NUS reins regained by Labour

April 19, 2002

Mandy Telford was elected president of the National Union of Students this week, the fifth woman to win the post in the union's 80-year history.

As the government review of student funding enters its final stage, student politics has returned to its leftwing roots. For two years, the NUS had been led by the independent Owain James. Ms Telford's victory marks the return to power of Labour Students.

Ms Telford, a teaching graduate from Strathclyde University and president of NUS Scotland, has been credited with victories won in Scotland - notably the abolition of tuition fees and the reintroduction of grants. She promised to take these victories to the rest of the United Kingdom.

"Westminster is lagging behind Scotland, and we have some persuading to do there. But the key will be a united message - that's how we won in Scotland," she said.

She spoke in Blackpool on Tuesday at the union's conference after one of the closest elections in recent years - after two vote transfers the final results were Ms Telford 508 against independent candidate Brooks Duke 429.

Ms Telford said the campaign battle had been an uphill struggle. "The hardest part has been dealing with negative campaigning about me," she said.

Ms Telford has also been targeted by her opponents over the graduate tax, which has split the student movement, and over the extent of Labour Students' "collusion" with the government over the introduction of student fees. This led to a plea from Mr James and his supporters to keep the NUS independent and at arm's length from the government.

But Ms Telford is adamant that the NUS will take the government to task when it gets things wrong. "I don't believe in free education for all, I'd rather the poor get what they really need," she said as she pledged to reignite the campaign to fight student hardship. She supports a graduate tax for those earning more than £25,000.

"The NUS should be setting the agenda in education, and the NUS must devolve and transfer the campaigns and detailed policy discussions to the regions."

* University of London students this week protested against the delay to the student finance review, writes Alison Goddard.

They pointed out that education secretary Estelle Morris had said the results of the review would be available early this year. But higher education minister Margaret Hodge subsequently said that consultation on the results would take place only after the spending review, due in July.

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