I’m Phillip Fenton and I was elected during the FXU presidential elections to be your voice at the three- day NUS National Conference 2014 in Liverpool. The conference is now over and I want to share with you some of the important motions that were passed and how they will affect you, as well as who was elected as president and vice presidents of NUS and what I think FXU can learn from the NUS Conference.
NUS is a hugely important part of any student’s experience in the UK. It is far more than a discount card. NUS represents seven million UK students with a mission to promote, defend and extend the rights of students by providing students and students’ unions (like FXU) with a collective voice. NUS also aims to build strong and sustainable students’ unions that make students’ lives better. Although this may sound a little boring, NUS really has delivered some real change in the past year, including saving the student opportunity fund, scrapping fees for apprenticeships, securing £45 million in postgrad student support and winning concessions on the lobbying bill. NUS are totally against market forces in education and were also behind the massive student protests of 2010 against the fees.
In the elections, delegates were able to vote for as many or as few of the candidates as they wished, as the elections used alternative transferable vote.
I voted for Aaron Kiely – In his manifesto Aaron calls for NUS to be a union that unites its members to defend our education from austerity. He is also strongly against the privatisation of student loans. He calls for NUS to campaign for the living wage, job creation and affordable housing.
Toni Pearce – I gave Toni my second vote as she understands the importance of the 2015 general election and the importance of the role of NUS in providing resources for students’ unions like FXU to create their own general election strategy and mobilise students. She aims to register every single student when they enrol.
Toni Pearce was re-elected as President with 59% of the vote, Aaron Kiely came second with 19%, Daniel Cooper got 11% and in last place came UKIP’s Jack Duffin with 2% of the final vote.
For Vice President of Higher Education:
I voted for Tom Flynn as his manifesto says we should empower students to ‘shape their own learning experiences and to complement their own teaching independently’ and calls for higher and fairer maintenance grants and loans for students.
Megan Dunn was elected.
For Vice President of Society and Citizenship:
I voted for Hugh Murdoch. Hugh calls for local campaigns to unseat MPs who broke their pledge on fees and wants to train community organisers within students’ unions to build relationships beyond campus to make us stronger.
Piers Telemacque was elected.
For Vice President of Union Development:
I voted for Raechel Mattey. Raechel visited FXU in March and I was fortunate enough to meet her. She wants to develop programmes that gets students’ union officers out behind their desks and become activists. She also wants to ensure that students’ unions become ‘beacons of democracy’ by working with local charities and the voluntary sector.
Raechel Mattey was re-elected.
For Vice President of Welfare:
I voted for Charlotte Bennett. Her manifesto calls for tenants’ rights, a living wage and job creation. She also stands for students’ unions to empower students to play an active role as global citizens, opposes the crackdown on protests and stands up against racism and fascism.
Colum McGuire was re-elected.
One of the most important and controversial votes was for amendment 215c Free education as part of motion 215, ‘A new deal for education funding’. Up until conference, NUS’ stance on education funding was for an end to fees, to be replaced with a graduate tax. A graduate tax would mean everyone who goes to university would pay a higher tax than those who don’t go to university. After much debate it went to the vote. It was so close we all had to keep our arms in the air for what seemed like hours so we could be counted. I voted FOR this motion and I’m pleased to say it PASSED. There was a standing ovation by many when the result was announced. NUS must now campaign for free education, not a graduate tax. Education is a public good, something that benefits society. ‘Every £1 spent in higher education, the economy expands by £2.60’. When faced with £9,000 fees this may not seem like a realistic target, but society does not lack the resources; we have resources to go to war and many billions are hidden away offshore by the rich. It’s about priorities.
Another important vote was for motion 214 ‘Their jobs, our education: supporting staff for fair pay’. I voted FOR this motion and it PASSED. This motion calls for fair pay for university staff, meaning a living wage and an end of the use of zero hour contracts. Many students’ unions across the country have fought for and won the living wage for their staff. FXU and the University of Exeter pay the living wage but it’s about time FXPlus ,with hundreds of staff, many of which are part-time, should also receive fair pay. Our staff are integral to our university experience and FXU should follow the lead of NUS and campaign for fair pay on campus.
Other votes that I feel stand out as more important than the rest include motion 702 ‘Fair representation on NUS conference delegations’. I voted FOR this motion and it PASSED. It means from next year all students’ union delegations must be made up of at least 50% female students. This is a progressive step in ensuring equal representation of women within the student movement. The motion also calls for students’ unions to support women to stand for delegate and officer elections.
The main priority for NUS was motion 101 ‘A new deal for the next generation’. This motion focuses on the 2015 general election. It aims to ‘win for students locally and nationally’. It calls for every students’ union to run its own election strategy and empower students to make a difference through the ballot box, but also within the local community. Amendments to this motion included opposing UKIP at the general election, to fight the idea that there is a problem with immigration, and to join the Trade Union Congress demonstration ahead of the election next year. I’m happy to say I voted FOR motion 101 and it PASSED.
FXU and NUS
The NUS conference is a great place to understand the true role of a students’ union and the endless possibilities available. I believe FXU should write a motion for conference next year; many of the motions this year were written by a few universities and colleges so, irrespective of the subject, it would be great if FXU got more involved. As mentioned already, I believe FXU should campaign to get all staff on campus a living wage. Many other universities are doing the same and winning.
Something that came up time and again over conference was next year’s general election. NUS will provide some resources but it is down to FXU to get students engaged. At a fringe event, Bite the Ballot (the organisation) suggested ‘Rock the Vote’ type events on university campuses. FXU could organise an event where, instead of paying to enter, you must have registered to vote. This has been very effective in the US. As from later this year, voter registration will be individually completed. It has been proposed universities, as part of enrolling students, to ask for students’ national insurance numbers so that the institution can register them themselves (with consent). Even if students don’t vote, being on the electoral register means political parties must take students into account when creating policy.
Having been to NUS Conference and seenpolicy debated and created, I believe FXU should do more to encourage students to bring motions to FXU, especially to general meetings. Although there is information on the FXU website on how to create policy it is not that easy to find. A better understanding by students of the process to create policy would increase accountability, democracy and inclusivity of our students union.
NUS conference was a brilliant experience with so many speeches, debates, votes and policies. NUS may make a difference and lead the student movement, but they must do more to engage with the student body to ensure that students know NUS does so much more than just get them free medium fries with a Big Mac!
It was fantastic representing FXU at a national level. I believe I stuck to my manifesto and voted in a way that benefits you as members of FXU. I’m grateful to have had this opportunity so thank you to everyone who supported me.
To discuss any of this report, how I voted in other motions and elections, and my experience at NUS National Conference, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To read all the motions, click here.
Phillip is a second year Geography student at the University of Exeter Penryn Campus. He was the FXU (Exeter) delegate at the 2014 NUS National Conference and the founder of the FXU Labour Society. He has recently been working with FXU on a political awareness campaign and strongly believes in equality and social justice.