New FE VP to ‘rebuild trust’ in NUS

Students have elected Qasim Hussain as the next NUS vice president (further education)

Students have elected Qasim Hussain as the next NUS vice president (further education)

16 Apr 2024, 14:40

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FE’s new student leader has pledged to reconnect the National Union of Students (NUS) with further education students whose needs have been “marginalised” and “overlooked” by the union and sector.

Qasim Hussain, currently the full-time students’ union president at Leeds City College, part of Luminate Education Group, was elected by NUS members to be its next vice president for further education (VPFE) on Friday. 

The former history, geography and politics A-levels student pledged to work with sector bodies to campaign to “protect the resources and support services that students rely on” alongside making FE issues more of a priority in the national union. 

Hussain said NUS has become “disconnected” and “inaccessible” to its further education members with financial constraints in the sector blocking students from taking part in NUS’ campaigns and democratic decision-making bodies, like its national conference.

“As a result of this, the FE voice is marginalised and our concerns are overlooked in national educational discussions and decision-making. This is why I would argue confidence and trust has been lost, particularly for our FE membership,” Hussain told FE Week. 

The Leeds SU president, one of only a handful in colleges in a full-time, paid role, saw off competition from one other candidate in the VPFE election, defeating Dudley College Students’ Union president Jack Stokes. 

“Sadly, many FE members feel left out by NUS, but I want to change that,” Hussain’s manifesto said. 

Trust and funding

In 2022, the government instructed ministers and civil service officials to cut ties with NUS amid internal antisemitism allegations which later saw its then-president sacked. But FE Week could find no government agency at the time that had any routine engagement with NUS on FE issues.

“We can’t lock anyone out. It is very important that as a national union, we rebuild trust with our members including addressing islamophobia and antisemitism on our campuses,” Hussain told FE Week.

Despite FE making up the majority of NUS’ membership, an FE Week investigation uncovered how poor financial resources and under-developed structures gave higher education students more of the limelight in the union. Hussain’s own experience at NUS events reflects this. 

“At last year’s national conference, I felt like FE was an afterthought with more or less all policies being heavily focussed on higher education. We are a diverse sector with sixth-form colleges, FE colleges and apprentices. Without a strong national voice, we will continue to be at a disadvantage,” he said.

So as well as campaigning for increased education and student support funding, Hussain wants a new national student voice system for FE with a regional structure to mobilise FE student representatives and provide training. 

Every FE provider should have an independent and funded students’ union with dedicated support staff and paid student leaders to “create more engagement and enhance student representation”.

Cost-of-living pressures and the rising “crisis” in student mental health concerns are also on Hussain’s radar. 

And politicians are “not going far enough to meet the needs of apprentices,” Hussain said, in his pledge to campaign for a “real living wage” for apprentices.

Influential and inspirational

Further education representation will be debated at the NUS national conference, taking place in Blackpool later this week. 

Hussain has co-authored policy proposals alongside students’ unions at Dudley College, The Sheffield College and the National Society of Apprentices which, if passed, mandates NUS to “encourage and support a vibrant national voice for college and vocational learners”.

The college unions also demand NUS fights cuts to BTEC qualifications, returns to paying for conference accommodation for FE delegates and reserve conference space for FE issues.

Bill Jones, executive principal of Leeds City College and deputy CEO of Luminate Education Group, said: “We are proud to see one of our students be elected to this key national position with an organisation that represents hundreds of students’ unions all across the country.

“Qasim was an influential and popular president of our students’ union and I have no doubt that he will carry those traits into his new role.

“His success is an inspiration and shows other students just how far they can go with the right focus and determination.”

Hussain will be working alongside new NUS president Amira Campbell, elected from the University of Birmingham Guild of Students. 

Campbell’s manifesto calls for a “new model” of post-18 education funding, investment in FE students’ unions to “attain similar democratic and representative rights to that of the HE sector”, free bus services for students and “rebuilding and repairing” NUS’ relationships with Muslim and Jewish students. 

Hussain will begin his two-year term in office on July 1, succeeding Bernie Savage

Extract from VPFE manifesto
Extract from VPFE manifesto

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