On Wednesday 24th October at noon, voting for the UCL NUS Conference Delegates will close. Kushal Raj explains what that actually is, why it matters, and interviews some of the candidates.
The election for NUS Conference Delegates determines which 9 candidates will go to the National Union of Students (NUS) Conference in Glasgow in April. Here, they will represent the interests of our Union (as determined by those who have voted) when contributing to NUS policies being passed for the coming year.
In recent years, the voting for representatives at the Union has been undeniably poor. Last year, it reached an embarrassing 9.3%. A possible reason is the lack of coverage for the elections to students. This provides little incentive to vote when you don’t know what you are voting for – let alone who.
The NUS delegates will represent our interests as UCL students, so it is vital that we know exactly who we are voting for and their priorities come Spring, so they can represent the Union effectively.
So far, I have told you a little bit about what the NUS does, and the importance of delegates roles within the NUS. But who are the candidates?
We interviewed eight of the candidates: Lili Zemplenyi, Piyush Prajapati, Will Raderman, Iris Breward, Stefanie Cooper, Dora Dimitrova, Justine Canady, and Chien Chien Wang. The other candidates were contacted but did not respond.
QUESTION ONE: What makes you different from the other candidates?
The main difference between an NUS delegate and the rest of the Student Union representatives is that NUS delegates represent the students and the university itself (it’s values and community) on the national level. Besides the responsibility of speaking up on behalf of UCL properly, effectively in a good manner, the role brings in the necessity of clear policies and goals, which are not only reflecting on the will of the students, but they remain acceptable for the rest of the NUS delegates -coming from all over the UK- as well.
I come from an architectural background which involves creativity and problem solving attributes. I believe I have potential to represent UCL wish a stronger stand and perseverance. I have been presenting my works at various International (architectural) podiums and I believe this exposure would definitely add value to my application. I believe in working smart and I understand the importance of time. As said by one of the greatest minds “logic takes you from A to B, but imagination takes you everywhere”. I believe, with creative approach and imagination skills I can definitely add value to NUS Delegation.
I’m a unique candidate, because my main focus is to promote extremely proactive policies and actions to help combat climate change. Universities should be leading the charge to ensure that all nations are taking rapid and necessary steps to end any and all fossil fuel usage. The threat of climate change is real and the effects will cause harm (and have caused harm) to many people all over the world. However, these risks are not being taken seriously enough by those in power. Universities, like UCL and Cambridge, have also refused to divest their financial holdings in the fossil fuel industry. We must be transitioning completely to clean energy solutions and that starts with universities like our own. It is essential that students at the NUS Conference are prioritizing divestment from fossil fuels and investment in clean energy for all. An organized national student movement will help put a lot of pressure on UK universities that believe their unsustainable investments are more important than the wellbeing of the planet. We are in a defining moment and need to do everything we can to stop climate change.
I’m running a left-wing campaign alongside 7 other brilliant leftist candidates who all want to transform the NUS into a more active, representative union for students that better supports campus activism. In terms of what I could bring to the role that is unique, I would say being a 4th year means I have a good understanding of the problems students face and the ways that UCL neglects student needs in favour of profit. Having experienced 3 years of unsatisfactory mental health services, rising rents and witnessing UCL management’s disregard for its workers I feel particularly committed to tackling these problems. I have campaigning experience from being involved in student activism and contact with various NUS officers who have given me an insight into how NUS runs and an understanding of what I can expect as a delegate.
As a postgraduate student I have gained campaigning experience at my alma mater that can add depth and perspective to the role. Having attended several NUS conferences already as Women’s Officer Elect, I am familiar with its structure and internal politics so can make the most of my time in the role. I know how to network and learn best practice from other universities at Conference that can be brought to UCL. I have also been a staff member at a Student’s Union working full-time in democracy and representation. I understand the process from several angles which is a unique position to be in when thinking about what we want to achieve and how we can win.
This year’s Marxist candidates have a vision for the NUS that goes beyond simply the student movement: we believe the only way forward for the NUS to play a progressive role in society is to elect delegates and leaders who will organise and coordinate with ongoing workers’ strikes and movements. The student movement doesn’t exist in a political or intellectual vacuum, and the emboldening and left-wing shift we have seen in the last few months is to a large extent a reflection of the increased ferment in, among others, the transport and hospitality sectors, which has expressed itself through increased industrial action. The role of the NUS should be to organise students in solidarity with workers from McDonalds, TGI Friday, Wetherspoons, TfL and the many more who are yet to go on strike. These struggles need to be linked up with the ongoing UCU/Unison dispute on university campuses around the country. Ultimately, the marketisation of education, and outsourcing and precarious work, flow from the logic of capitalism in its period of crisis: it is time for workers and students to unite to fight the system!
I’m a socialist feminist and am heavily involved in political activism on and off campus. I’m a McDonalds worker and went on strike October 4th over pay and conditions. This was a part of an international day of action for food workers.
Chien Chien Wang
I am an attentive listener with great critical and organized thinking as I am an experienced project manager and also project management professional certification trainer who specialized in innovation of teaching. Therefore, I am confident to be the voice precisely and effectively for UCL students’ rights.
