NUS’ National Conference is the biggest democratic meeting of students in the world. As such, it’s sort of got a bit of a weight on its shoulders. It’s the sovereign body of the National Union of Students in the UK and gives members (students’ unions) an opportunity to direct our policy for the year ahead, elect six of its national officers and hold previously elected officers to account.

Despite being completely exhausted after a week of elections, debates and procedural motions, I am absolutely honoured to have been re-elected as the NUS Vice President (Further Education), and I can’t wait to get straight back to work.

This year brings with it some of the greatest challenges to Further Education that we’ve ever seen. We’ll see the real impact of the complete withdrawal of EMA, moves towards the implementation of fees and loans in FE and a continued drive from Michael Gove to move A levels back into the 1950s.

In Scotland we’re seeing the forced mergers of colleges and a concerted drive towards “regionalisation” and we’re still defending the existence of EMA in Wales and Northern Ireland. We also have new policy in FE ensuring we are fighting for our entire membership whether they are in classrooms, prisons or the workplace, and regardless of their age or background.

Against that background, NUS continues to move its focus more and more towards defending the entire tertiary education system; and ensuring FE gets the attention it deserves. This year will see students from Further and Higher Education taking part in a national demonstration to protect education for all against government funding cuts.

It’s clear that NUS’ narrative is changing from the “HE centric” reputation it once had. Candidates in almost all elections this year articulated a need not just to serve those in our membership, but those who haven’t had the opportunity to get that far.

It’s time we worked for an entire generation that is being let down, with record youth unemployment, the introduction of new powers to stop and search students in schools and colleges and the conspicuous lack of involvement of young people in our democracy.

So, I’m straight back to work to fight against FE fees and loans, and we’ll see you on the streets.

Toni Pearce, VP for FE,
National Union of Students