[Aaron Hurst | Contributing Writer]
The National Union of Students’ Presidential Elections have concluded, with Malia Bouattia toppling former president Megan Dunn by 372 votes to Dunn’s 328 and being elected for the highest role in British student politics. The election took place at the annual NUS conference at the Brighton Centre in Brighton. Bouattia, who vowed at the conference to put “liberation at the heart of [the NUS’s] work,” will be the first ever BME (Black and Minority Ethnic) woman to take on the post, having also been the NUS Black Students’ Officer beforehand. The new president was keen to make it clear that the main matter in mind is that of equality among not only students across the UK but also for the parents of students, as well as migrants.
“When we talk about liberation, it’s not about women, black, LGBT+, or disabled students. It’s about us all,” Bouattia declared at the conference.
“From cuts to maintenance grants, college closures, the black attainment gap and the Prevent agenda, the number of voices and groups being silenced by this government grows by day.”
Her main motions have included a campaign promoting further awareness of all existing races, entitled “Why is my Curriculum White?” and opposing the government’s counter-terrorism prevention scheme, CONTEST, which was last revised in July 2011.
While Bouattia may have the confidence from the majority of those who voted at the NUS conference, she also has also received some criticism. Some members of the Jewish community have referred to an article co-authored by Bouattia from five years ago stating that the University of Birmingham was “something of a Zionist outpost in British higher education”. The article has fuelled claims of anti-Semitism from over 50 leaders of Jewish university-based societies across the UK, which Bouattia has since denied. In response to an open letter from Jewish students, Bouattia states that she celebrates “the ability of people and students of all backgrounds to get together and express their backgrounds and faith openly and positively, and will continue to do so.” Because these claims were brought up so near to the elections, the NUS were unable to comment.
In response to Bouattia’s rebuttal, Labour MP and chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group Against Anti-Semitism, John Mann, stated that the NUS as a whole “is not doing enough to combat anti-Jewish hatred, and as such is failing in its responsibilities to its members”. Another Labour MP and former NUS President, Wes Streeting, also expressed his dissatisfaction about the election, stating in a tweet that the organisation “no longer represents its students well” and that it is “lost”.
All in all, it seems that Bouattia will have to hit the ground running and start work immediately if she is to answer her critics, as would anyone starting out in a political leadership position as high as this one, a post that holds the trust of the entire student population of the UK. However, judging by the answers she has had to make already in the lead-up to the elections and by the determination of her speech at this year’s NUS conference, it is evident that the new NUS president is ready to do just that.
Elsewhere in this year’s NUS elections, last year’s vice-presidents for Welfare, Higher Education and Further Education, Shelly Asquith, Sorana Vieru and Shakira Martin, were all re-elected.