26/04/2017 12:26 BST | Updated 26/04/2017 12:26 BST

I Want An NUS That Listens, Learns And Leads

This blog is an unedited transcript of the speech delivered by Shakira Martin to the NUS National Conference in Brighton on Wednesday 26 April

I'm a black, single mother from a working class family. I was never supposed to make it college let alone Conference.

At my first protest, which I organised, I chanted one solution 'resolution' instead of 'revolution'. At my first NUS event I remember saying 'intersexuality' instead of 'intersectionality'.

But education gave me a chance, and my students' union changed me. It gave me confidence to work out what was going on around me, to ask questions, and to challenge authority. It gave me power.

And that's the problem with NUS right now. People thought the election was about the candidates. But it wasn't.

It was about the international postgrad that's isolated and struggling with no support. It was about the students that miss seminars and socials and deadlines and dates because mental health services aren't there. It was about the HE students who can't afford to rent, and the FE students who can't afford their bus in.

Just imagine what NUS could achieve it if stopped being about the NEC and started being about those students.

That's why I stood.

NUS doesn't exist to tell students what to think, or to say. NUS exists to listen, and learn, and lead.

NUS can be a strong, smart, campaigning union where students are powerful, and their unions are fit for the fight, and fit for the future.

College funding has been cut by 40%, tuition fees have been trebled, and they're still on the rise.

Hate crime is up, DSA has been cut, and more students are in poverty than ever before.

I've been out and about this year and I've talked to students, apprentices, and officers in colleges, sixth forms, universities and workplaces. And when I ask them what they want - it's simple.

They want a union that listens. When they say to us "we're worried about employment" they want us to help, not tell them they're wrong for wanting a job.

When they say to us "we're sick of being harassed in nightclubs" they want us to act - by helping SUs to put pressure councils and police to make nights out safer.

When they say to us they're worried about crime in college they want our support- because if you don't feel safe in education where do you?

I'll tell you what else students need. They need ideas.

Money is a massive barrier for our members but where is NUS? I say let's run a massive student hardship commission with research and evidence that helps us win.

The cost of housing is pricing students out of education. I say let's build a proper strategy on renting, working across the nations and political parties.

With over half a million students now working for firms like Uber and Deliveroo, let's work with trade unions to win rights for students in the gig economy.

I've been listening to conference too. And conference has told me that NUS needs to change.

When students turn to us, for help or support or arguments or ideas, they don't get it. And worst still, they're told they don't get it.

People see an NUS more interested in infighting and factions than fighting fees.

But the change starts here and the change starts now, because our NUS is gonna be different.

I want an NUS that listens. Not just through meetings, but through polls, surveys, focus groups, forums, and proper research that we help student unions to run.

I want an NUS that learns, using the top brains in the student movement and the education sector and the wider world to help student unions be smart and solve problems and create solutions.

I want an NUS that leads, giving student unions the tools, the briefings, the knowledge, and the power to defend education, secure student rights and bring impact through change.

I want more sponsorship to reduce affiliation fees. Let's research the value of student activities, let's get full time officers in every FE union, and let's get the knowledge out of NUS HQ and into student unions.

Let's get the cost of NUS events down, let's celebrate our nations with a proper autonomy agreement, and let's turn the Liber8 campaign from a one year campaign to a ten year plan.

Let me make something clear to the keyboard warriors and the twitter trolls that think winning their election is more important than winning for students.

Sticks and stones may break our bones but we will clear the bullies out.

So that's me. Shakira Martin, NUS President Elect. Fighting against racism and overcoming adversity. Fighting austerity and providing a sanctuary. Winning on education through representation and community.

Today students voted for an NUS that's taken seriously in the sector, by government and society.

Students voted for an NUS with fun and energy that brings the fire back to their campus.

Students were fed up of hearing about change, and voted to see some impact for a change.

Shakira Martin is the president-elect of the NUS