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New NUS President Elected for 2011-12

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”
Liam Burns
NUS President-Elect

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.

Ben McCabe

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12 Comments on this post.
  • Stuart Neyton
    13 April 2011 at 18:10
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    Although i’m disappointed Mark Bergfeld didn’t win, it must be mentioned that Liam Burns voted in favour of a failed motion calling for another NUS-backed demo in the first semester whereas Shane Chowen voted against. It is because of this Burns got the left’s second preferences, and he will certainly be an improvement on the current/former horrendously bad, divisive and career oriented president Aaron Porter.

    That being said there needs to be some significant changes for the NUS to truly represent students’ interests. The fact that the Burns himself studied in scotland, where HE is free means he can’t really be in favour of unfair settlements for english and welsh students (although our government leaders didn’t pay for theirs either).

    The fact that barely 700 elite people got to vote in who runs an organisation mandated to represent hundreds of thousands of students seems highly undemocratic.

    Although i wish he’s sever his links with the Labour Party. We’ll find out pretty soon if he’ll be like too many of his predecessors and just be in it to land himself a safe seat as a right wing Labour MP.

    As for Aaron Porter though, good riddance!

    • Rob
      13 April 2011 at 18:43
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      I agree Stuart, Burns seemed less crap than the disgrace that Chowen is.
      Whats quite annoying though is that Burns ‘stood as an Independent’, but have Labour Students backing. So already that was a big fat lie from him. Secondly, he said he wouldnt support UCU strikes during exam periods, so the guy has laid his lack of solidarity cards on the table. Therefore, he’ll be nearly as bad as Porter, but wont make the same easy to avoid mistakes Porter made, like not supporting peaceful occupation. Burns should buy Porter a drink for making the mistakes for him. Oh well, NUS has no democracy, and a bunch of ‘soft left’/liberal delegates enact extreme and baffling bad faith and vote for a fop. Im tired of fighting for students when theres a large proportion who just are so headstrong in being politically dense, so it goes…………..

  • Luke Place
    13 April 2011 at 19:33
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    Weren’t the NUS Delegates who voted on this democratically elected though?

    • Frank
      13 April 2011 at 19:46
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      Yeah but Student Union democracy rewards people who dress up as seals.

      • Betty
        13 April 2011 at 20:29
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        I’m the original Frank. There’s too many Frank trolls on here now, so henceforth I will be called Betty when I troll here.

      • Rob
        13 April 2011 at 22:01
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        True, also I dont think something as important as the NUS exec should be left to delegates considering in delegate elections, hardly any candidates indicate what their politics are, so we have no idea who we are sending to conference and have no oversight to the NUS exec elections. I think a national ballot would be much better, run through the internet through each FE and HE union.

  • Luke Place
    14 April 2011 at 08:02
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    I don’t think democracies should be judged by how candid the candidates are, or by whether they’re elected in a seal costume. They should be judged by what the electoral processes are, however they’re used.

    In this case, I’d argue that the democratic processes of the NUS are about as democratic as the voting process for the executive in the House of Commons. We elect local representatives who then elect a leader.

    Direct elections involving 5,000,000 people might well be more democratic, but you can see why these haven’t happened yet, given the organisational challenge such elections would represent.

    • Rob
      14 April 2011 at 16:13
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      Its actually worse than the HOC and leadership selection. People have some degree of control if they are a member of a political party and the MPs elected have a much more clear label of politics attached to them. Most NUS delegates dont make it clear what their politics are, so you are electing some unknown individual to select NUS president.

      I dont think national elections are much of a challenge. Online voting run through each SU or FE institution, easy peasey.

  • Mrs Curious
    14 April 2011 at 12:45
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    Maybe a Nottingham SU referendum on NUS membership could provide that democratic legitimacy?

  • Roxy
    15 April 2011 at 18:52
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    The argument against OMOV (one member, one vote) is that while it seems like the simple, sensible option infact direct election of the NUS leadership by students countrywide would seriously disadvantage small unions, and those without much resource and further contribute to the influence of the already-dominating HE unions. The argument was also made that this sort of voting would also lend an even stronger upper hand to those candidates standing with factional backing.

    • rob
      16 April 2011 at 21:13
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      The NUS is pretty rich as it is, they could fund any shortfalls for smaller unions. Furthermore, I think all political factions would and could agree to ensuring that OMOV doesnt mean FE issues or influence in policy making, which isnt that democratic anyway atm, wouldnt be sidelined. Also, there is no way to break the hold that faceless, anti-political labour backed hacks have. Their faction at conference is strong, so it is on campuses too. At least a national election could have rules limiting power and give a genuine reflection of student views. Then My criticism will be politics, not politics and democratic deficit.

      • rob
        16 April 2011 at 21:18
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        Just another point, factional backing is byitself not necessarily a bad thing. It can lead to actual politics being expressed in office, though often in reality, because labour is full of managerial politics and those climbing the greasey pole are about as fluent in political theory as I am in being someone else, the NUS leader, if backed by labour students has no real politics too. But factions are a good thing, rather have a political president than some genuine independent who has some lamey reformist liberal views.

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