the Treasury.
Part 2 is here.