NUS President Malia Bouattia and challenger Tom Harwood faced off yesterday (Wednesday) in a debate at Manchester Student Union.
The hustings took place as part of a series of sessions to be held around the country before the NUS Conference votes on the next president later this month.
Bouattia made history last year as the first Muslim woman elected to the NUS presidency; she has promised to continue her fight to transform the NUS into a grassroots movement.
Her election sparked various disaffiliation campaigns at universities around the country, allegations of anti-Semitism being something which has plagued her tenure.
Also standing is the current NUS Vice-President Shakira Martin, who has vowed to “make education an option for everyone” if elected. She has held various positions within the Union, and won her election last year with 141 votes to 55.
Harwood, the third candidate, made headlines last year with his campaign to be an NUS delegate, with pledges that included erecting a statue of Malia.
He claims that the NUS as a movement has been taken over by the far left, and that it needs to be dragged back to the centre in order to foster more student engagement.
Free speech on campus divided the candidates early on in the hustings. Bouattia claimed that while she supported freedom of speech, there had been a “conflation” between freedom of speech and freedom to hate.
Harwood on the other hand questioned Malia’s decision not to condemn Lincoln Student Union for censoring the Conservative Society last month, saying that this was an example of the sort of politics which alienated many from the NUS.
Harwood was hopeful on Brexit, saying he wanted to stand up for the continued operation of programmes like Erasmus + and Horizon2020.
He later told Cherwell: “We can also use Brexit as a unique opportunity to pursue necessary changes… We can now credibly push for deepening links with higher education institutions around the world.”
Harwood went on to say: “The rhetoric of other candidates in this election, saying that any borders at all are racist for example, is unlikely to help secure the best deal for students.”
Bouattia, by contrast, focused on her vision for an NUS whose main mission was to hold Government to account.
She talked of the places that her NUS had secured on key consultative committees, and the demands that had already been issued on behalf of students to the Government for what was expected out of negotiations, such as increased freedom for students and securing research funding.
The NUS President has a key role in setting the agenda and priorities for student politics nationally.
For Harwood, peaceful collaboration and moderate stances were key: “Dialogue is always better than protest” he told the audience, saying that it “was possible to win” in securing everything from student rights to post-Brexit research funding if the NUS was more inclusive and thus more representative.
Bouattia outlined her desire to continue recent successes in fighting against this year’s Higher Education Bill, for her, showed that the people and the grassroots were already in charge of the student movement.
Speaking exclusively to Cherwell following the hustings, presidential candidate Tom Harwood said: “My NUS would not grandstand on irrelevant geopolitical issues, but focus on the issues that actually matter to students.”
He went on to say: “In order to attract back more students, we have to start speaking for all students, and be welcoming to everyone (even if they don’t think that Jeremy Corbyn is the best thing since 1917!). This starts by implementing a system whereby all students can vote for our national president.”
Elections for NUS President take place at the conference in Brighton from 25 – 27 April.
Malia Bouattia and Shakira Martin, the third presidential candidate who was unable to attend the hustings, have both been contacted for comment.