Incoming president vows to unite NUS

March 31, 2006

Jessica Shepherd reports from the NUS conference on the election for the top job and the winner's manifesto

Independent candidate Gemma Tumelty clinched a narrow victory this week in the election for president of the National Union of Students.

Ms Tumelty, who is currently NUS national secretary, vowed to stand firm beside lecturers over the pay disputes and said she fully supported the academics' industrial action, including their boycott of student assessment.

Ms Tumelty also backed the campaign against lifting the cap on tuition fees. She told The Times Higher that she believed that universities were "at fault" for not increasing lecturers' pay and that "the NUS needed to engage students more in the argument".

In her manifesto, Ms Tumelty pledged to unite the student movement, which has become increasingly fractured over the issue of the lecturers' assessment boycott.

The psychology graduate, who takes the helm in July, is not a member of the Labour Party but is said to "hold Labour" views and describes herself as a "political, campaigning student leader". She is also a member of the GMB union.

The 25-year-old from Hertfordshire, who graduated from Liverpool John Moores University, secured 385 votes. Her nearest rival Pav Akhtar, the black students' officer, won 357 votes in the election held at this week's NUS conference in Blackpool.

Ms Tumelty admitted that the NUS had "lost some of the arguments" over tuition fees and student funding. She told The Times Higher that she planned to make the public more aware of the financial difficulties besetting UK students.

She said: "It is not enough to talk about access in terms of fair admissions policies and widening-participation initiatives.

"The financial barriers must be demolished if all are to be able to take advantage of the opportunities opened up by education.

"The educational agenda over the coming year will be charged with challenges and opportunities: the introduction of top-up fees, the need to continue to fight for free education and to grow a coalition against the lifting of the cap on fees."

Ms Tumelty also vowed to fight far-right factions in universities by engaging with anti-racism and anti-fascism groups on campus.

Kat Fletcher, who steps down as president in July after spending the maximum of two years in office, defended the NUS policy of supporting the assessment boycott by lecturers.

She said that she wanted to get those student unions that were worried about the boycott to focus their attention on getting universities to pay the academics more.

"I don't think I, or the NUS, have taken too strong a line on this. I said I would stick my neck out on this issue and that is exactly what I have done," she said.

Ms Fletcher refused to disclose her next job, other than that it was not for a union and that it was in education.

Among the motions to be discussed at the conference were a boycott of Coca-Cola and an examination of the elitism of university initiation ceremonies.

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