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The world according to NUS President Toni Pearce

Posted on Friday, 1 November by

World According To The NUS

Six months ago, Toni Pearce made headlines when she was voted in as the first National Union of Students president to not to have been to university. She takes on the role at a time when students are quickly losing faith in the organisation.

It had been accused of ‘selling out’ after its demo against education cuts in 2012 was a failure and trust in the NUS looks to be at an all-time low. In many people’s eyes, the NUS lost credence when the government ignored the organisation’s fight against scandalous tuition fee increases.

After a breakdown in communication between the union and the government, questions continue to be asked of its value and ability to fight for the interests of students and young people. Now six months into her role, it’s time for the new president to make her mark and lay out a plan for next year and beyond. Toni Pearce tells us how she sees things.

Her Role With The NUS

“To be so committed to students, that’s the main thing and it’s an incredible opportunity. Also because there are really huge issues facing our generation, things like mass youth unemployment and an education system that’s in turmoil and politicians who’ve let young people and students down repeatedly, I just think that it’s a really challenging time for the student movement but it’s also a really exciting time because I think that students really feel passionate about how they can create change.”

Toni Pearce

Value Of University

“Education is not like buying a tin of beans. It should be about being a partner in your education and a partner in improving your life and improving the world around you. It worries me that people will be encouraged to act like a consumer and to want to “sack my lecturer for being late”, or whatever. I just don’t think that that’s the kind of atmosphere that I would want in my education and I don’t think most people would either. The value and purpose of higher education and education generally is to create a society that we all want to see and to keep us moving forward. Funding higher education and further education is absolutely worth every penny of government funding. Both the state and the individual and actually I think businesses should make a contribution towards the cost of education because I think all three have interests in it.”

Student Demonstrations

“We should use direct action when it’s necessary. We should also be doing more innovative things and things that get the public on our side. For me, the best way to do that is to speak to people rather than shouting at them. We’re going to be doing that by investing in community organising, they will be appointing community organisers in student unions in regions and then giving them support and funding to run community organising locally with local people and local projects for things that really matter to them. I think that’s really important.”

I think that politicians of all colours have let people down and let students down. They’ve not tackled youth unemployment, they’ve tripled tuition fees…”

NUS Statistics

Student Stereotypes

“We’ve moved from a time when 4 per cent of the population went to university to almost fifty per cent of the population in higher education and that means that we’re seeing a much more diverse range of students, we’re seeing students from working class backgrounds, we’re seeing more women in education, we’re seeing more disabled students in education, we’re seeing more LGBT and black students in education. All of those things are amazing but we’re also seeing diversity in the way that people choose to study. More students are studying part time and more mature students study and that’s really great but being able to balance your studies while bring up a family at the same time must be incredibly hard. We do need to recognise that. The idea that all students are 18 to 21-year-old under graduates is just not the case anymore.”

In 2010 there was a real single critical issue and I think that really mobilised people. Lots of people did come along to the demonstration in 2012.”

#DEMO2012

“I think the really important thing to remember is that the demonstration in 2010 is that in 2010 there was a real single critical issue and I think that really mobilised people. Lots of people did come along to the demonstration in 2012. When I was talking earlier about different types of students and how the student population is diversifying and students look different now they’re not like 18 to 21-year-olds with loads of time on their hands. Most of them have to work and have other commitments but also, they want to see NUS and student unions campaigning in different ways and not just using the same old tactics.”

The NUS Selling Out

“I think that politicians of all colours have let people down and let students down. They’ve not tackled youth unemployment, they’ve tripled tuition fees, they’ve scrapped EMA and there are young people living in poverty. There are students having to resort to payday lenders to cover their cost while they’re at college or university. There are people who are absolutely qualified who can’t get a job and then the government tells them that they’re lazy which is absolute rubbish. It’s just not okay and I do think young people need to put more pressure on politicians to deliver things that they want.”

Student Unions

“The first thing to say is that students should absolutely be getting involved in in their student unions. They should go and find out who their student union are. Not just the bar and the shop and whatever but the people who run it and why they run it because they’re elected to deliver on your behalf. They’ve been put there by your peers and it’s right to tell them how you want you student union to be run. Student unions are incredible organisations for change. They’re led by real people who want to change things in universities and colleges to make people’s lives better. I see NUS in the same way. In the last couple of years I’ve been amazed by the power that we’ve had coming to students. We’re actually changing people’s lives. There will be people in education right now who wouldn’t have been able to do it if it wasn’t for people in the NUS and student unions campaigning for them to get childcare funding.”

We want to make sure student unions are places where women feel comfortable being leaders.”

Next Step For NUS

“Next year there are four priority areas. One is about students in work, which will see us speak to local and national businesses about treating young workers better. Second, we’re looking at having a single applications and admissions system for the whole of education. The third area is around how we start preparing the student movement for the general election and the fourth is a really important one, which is around women in leadership. We want to make sure student unions are places where women feel comfortable being leaders.”

Reach Toni Pearce, president of the NUS on Twitter here.

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Chris Flynn

Chris Flynn

Contributor at SQ Magazine
Student at the University of Brighton and contributor to SQ Magazine. Passion for sport and keeps a keen eye on all things Brighton & Hove Albion.


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