Runners line up for the National Union of Students leadership stakes

March 26, 2004

The leadership of the NUS will change hands next week after an election campaign too close to call. The hard left is seeking to exploit disillusionment with the government's top-up fee plans and its war in Iraq to end the 20-year Labour Party hegemony. Phil Baty talks to the candidates

Name Rami Okasha

Odds Joint favourite. Evens.

Platform Labour student; current president, National Union of Students Scotland.

What is the single biggest issue facing higher education in the future?

The attempt by the government to introduce a market in higher education, legislating for educational inequality. I will lead an NUS that opposes the government and defeats the bill, but we have to remember that defeating the bill leaves us only with the status quo. As soon as the bill is defeated, the NUS needs to launch the biggest campaign we have ever run to reinstate grants.

What is the key change you will bring to the NUS?

Determination, clarity and focus. The NUS needs to focus on the needs of students, campaigning more and spending less. It must start offering more support to student unions (many of which are facing financial crises). I will immediately lobby to introduce a national minimum funding level for student-union funding, forcing colleges and universities to fund their unions properly.


Name
Kat Fletcher
(comments are taken from her manifesto, as The Times Higher did not receive her answers.)

Odds Joint favourite. Evens.

Platform Campaign for Free Education; current NUS executive member; former women's officer.

What is the single biggest issue facing higher education in the future?

Post-16 education has reached crisis point. If the government succeeds in introducing top-up fees, it will not only plunge students even deeper into debt, but also open the road to a free-market, privatised, two-tier higher education system.

What is the key change you will bring to the NUS?

I am tired of seeing our national union tied to government. I will not be taken in by flattery or promises of a glittering career. To many students, the NUS is simply a discount card. If we are to become a force to be reckoned with, we need to put political campaigning above apolitical paper shuffling.


Name
Verity Coyle

Odds 40/1

Platform Independent; NUS vice-president welfare for the past two years.

What is the single biggest issue facing higher education in the future?

How can we inspire children from families that have never been to university to enter higher education? How can we make lifelong learning and widening participation a reality? Do we need to build new universities for all these new students? How can graduates pay for their student debt and still have a decent living standard, achieve a work-life balance, and afford a mortgage and family?

What is the key change you will bring to the NUS?

Inspiration. I want people to vote in general and local elections, and the voting age lowered to 16. I want to inspire students to become politically active, to realise they can change the world they live in. I want to move NUS services away from a one-size-fits-all approach, to enable unions to compete with the high street. It's not simply about money, it's about students being in a safe space and ploughing income back into support services.


Name
Sam Dobbyn

Odds 60/1

Platform Conservative Future; part-time member, NUS executive; final year politics/economics, Bath University.

What is the single biggest issue facing higher education in the future?

Removing the cap on top-up fees. It is quite obvious the government will attempt to remove the cap, as the current level of fees plus increased bursaries do not cover the shortfall in university funding. We could end up with the nightmare scenario of £10K fees and generations of talented students deterred from pursuing higher education.

What is the key change you will bring to the NUS?

Youth. I still know what it is to live as a student and what the real issues are for the ordinary undergraduate. That means providing value for money for members, cutting the crap and campaigning not to change the world order but to stop the erosion of standards in higher education in terms of teaching, facilities and pastoral care. Academia would care if NUS vigorously and without distraction pursued the real interests of students.


Name
Tom Whittaker

Odds The outsider: 100/1

Platform Socialist Worker Student Society/Stop the War Coalition; part-time member, NUS executive.

What is the single biggest issue facing higher education in the future?

Education is increasingly being viewed as another commodity that can be bought and sold.

What is the key change you will bring to the NUS?

The present leadership continues to believe it can win by negotiating with government. It failed in 1997 and it is failing today, witness the passing of the higher education bill despite widespread opposition. The NUS should learn from the anti-war movement: the way to make government listen is to get thousands of people to join mass protests. French students beat back government attacks by protesting - we should follow suit.

You've reached your article limit.

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 3 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments
Register

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments