I'm happy Malia Bouattia was elected NUS president, our students need her more than ever
The student movement has been dormant for far too long. We have had the very face of our education sector changed, and the NUS has done very little to resist policies its members are fervently against. Students and their unions have been at the heart of this fight, we have been working all year to mitigate the damages on our most vulnerable students, but as a national movement we have been asleep.
Last week we woke up.
On Wednesday 20 April over 800 delegates from across the UK elected the first female, black Muslim president of the National Union of Students. Students and sabbatical officers chose, in electing Malia Bouattia, a different direction for our national movement. Yet in the space of one hour, the attacks on Malia had begun. In the mainstream press she had already been branded an “ISIS apologist” and someone who practices the politics of hate.
These accusations are not only baseless but the reaction to the historic election result has reaffirmed what many of us have known. It highlights the barriers that many of us have met. It has become painfully obvious that individuals from minority backgrounds (specifically Muslims) are not allowed into spaces of power and influence.
We have seen fear tactics against minorities continuously utilised, from the attacks on Labour's Sadiq Khan to the election of the NUS president. For our new national president it was being a terrorist sympathiser.
The truth is Malia delayed a national executive motion surrounding ISIS, concerned about its language which appeared to condemn all Muslims. Once the language was corrected, she proposed a new motion and fully supported its implementation. Yet Malia alone was branded then, and is still accused now, of being an extremist.
This is someone who knows too well the price of extremism. Having been forced to flee Algeria following terrorist attacks on her father's lectures, Malia emigrated to the UK, believing that education would be liberating.
The great irony is that Malia is a renowned campaigner against racism and fascism. She has spent the last two years in the Black Students Campaign exposing the very barriers that are now being placed in her way. Her work on the BME attainment gap has initiated a national discourse that has forced it onto the agenda of every student union and on every campus. Her campaign against international student deportations have become unavoidable and work against the racist Prevent strategy has sparked a parliamentary review.
It is this work and so much more that has earned Malia the reputation of being a tireless fighter for her membership. She has a proven track record of winning for students - and that's something we seriously need right now.
So much has been said about NUS this week; but I was at conference, and I met students from all over the country, all of whom believed we need a new strategy. The overwhelming majority of those at national conference believed that our movement needs a new direction.
This past year we have seen the scrapping of maintenance grants, cuts to students DSA and the introduction of a Green Paper that proposes another increase in tuition fees. It is one the most critical times the education sector has faced. Yet we have a number of students unions discussing disaffiliation from the NUS.
We have always had political and ideological differences. It's normal, it's healthy and it's encouraged in our movement. But there is no doubt that now more than ever is the time to be united. Until we address the issues that face students at a national level and with our national union, we will continue to lose.
I have learnt in my time at my student union that the most pertinent issues facing our students are not confined to a single campus. From the costs of living, student accommodation to racism and anti-Semitism, we have to address these issues together.
Malia is our new president. She has an overwhelming mandate and more than that, she has proven track record of fighting and campaigning on the issues that matter to students. There are many challenges ahead of us in the coming year and our efforts are strongest together, with a strong and transformative national union.
- Ali Milani is the President and Chair of the Board of Trustees at the Union of Brunel Students, UK. Ali has been campaigning on issues pertinent to students as well as Palestinian liberation; working with organisations such as Amnesty International and Friends of Al Aqsa.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.
Image: New NUS president Malia Bouattia (National Union of Students)