The 2019-2020 elections for Durham’s new NUS (National Union of Students) delegates is now underway. 15 candidates are running for the 5 available positions to represent Durham at the NUS conference, which will be held on 20 March-2 April 2020 in Liverpool. The sixth delegate position belongs to Kate McIntosh, Durham Students’ Union President, who will act as lead delegate.
The NUS conference occurs once a year where all elected delegates from NUS affiliated Students’ Unions come together to review and discuss the work that has been done over the past year, subsequently voting on new motions which will then become NUS policy if passed. Alongside determining the various priorities for the NUS, delegates must elect the NUS’s full-time Officer team.
The 15 candidates running this year are Antonia Barber, Caitlin Guibout, Augustine Ihm, Ewan Swift, Amelia McLoughlan, David Evans, Sam Johnson Audini, Laura Curran, William Lee, Alice Butler, Jessica Madden, Rachel Wanagho Onunkete, Kate Little, Kate Hilton-Balfe, and Romer Palad.
In accordance with the ‘Fair Representation on NUS Conference delegations’ motion that was passed at the National Conference in 2014, all delegations will have to have ‘at least 50% self-defining women, rounded down’. This means that at least two out of the five elected candidates must be self-defining women as one position is represented by SU President Kate McIntosh.
On Monday evening, 14 candidates attended the Question Time event held to solidify their views and stances held in their manifestos and answer the questions Durham students had for them.
When the question of which parts of the NUS should be protected was put forward to the candidates, most instantly replied with a large focus on liberation groups. Ewan Swift, Senior Welfare Officer at St Cuthbert’s Society stated: “It’s really important because these are the most marginalised groups of students in our academic circles and our society, and they should be protected.” Other candidates echoed similar sentiments, while some highlighted the need to protect the core values of the NUS. Candidate Alice Butler stated: “The NUS is a body of young people working together to protect their interests and their future. Through the financial scandal, that’s been lost… It’s important to bring back the NUS’s dignity and remember what it stood for in the first place.”
A key priority for many candidates in their manifestos was the climate crisis. When asked what the NUS can do regarding this, another common sentiment shared amongst many candidates was that “there needs to be more done than just banning plastic straws”. Antonia Barber highlighted the how the NUS can use its position to educate students and create environmentally-conscious habits that can then be sustained for the long-term. She stated: “The NUS, by educating and raising awareness, has such a loud voice in the student community. They can really try to make a difference.”
Another key question put forward was regarding international students and what measures can be taken to ensure they feel more supported. Many candidates took the time to scrutinise the NUS’s decision last year to void the position of the International Officer, arguing how crucial the position was to ensure international students have a voice and are clearly represented. Augustine Ihm spoke from the perspective of an international student himself, stating: “International students pay a lot more than home students, so we should have a voice and we should understand the complexities of that through making sure scholarships and bursaries are effective.”
As the questions were put forward to the audience, a student spoke up vocalising: “As a white straight middle class guy I don’t feel like I’ve been particularly represented by any of you tonight and I think I’m in the majority of the Durham population… The biggest issue for me is that I’m going to be leaving with £50,000 in debt at 6% interest.” The candidates unanimously expressed their concerns with the rising tuition fees, agreeing with the student that this is indeed another major issue facing students. Caitlin Guibout stated: “Personally I am quite for just scrapping tuition fees so I think that is something the NUS should advocate for.” David Evans, the current SU Postgraduate Academic Officer, noted the inconsistencies with postgraduate fees, exemplifying his particular focus on this area. Amelia McLoughlan, currently elected Welfare and Liberation Officer, stated: “Our government doesn’t understand tuition fees because they’ve never had to pay for them, and part of it is how we hold the NUS accountable to lobby someone who doesn’t understand the concept of being £50,000 in debt.”
For more information on the candidates and to read their manifestos, you can visit: https://www.durhamsu.com/nus-hub/your-nus/delegates/nus-delegate-candidates#