The first president of the National Union of Students from an FE background said her election was an “exciting” development that showed the union had “come a long way”.
Toni Pearce (pictured), who remains in her current post of NUS vice president for FE until the new academic year, was elected with 62 per cent of the 732 votes cast at the union’s annual conference in Sheffield.
She became vice president following two years as president of the student union at Cornwall College.
Ms Pearce, who did A-levels at college, said: “It’s really exciting that the NUS and the student movement are electing people based on their policies, their record and what they can deliver, not on their background.
“This is testament that we’ve got to a point in our organisation where it’s not about splitting our unions or our delegates into further or higher education, but about saying we are a collective movement.”
She added: “We’ve come a long way from when I first got involved in the student movement. I never imagined I would be standing on that stage, or even that there would be a further education president.”
We aren’t at all surprised at her historic victory.”
Ms Pearce said the change had come about partly through the union’s campaigns on Care to Learn and the 24+ learner loan, which made the union more relevant to learners in FE.
She said her FE background was “not what necessarily defines me as a candidate or as president”, and suggested that her presidency would aim to develop an inclusive union.
“It’s not just about the same people and the same issues, it’s about talking to people such as sports and activities officers and class reps in colleges . . . about what they want their education to look like and how the NUS can help them do that,” said Ms Pearce.
“It can’t be about NUS imposing policies on them — that’s not what our movement is about.”
Ms Pearce’s successor as vice president for FE, Joe Vinson, also followed in her footsteps as president of Cornwall College.
In his election speech, Mr Vinson said: “I’m not a typical FE student — none of you is, because there is no such thing.
“Year after year delegates stand on this stage and tell FE students that they care about them and then start talking about a vision of FE entirely focused on 16 to 19-year-olds. And I’m sick of it… I will fight for a support system that leaves no one behind.”
He became the youngest councillor in Cornwall when he was elected, unopposed to St Agnes Parish Council at 18, and successfully campaigned at Cornwall College for free transport to college for students who would have received the education maintenance allowance.
Cornwall College’s deputy chief executive for student experience, Debbie Wilshire, said: “Toni Pearce was an excellent sabbatical president, we aren’t at all surprised at her historic victory,” she said.
“Joe Vinson’s commitment at college has been first rate and he will take his own style and passion into the role.”
Labour MP Lorna Fitzsimons was the first NUS president from an FE college. She was in post two years from 1992.
However, unlike Ms Pearce, Ms Fitzsimons studied a higher education qualification.