Student leader retires from battle against militant faction

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The Independent Online

Aaron Porter, the outgoing president of the National Union of Students whose tenure was blighted by criticism that he did not do enough to stop tuition fee rises, has attacked the union's more radical members, describing their tactics as "outdated, irrelevant and tired".

His comments come amid growing threats of a gulf between members of the current administration and factions within the group. Mr Porter's decision to step down, which was taken on Friday, could pave the way for a member of the union's more radical wing to take over at the helm.

But Mr Porter, 26, who will not stand for re-election in April, said his decision was to "draw a line under the tuition fee debate" and take the union in a fresh direction.

Speaking to The Independent last night, Mr Porter countered speculation that his resignation would steer the leadership of the NUS in a more radical direction. He said: "Factions like the hard left do not have an electoral footing capable of garnering any more than 10 per cent of the vote at most.

"The future of the NUS will only thrive with leadership that takes the responsible line with credible, evidence-based direct action and a range of appropriate tactics such as lobbying. The alternative – a vision based on street protests – will drive the union into obscurity."

But opposition leaders are likely to disagree with his view. Mark Bergfeld, a spokesman of the Education Activist Network, plans to stand for election in April. He told The Independent that the students want "a new type of leader" and accused the recent leadership of "trying to get their feet under the table with Government, rather than making the case for students".

Other candidates in the running include NUS Scotland president Liam Burns and Shane Chowen, the union's vice-president for further education.

Mr Porter was instrumental in organising Liberal Democrat MPs to sign a pledge to vote against an increase in tuition fees, a move that has heavily undermined the party after legislation was passed allowing the rise.

But Mr Porter has also been on the receiving end of increasingly dramatic battles with the members he was elected serve. At a rally in Manchester last month he had to be escorted away after protesters hurled abuse at him. Last December, organised demonstrations against the Government's plans to triple tuition fees descended into chaos, with violent clashes between police and activists.

Mr Porter quickly moved to distance himself, and the NUS, from the violence. He strongly condemned the violence, beginning a battle on two fronts for the NUS leader – against students wanting a more militant campaign and the Government as it pushed through plans to increase tuition fees to £9,000 per year.

Mr Porter said he had "no plans" for when he finishes his term. "Like lots of other graduates I will be looking for employment," he said. "I'm hoping to be in the education sector more widely, or a campaigning organisation. I hope my experience will make me a good candidate for that."

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