New president elected by National Union of Students

By Hannah Richardson
BBC News education reporter

  • Published
Shakira MartinImage source, Other
Image caption,
Shakira Martin says she was "born into barriers"

A student leader who defines herself as a "black single mother from a working-class family" has been elected head of the National Union of Students.

Some 56% of the 1,200 delegates at the NUS conference in Brighton backed Shakira Martin, 28, as president.

Previously vice-president, she ousted Malia Bouattia who was elected in 2016.

Ms Bouattia ran into controversy when an article she co-wrote in 2011, describing Birmingham university as a "Zionist outpost", came to light.

'Struggle is real'

Ms Martin, a former student at Lewisham and Southwark College, highlighted the fact that she is "black single mother from a working-class family" during her campaign.

Ms Martin told the BBC News website: "This is where I am coming from. It's the only thing I know.

"I came into this campaign with nothing but overcoming adversity and challenges and barriers.

"I was born into barriers and the struggle is real."

She said things began to change for her when she returned to college after the birth of her first daughter six years ago.

Ms Martin saw an advert for the role of women's officer at her college student union and went for it.

"Here the people didn't look like me or talk like me, but they had a heart like me.

'Listen and learn'

"The rest is history," she added.

The former student has promised a union which is "united and fighting for free education for everyone".

She said: "I am honoured and humbled to have been elected as NUS national president.

"I take this as a vote of trust that our members believe I can lead our national movement to be the fighting and campaigning organisation we need it to be, representing the breadth of our diverse membership.

"Further education made me who I am today and I look forward to sharing stories of just how powerful all forms of education can be when we're all given access to it.

"During my term in office I want to spend my time listening, learning and leading."

The post of NUS president has long been a coveted position for those seeking political office.

Image source, NUS
Image caption,
Ms Bouattia said she faced death threats

Former NUS presidents include Jack Straw, Charles Clarke, Liam Burns and Trevor Phillips.

The new president pushed the standing president into second place winning by 402 votes to 272.

The NUS paid tribute to Ms Bouattia's efforts to make the student movement "more diverse" and representative.

In her speech seeking re-election, she spoke of the death threats and harassment she had faced during her presidency.

She was the first black Muslim to hold the post of NUS president, repeatedly denied accusations of anti-Semitism and also apologised for her past comments about Birmingham University.

Disaffiliation votes

A string of disaffiliation votes by student unions around the country during the summer followed the controversy.

However, most of these had actually been set in train before the issue flared up.

Three of the 26 who held referendums, Loughborough, Hull, and Newcastle universities, disaffiliated.

Then a group of student leaders wrote an open letter saying Jewish students had not felt safe "participating in our national movement".

The third candidate, Tom Harwood, who won just 35 votes, stood on a platform of "re-legitimising" the student movement and speaking "for all students".

"We should be fighting credible battles, and offering constructive solutions. Only then can we deliver.

"We must shout louder about living costs, fight for realistic improvements to tuition fees, and be flexible and innovative in our response to government policy."