In an exclusive interview with Nouse, NUS President-elect, Aaron Porter, has emphasised that his top priority this year will be to reject “any possible lifting of the cap on fees” and to “fight for a fairer alternative”.
Talking to Nouse just an hour after being elected, Porter said: “I’m absolutely over the moon, partly because this is such a significant time for further and higher education. There was a huge focus on the outcome of the fees review [this year] but also on the agenda of university and college funding, so my motivation to stand was to ensure that NUS could be best represented during these difficult times, and I hope that I can lead NUS through to deliver the best possible outcome for students.”
Porter won the Presidential position at the NUS Conference in The Sage, Newcastle on April 14. He gained 65pc of the vote, with an aggregate total of 440 votes. His closest competitor was Bell Ribeiro-Addy, who came second with 20 per cent of the vote.
Despite breaking the record for the longest average time per view on Nouse’s live blog at the Conference, many of our viewers were located within The Sage building, and not many students engaged in commenting on the blog.
This contrasts to the level of interest Nouse received during YUSU elections hustings and results night; Nouse broke its own record earlier this year for the most commented on article in the website’s history, on the first night of hustings. How does the NUS plan to address student apathy and alienation across the country? “The challenge for every Student Union, and indeed the NUS, is to think about how we engage with students, and a high priority for me is to ensure that NUS is more than just a discount card for students but [that] the campaigns we run at a national level are something that students can identify with, and we need to continue talking about the issues students face on a day to day basis,” Porter explains.
“I guess one of the reasons why, perhaps, students feel disenchanted with NUS is because in many instances Student Unions themselves don’t have the contact details of their own students.”
Porter highlights his experience as NUS Vice-President for Higher Education as giving him the knowledge and ability to reduce such apathy: “Policy has been a huge amount of what I’ve done, and it directly [helps] students… I hope that by coming out onto campuses I [can] engage. I want to think about how I can, and the NUS can, communicate with students more directly.”
Durham University Students’ Union are formally recognised as disaffiliated from the NUS following NUS interference with the Union on the NUS’ no platform policy.
Political parties’ election appeals
Leaders of the three main UK political parties give a pre-recorded video speech to NUS delegates on the first day of conference. Nick Clegg is purportedly given the best reception.
YUSU President submits motion
YUSU President, Tim Ngwena, submits a motion to lobby for further independence for the Office of the Independent Adjudicator, the final appeals body of univeristies. The motion passes.
Aaron Porter elected President
Previous NUS Vice-President of Higher Education, Aaron Porter, is announced NUS President-elect. Porter was elected in the first round of voting with a majority of 65 per cent.
Charlie Leyland narrow loss
YUSU Academic Affairs Officer, Charlie Leyland, loses out on NUS Vice-Presidency to Usman Ali. Leyland won both the third and fourth stages of voting but narrowly lost in the last stage by just nine votes.
Votes for 16-year-olds
The NUS resolves to campaign for votes for 16-year-olds. In their resolutions they set out proposals to lobby political parties to include this in their manifestos post-election.
BNP no platform policy debated
The conference is thrown into a strongly fought and extensive debate on freedom of speech, and a motion to stop British National Party and English Defense League activists from speaking at universities is passed.
Motion of Censure passed
A motion of censure against Bellavia Ribeiro-Addy, NUS Black Students Officer, is proposed by Durham Students’ Union after their dissatisfaction at her conduct with respect enforcement of the no platform policy. The motion is passed.
NUS President leaving speech
NUS President, Wes Streeting, closes the conference with his leaving speech, highlighting the need to fight tuition fee rises and commenting on the strength of the NUS.
But does Porter really think that this is the role of the NUS, when in existence already are individual Student Unions which are meant to locally link with students? At what stage does the NUS tread on Student Union toes? “Well,” Porter begins, “I’m clear on the relationship with Student Unions and NUS, and I guess one of the reasons why, perhaps, students feel disenchanted with NUS is because in many instances Student Unions themselves don’t have the contact details of their own students, and I want to work with Student Unions to ensure that that can be overcome, because I believe it’s in the interests of both Student Unions and of NUS to have that access to information.
“In terms of the specific nature of the relationship, Student Unions choose to affiliate with the NUS and therefore they should be shaping the direction and priorities of the NUS, and it’s not for me, nor indeed is it for NUS, to dictate to Student Unions what we should be doing. Rather, we should be supporting Unions to empower them to lead their own campaigns, and also to help find out what’s going on in other Unions. So if another institution does something good, and that’s a benefit to students at York, then they should be shared with that information.”
It does not seem, however, that all Student Unions experience the empowerment that Porter advocates; last month, Durham Students’ Union voted against affiliation with the NUS after discrepancy between the Union and some members of the NUS over whether Durham should have been allowed to invite a BNP speaker to the university. Porter admits: “I think… that there was a huge, grave error of judgement made by two officers which rightly and understandably upset the students at Durham University, and I would not expect any of the officers at NUS whilst I’m President to act in a way that those officers did. I can understand why Durham left. I would have hoped that they would not choose to leave over a single issue, but I can understand their anger.”
And how has the episode changed the direction and attitude of the NUS? “I think this, if anything, is the required kick up the proverbial backside for the NUS to ensure that we are prioritising engagement with students, increasing our relevance, and working with Student Unions to do that, because the fight ahead is huge, and actually some of these fights can’t be won by individual Student Unions on their own.
“We need a National Union when it comes to trying to ensure that fees don’t go up. We need a National Union in terms of making the case to government that Higher Education shouldn’t receive cuts, so I’m confident as to why a National Union exists, but I really appreciate that we need to get better at making the case to Student Unions.”
And: how will he be voting in the election? Porter admits that he would not surrender his Labour Party membership unless it got to “a stage where I felt that the Labour Party was not the best Party overall.” But, he stresses, “I don’t believe that on any single decision I’ve made that I’ve had anything other than students at the top of my agenda.”