This year’s annual National Union of Students national conference has seen its incumbent president, Malia Bouattia, ousted in favour of 29-year-old single mother Shakira Martin.
The former Vice President for Further Education, who led on 402 votes as opposed to Bouattia’s 272, did not attend university prior to gaining a position within the NUS. Instead, she chose exclusively to attend further education institutions.
Speaking to the national conference in Brighton this week, Martin promised to bring “fire and energy back to campuses” as she set out her bid to tackle the mental health epidemic facing students, bringing about affordable accommodation, and handing power back to the hands of NUS members.
Bouattia, her predecessor and election rival, was perceived as controversial for comments believed to be antisemitic. She had previously called her alma mater, the University of Birmingham, “something of a Zionist output” – this was later derided by the House of Commons home affairs select committee as having smacked of “outright racism”.
YUSU’s Community and Well-being Officer, Dominic Smithies, had supported Bouattia’s re-election, and described the outgoing President as “an inspirational, resilient and ambitious leader who put free, liberated and accessible education at the heart of the NUS.”
Now, more than ever we need a President who will unite the movement and stand up for everyone
However, the incoming NUS President is not without her own controversies. Speaking to the Guardian, Martin admitted to having previously dealt drugs, claiming that this had taught her valuable transferable skills.
“What I did realise was that the skills behind doing it were business skills,” Martin recalled. “There was confidentiality, there was data protection, there was maths, there was customer service.”
Furthermore, despite having been seen to run a centrist campaign between Corbyn-supporting Malia Bouattia and conservative undergraduate Tom Harwood, Martin claimed that “politics isn’t ready for [her]”.
“People think Jeremy Corbyn is radical!” She added.
Akin to the Labour leader’s brand of ‘straight talking, honest politics’, she claimed: “I am the facts and the figures. When I talk I just say it as it is.”
Comment on Martin’s election success, YUSU President Millie Beach stated the following:
“There have been some comments today that Shakira won’t represent Higher Education needs as she didn’t go to uni. Now, more than ever we need a President who will unite the movement and stand up for everyone, and let’s not forget that two-thirds of our members are Further Education institutions.
“If you want to criticise elected officers, do it on their actions, not their background.”