Driven by data; ridden with liberty.
Part 1 is available here.
Marc McCorkall is a 4th year student and Vice-President for Sport at Aberdeen University Students’ Union, who is running because “it’s a myth that those involved in sport and activities can’t be political”. Mr McCorkall believes that the NUS should give more attention to sport and activities, as a method of engaging students, such as making the NUS “organise a Student Activities Conference so that those students don’t get ignored”. The second focus in Mr McCorkall’s manifesto is that of nations, and the way that nations are represented with the NUS, such as supporting “NUS Scotland with voter registration for the independence referendum to put students on the agenda”. These are interesting proposals, but students and their delegates may question their relevance to current debates.
Neil Moore is a member of the Socialist Students faction, and has been President of Belfast Metropolitan University SU. As expected, Mr Moore sees ‘fighting austerity’ and ‘fighting for equality’ as key purposes of the NUS, stating that “The government’s policies of austerity are making students pay for an economic crisis not caused by us but by the super-rich.” This status quo is noted solemnly by Mr Moore:
Protesta [sic] are also being organised against local councils and devolved assemblies implementing the ConDem austerity. Unfortunately NUS doesn’t seem to be leading any of these campaigns.
The problem which such candidates is that they wish the NUS, instead of aiming for student representation, be subsumed into wider opposition against government policies.
With the pithy slogan, I’m still Jeni for the Block, Jeni-Marie Pittuck believes that education “should be about the student”, rather than divisions into Higher and Further, and so on. Ms Pittuck wants to “be your voice on the NEC”, “build strong Union Development” and “push for liberation to be at the heart of FE and NUS”. Whilst these are laudable aims, the President of City College Norwich Students’ Union lists no methods or mechanisms by which they may be achieved. Since there are other candidates with similar aims who do outline the way they will achieve their goals, Ms Pittuck may have difficulty getting elected.
Kirat Raj Singh wants to unite the NUS by “supporting faith groups and championing diversity”, as well as “empowering Unions to deliver change”. Currently the Vice President for Education & Welfare for Birmingham City SU, Kirat Raj Singh says: “I realised the potential of bringing faith based organisations together on a common platform, focussing on what unites us, rather than what divides us.” Whilst Kirat Raj Singh wishes to have independent and autonomous students’ union, he states that: “If elected, I will push for more support to the students unions ensuring we empower the students and staff members on the ground”. The nature of this support and the subsequent empowerment is opaque.
The National President of the NUS Liam Burns has endorsed Ben Ramsdale’s election to the Block of 15, who makes support for small and specialist Students’ Union the central point of his manifesto, as these unions are “facing a real threat to their survival”, thanks to the “current government education agenda”. Naturally, Mr Ramsdale has made a commitment to “make this National Union accessible to all”. Support for smaller unions has appeared again, but more specialist unions will require more technical assistance from the national union, which may end up costlier. Since the NUS dedicates a set amount to such assistance, the other side of the balance sheet, reductions to larger unions, may be harder to justify.
As a member of the Socialist Students faction, Edmund Schlussel wants to “fight for jobs and education”. Condemning the NUS as “too often we’re just a lobbying organisation and talking shop”, with its “New Labour leadership” who “put as little effort as possible into the demo our members democratically demanded”. Stating that the government “holds students – and education itself – in contempt” and that it is providing “tax cuts and hand-outs for millionaires”, Mr Schlussel demands there should be “full public funding for education, reverse the cuts, and bring back living grants — take back the rights we had before Thatcher”. The dissonance between wanting the NUS to be ‘democratic’, and wanting the NUS to make specific demands of government, who are elected by a much wider constituency, is rarely resolved in these short manifestos:
I’ll campaign for the NUS to lead the battle against every cut the government proposes and to stop them being implemented locally. Con-Dem marketisation has failed.
The NUS Presidential candidate is also running in the race to be part of the Block of 15. In his Back to Basics campaign, Peter Smallwood endorses an idea shared by his NCAFC adversaries: “block members are the very people to be engaging with the wider membership – making sure that all block members are getting into student unions and meeting Sabbatical Officers”, whilst maintaining the Block’s scrutiny panel role. Mr Smallwood’s emphasis remains on individual students’ unions, wanting affiliation fees to be reduced. Such a move would certainly need support from other members of the NEC, and no other candidates so far have endorsed this reduction.
Matt Stanley presently sits on the NEC, and is seeking re-election, having co-founded the national campaign Bring Back EMA. Mr Stanley now wants the NUS to prioritise the campaign he co-founded, as well as “opposing all fees and cuts”. Under the banner of ‘Diversity not Discrimination’, Mr Stanley affirms:
As the cuts bite, the Tories and the right wing media are whipping up racism against Black communities, immigrants and asylum seekers. Our campuses are not immune: from attacks on multiculturalism, scapegoating of International students and even some students “blacking up” on campus.
