The National Union of Students (NUS) is the main student body that represents students at local, regional and national level, funding and voicing the concerns of over 600 Students’ Unions. However, the NUS has recently come under fire from many Students’ Unions, including York’s, for policy misalignment such as minimum alcohol pricing. The NUS is under reform with new President Shakira Martin; we caught up with her for the latest on the NUS and some advice for freshers.
What made you get involved with the NUS?
Two years ago, I wasn’t political, and it was adversity, not university, that got me to where I am today.
I am the second NUS President not to have gone to university in the 95 years of its existence. I did not know anything about the NUS until I became President of Lewisham College when I went back to education aged 23.
I believe, as a citizen, I have a duty in society to shape the country we live in; the NUS is something that can do that. As students, we can shape the education we want.
The NUS is more than a student discount at the Co-Op: it’s things like essay marks coming back after a shorter time following an SU campaign.
Last year, many York students voted to leave the NUS. Is it an effective enough body to represent students?
I understand why a number of universities ran disaffiliation campaigns. Students felt the NUS wasn’t relevant to them because we weren’t talking about issues that they cared about. It was a very top-down approach and we weren’t taking them on a journey.
However, the NUS is important because we are one of the biggest unions in the country: our membership is 7 million. One student’s voice is unlikely to be heard, but if we come together we can inspire change. But it starts with listening to our members.
Do you have any advice for freshers?
Going to university, you get so much more than your qualification: you get to meet new people. Getting involved in societies, as a student ambassador or through your student newspaper all provide transferable skills that can help you in your future career.
One thing I will say, though, is to stock up on toilet paper! I moved out at 16 and I never realised how much toilet paper I wasted until I was paying for it myself.
This is your chance to learn about who you are. Go to Freshers’ Fair, go to stalls and learn about your university; it will be your home and community. You won’t know how important that first week is until you look back in hindsight when times are getting tough. Hopefully, then you’ll know about all the support that is offered at your university.
Remember that nothing worth fighting for is easy, so take the hardest challenges as opportunities that you’ll be rewarded for!
Interview by Jacob Phillips.