Further education underdog Shakira Martin wins NUS presidency

The black single mother from a working-class family has promised to reunite the National Union of Students

Shakira Martin beats incumbent Malia Bouattia and wildcard undergraduate Tom Harwood to become NUS president for 2017

Further education advocate Shakira Martin has won the National Union of Students presidential election for 2017.

Following a strongly contested campaign, Ms Martin, 28, was elected with 56 per cent of the student vote, beating Tom Harwood and last year’s controversial winner Malia Bouattia.

Defining herself as a black single mother from a working-class family, Ms Martin said further education had been a “lifeline” for her and her family.

Speaking to The Independent before the results were announced, Ms Martin said she had been inspired to run in the election after speaking to students who said they felt increasingly disenfranchised and disconnected from the union.

“I want to put the NUS back into the hands of its membership and send the message to the heart of the government about what students want,” she said.

Formerly the vice president for further education (FE), Ms Martin has pledged to “expose and demolish class barriers to education” and ensure FE students are better represented in the NUS.

Approximately 4.1 million members of the union are in college or further education rather than universities – a fact she says is all too often ignored.

Following the announcement of her victory, she said: “I am honoured and humbled to have been elected as NUS national president.

“I take this as a vote of trust that our members believe I can lead our national movement to be the fighting and campaigning organisation we need it to be, representing the breadth of our diverse membership.

“Further education made me who I am today and I look forward to sharing stories of just how powerful all forms of education can be when we’re all given access to it. During my term in office I want to spend my time listening, learning and leading.”

Drawing on her own experiences as a single mother entering education, Ms Martin said she chose to focus her campaign on the difference education and student unions could make to individuals.

“Over the past couple of years, I’ve spoken to so many students across the country who have said that the NUS is out of touch with its members and out of touch with students and not fighting for the issues that students care about,” she told The Independent.

Her comments come in the wake of Malia Bouattia’s controversial leadership which saw student unions across the country become increasingly divided.

Malia Bouattia interview

Ms Bouattia faced damning criticism and a parliament-led investigation last year after she was accused of anti-Semitism by the Jewish student community.

The then leader denied the allegations, criticising media outlets for calling her “a racist, an anti-Semite, an Isis sympathiser, and more”.

The House of Commons home affairs committee concluded that comments made by Ms Bouattia describing Birmingham University as a “Zionist outpost” smacked of “outright racism”.

In an interview with The Independent during the run-up to Wednesday’s vote, Ms Bouattia said she recognised the comments from six years ago were “incredibly clumsy” and said she hoped students would recognise her more recent work fighting hate-crime within the student community.

As its first Muslim female president, the NUS said it “applauds” Ms Bouattia’s work to make the movement “more diverse, ensuring the organisation is representative of the students it represents”.

Tom harwood – NUs delegate campaign video

Ms Bouattia received 272 votes from the 721 delegates – 130 fewer than Ms Martin. Satirical video campaigner Tom Harwood was the least successful, coming away with just 35 votes.

His sharp rise to fame followed claims he could “defeat Isis” and lower the cost of Freddos in his initial NUS delegate campaign.

Mr Harwood, a 20-year-old politics student at the University of Durham, led his presidential campaign with the promise he would work to reunite the student union, which he said was “in crisis” and had been “hijacked” by the left.

He had previously run the “Students for Britain” campaign during the EU referendum, encouraging students to vote for Brexit.

Speaking to The Independent before the NUS conference he said: “The NUS has failed in including students in the movement. Nationwide, turnouts in NUS delegate elections are pitifully low, it is common for turnouts to be below 5 per cent. This is not good enough.”

“It seems that every week there’s a new anti-Semitism scandal,” he added, “and the current leadership of NUS is refusing to change. Intimidation is rife, and the hard factional politics push students away.”

Over 1,200 students, elected officers and campaigners from higher and further education, including apprentices, from across the UK are spending this week in Brighton to debate and decide on key policy issues affecting students. 

Last year a number of student unions across the country voted to disafilliate with the NUS, including the universities of Cambridge, Lincoln and Loughborough.

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