In the news

November 13, 1998

The career of National Union of Students president Andrew Pakes suggests that young people have a more relaxed attitude to sexuality than their elders. Now 26 and an active campaigner for lesbian, gay and bisexual rights since university, he came out as bisexual long before recent revelations about gay cabinet ministers rattled new Labour.

Far more delicate for him is the question of where the NUS stands on student finance, given that he is a member of the party that introduced this year's tuition fees and decided to scrap grants.

Although he led yesterday's lobby of Parliament against tuition charges, he will not support next week's demonstration against fees, organised by the Campaign for Free Education, which wants to keep the grant.

Remembered as a "long-haired left-winger in combat trousers with lots of piercings" and a "big drinker" by former colleagues at Hull University, where he was a student, Mr Pakes has since toned down his politics and his appearance.

But student union activists say that he seems more anxious than some of his predecessors to distance himself from the main Labour leadership, perhaps influenced by the fact that he beat the far-left candidate for his post last April by only 15 votes.

Mr Pakes, said to be politically ambitious, was an active member of the student union at Hull, where he studied politics as an undergraduate and took an MA in environmental management.

Besides leading actions against British Aerospace and Boots, he was involved in environmental and lesbian, gay and bisexual issues. He now claims to be the first green president of NUS.

Mr Pakes is generally regarded as a gentler figure than his immediate predecessor, Douglas Trainer. He has said that he wants the NUS to develop more of its commercial services and regard students as valued customers.

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