It is shocking that Mr Stanley considers an idea, multiculturalism, to be above all criticism on university campuses – the palaces of free thought, enquiry and expression. Despite vast reductions to the Ministry of Defence budget, Mr Stanley still claims: “The government tell us that there is no alternative to spending cuts, yet they can find the money for war and nuclear weapons.” Mr Stanley cites Venezuela as home to a replicable progressive movement.
Mr Swain’s manifesto is pending.
Matthew Tennant’s manifesto calls for more NUS funds and assistance for small and specialist unions, as well for the SU to become more environmentally friendly, and follow ‘ethical procurement’ practices. Mr Tennant also wants the NUS to formulate “plans for local action” in the next election, and states:
Students’ [sic] should be at the heart their communities. I want to make sure that NUS continues to help Unions work with communities through Volunteering, Food Banks, community projects, Green School curriculums!
The importance of community integration cannot be understated, particularly when residents in a city feel that students form a barbaric invasion. However, Mr Tennant includes an endorsement that places the blame for existence of food banks solely on government, saying that “the Tory-led government cuts have led the 7th wealthiest nation to have spiralling food poverty”.
Olympic torchbearer and FE Zone Committee member Zak Thompson is seeking election to the Block, wanting the NUS to work with schools, colleges and universities “to provide the right advice for young people and their future”, and attempting to ensure that vocational qualifications are seen as equal to academic qualifications. It is arguable that universities may treat vocational qualifications with equal weight to academic A-Levels, despite the inherent variability of such qualifications, after a period of intense discussion by the students’ union. However, employers would simply take different judgements, and it is beyond the powers of the NUS to affect their minds.
Craig Thomson is Acting President of Derby College Students’ Union. Under Mr Thomson’s tenure, student participation has increased; Derby College has a substantial dialogue with their local council. Also,
I have successfully managed to lobby our MP’S on Vote 16 & FE Fees, gaining there [sic] support.
After his declaration of experience, a flurry of commitments is made: “ensure that the NUS focus on individual Student Unions”, “help [new Students’ Unions] with their framework, policies and constitution”, “ensure that NUS are actively seen to be supporting and promoting your local campaign not just our National Campaigns”, “ensure that HE Framework and HE best practice will not be put onto FE Students Union as it does not work”, and “advice and support on how to view learners aged 14-16 who are studying at your campus”. The theme of these assurances is that the NUS should entwine itself more deeply with individual students’ unions, even when these unions are best placed to make these decisions.
Victoria Winteron is the present Vice President for Education at Hull University Union. Her campaign is based on the slogan Community at the CORE, where CORE is an initialism for Community, Opportunity, Representation and Employability. The candidate of the Labour Students faction wants to “protect and push for the expansion of community facing courses”, and calling universities that use “students as unpaid labour” for teaching a “disgrace”. Noting the remoteness of the NUS, Ms Winteron accepts:
Talk of harnessing our seven million members is empty rhetoric when we don’t even communicate with those who are desperate to be involved.
Ms Winteron wants to “make sure I’m more than just an email address”, and for the NUS to build better relationships with the individual unions. Lastly, Ms Winteron wants these individual unions to run their own ‘The Next Step’ events, establishing “dialogue” between employers, graduates and volunteering groups.
Thais Yáñez is one of three NCAFC candidates for the Block, and believes that there should be ‘intersectionality in the fight for liberation’, affirming that:
I want to make fighting transphobia, both in its standard right-wing and its “radical” feminist/“left” forms a priority.
Some of Ms Yáñez’s ire is saved for nominal allies, including “I oppose the kind of fake “antiimperialism” which led some on the left to apologise for George Galloway and Julian Assange”. The candidate also explicitly states:
Instead of accepting the Tories are here to stay till 2015, and that after that we can rely on Ed Miliband, fight back against every attack and fight to bring the government down!
Like Ms Huzzard, it is asserted that: “The idea there is no money in society is a lie. Tax the rich, expropriate the wealth of the banks!” However, that is a lie no one has uttered – it is a cold arithmetic truth that there isn’t enough money to fund every spending programme supported by every pressure group.
The apparent failure of the NUS to support students, particularly during the presidency of Aaron Porter, has left the NUS with a boilerplate democracy; with candidates seeking votes to exclude more vicious and volatile entrants from positions of influence. Factions such as the National Coalition Against Fees and Cuts and Socialist Students are scouring for votes, especially from those disaffected by a ‘New Labour’-style leadership, whose words are not matched by deeds, whose rhetoric resists action. In a war of visions, the mundane business of actually representing students may be lost in the fog.
Update: Craig Thomson has released his manifesto, which has now been added to the article.