NUS elects independent

April 7, 2000

The National Union of Students elected its first independent leader for 30 years this week at a conference that pledged to reform the student movement.

Owain James, 23, NUS national secretary for the past year, beat his nearest rival, Alison Angus, who was standing for the leftwing United For Education Free and Equal, by 91 votes at the union's annual conference in Blackpool.

He said his priorities were "bringing the movement together and making the NUS powerful again". While he is a member of the Labour Party, prompting accusations from the left that he is a Labour stooge, he will be the first student president in 18 years not to be a member of the National Organisation of Labour Students.

He is the first independent president since John Randall, now chief executive of the Quality Assurance Agency, who held the post from 1973-75.

"As an independent I will have a lot more freedom to tackle the underlying problems in the NUS," Mr James said.

He said that the internet would put the NUS in direct contact with individual students, allowing it to act more swiftly. In particular, he said, he wanted to sharpen the union's campaigning on funding. He is staunchly opposed to top-up and tuition fees and he also wants "maintenance support".

Mr James is the son of an aid worker and was brought up in Bangladesh and the Sudan before settling in South Wales. He was prompted to join the Labour movement by seeing the "devastation caused by the Thatcher years".

Mr James is "a brain, not a mouth", according to an NUS spokesman. His low-key approach caught the mood of the conference, which had prioritised students at work, the future of student unions and internationalism as topics for debate, as well as funding.

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