QUESTION TWO: Why do you think the NUS is important?
As students we have very few opportunities to have our voice heard, therefore it’s important to live with every single opportunity which enables us to speak up for our interest. The NUS is an excellent opportunity to adequately communicate our concerns, hopes and ideas about education to the British society.
It is important to have such podiums as there are the platforms that enables student to grain confidence and believe in their potential. London being the hub of such diverse nationalities with students all around, such platform helps to create a common ground amongst all.
It’s a rare and incredible opportunity for students from a wide range of places and backgrounds to discuss important issues facing students and to come up with unified solutions that can be implemented all over.
The NUS is important as a democratic body that represents students nationwide, but at the moment it is not the force it could be. A left-wing, active NUS could make a massive material difference to campus activism, providing financial support and a national platform for campaigns led by students about the most pressing issues that affect them. By electing NUS delegates who understand student needs and are committed to representing them we could build a powerful student movement that rejects the marketisation of higher education and achieves concrete wins for students.
The NUS stands up for over 7 million students in front of the Universities and government. Through its power of collective action it has won council tax exemption for students, introduced taught postgraduate loans and removed the age cap, provided expert legal opinion that aided courts coming to find over 48,000 students were wrongly deported and got Universities UK to set up a sexual harassment taskforce. The NUS can clearly achieve huge things and needs your support to make it as strong as it can be so these historic wins keep happening.
The NUS has the potential to mobilise thousands of students and empower them to get involved in politics and activism on and off campus, to spark the building of a better society. But for this we need bold socialist ideas and delegates who will fight for them!
The NUS has the potential to be an important vehicle for building a strong student movement. Having an NUS that is devoted to supporting a grassroots student movement around progressive principles such as free education, migrant rights, and student-worker solidarity could lead to actual changes for the lives of students. This is only possible if we elect devoted left-wing activists as delegates.
Chien Chien Wang
Why do you think the NUS is important? It’s an important platform for students to have impacts on national policy. Moreover, I believe the national policy can obtain more buy-in from students if they could participate in the discuss and decision stage.
QUESTION THREE: What would your voting priorities be at conference?
My priorities are connected to the representation of international students. Being an international student myself I understand that some current political issues do make internationals concerned about their future status in the UK. However, it is not just about us who are already studying in the UK. But most importantly about the generations willing to step into the UK higher education. We must think ahead and protect the incoming students, providing them with the best possible deal under these difficult political circumstances. Besides it, I am committed to the representation of deprived and disabled students. Even in the Hungarian National Student Parliament my main points related to the lack of representation of disadvantaged students, what I could discuss in front of the Ministry of Human Capacities. In the UK I am willing to continue speaking up for them, primary because I have a detailed knowledge about their situation since I am working as a support worker for disabled students at various universities in London.
Voting priorities would be based on welfare of student needs and values. If any such Need/Value would make a better environment for students and staff whole together, the preference would go to such suggestions and points, followed by point that would govern at the national scale.
My voting priorities will be focused on supporting measures that help address concerns and issues that students have at UCL and at schools all over the UK. Most importantly, I will place an emphasis on supporting measures that will help combat and solve financial issues faced by students as well as measures that promote aggressive action against climate change.
My priorities are fighting for free, accessible education, by cutting tuition fees, bringing back maintenance grants and ensuring rents are capped and affordable for all. I also believe students should be safe on campus from state surveillance of any kind, and I will therefore vote to reject the monitoring of international students, random visa checks and policies such as Prevent. I will vote to support student welfare, by improving funding for mental health services, and ensuring better systems are in place to defend students against sexual violence. I am part of various student-led campaigns at UCL including Cut the Rent and Justice for UCL Workers and will vote to support their demands.
My priorities are ensuring that education at all levels is free, accessible and lifelong including for international students, meaning graduate debt is cancelled, exploitative private loan practices are ended and living grants are increased. State surveillance on campus must end – we must campaign against the Prevent agenda and for universities including UCL to end the disproportionate monitoring of international students. Students and academic staff are workers, so we must fight for a real living wage, student-worker solidarity to ensure fair work practices. Rent should be cut and capped and our homes and halls should be fit to live in because no one should be paying over half their income for a safe roof over their heads. I will be voting in a way that realises the principles of UCL students – those of liberty, equality and solidarity.
I feel like I covered this in the first question and I don’t wanna repeat myself haha.
Democratisation of the NUS, free education, supporting workers struggles, rent controls, stopping and reversing cuts, ending state surveillance of students (Prevent and immigration controls).
Chien Chien Wang
It depends on the situation of the topic. Generally, the voting priorities should be: 1. Student right 2. Ethic & Fairness 3. Balance between benefits and disadvantages 4. Long-term impact 5. Feasibility And also, I would like to pay more attention on topics such as: Higher education, Health, Environment, Civil liberties, Equalities.
The candidates have told us their objectives for the NUS, now it is time for you as members of the Union to decide which candidates best represent your interests.
Go out and vote – let’s beat that 9.3%!