The National Union of Students has elected current NUS Scotland President Liam Burns as its new President for the year 2011-12. A 26 year old former Physics graduate from Heriot-Watt University, Burns beat Shane Chowen, the NUS Vice-President for Further Education, Mark Bergfield of the Socialist Workers Party and Thomas Byrne, a Conservative candidate, to the post. Burns, who has held the position of NUS Scotland President since 2009, stood as an independent for the election, although he is a member of the Labour party.
[pullquote]When we said we condemned everything that happened at Millbank – that was 30 or 40 people who were smashing windows. But there are far more people that have an affinity with direct action and we have to reach out to them”
Burns has been credited for decisive action in securing promises from the current Scottish Parliament that tuition fees north of the border will not be raised in the near future. It is hoped that this experience will mean Burns will find more success in the fight against the rise of tuition fees for English students than his predecessor Aaron Porter, who decided against standing for re-election after facing criticism over not taking a strong enough stance against the tripling of University fees.
“The NUS has retrenched back into the old narrative that there is a hard-left and moderates, and that we have to do everything we can to marginalise them” Burns said in a statement following his election, “When we said we condemned everything that happened at Millbank – that was 30 or 40 people who were smashing windows. But there are far more people that have an affinity with direct action and we have to reach out to them”.
The problems facing Burns and the NUS will be numerous, particularly with many universities, including Nottingham, announcing that they will seek to charge the maximum £9,000 in tuition fees to students. Whether Burns will be able to achieve any success in the face of a coalition government seemingly determined to make cuts to University funding a permanent move will surely be seen as the issue that will make or break his tenancy of the position, as it did for his predecessor. Burns will no doubt be hoping that he does not end up going the same way as Porter, who in choosing not to re-run became only the second NUS President since 1969 to not serve a second term.