The NUS President, Aaron Porter, will not be seeking re-election this year, making him the first President since 1969 not to serve a second term.
Mr Porter was instrumental in getting the Liberal Democrats to sign the – later broken – pledge that they would not increase tuition fees and has led the NUS through the high-profile campaign against the fees. His time in office saw a phenomenal increase in student activism, which he dubbed ‘the most effective campaign of 2010,’ going on to say ‘it brought more scrutiny of the government than any other campaign’.
However, his decision to stand-down has been surrounded by controversy. When the protests turned to violence, Mr Porter accused students of ‘aligning themselves with anarchists’, leading to a left-wing campaign to remove him from office. He was also largely condemned for being escorted to safety by police during a demonstration in Manchester, at which he was due to speak. Many activists have claimed that he did not do enough to oppose the rise in fees and have launched a series of personal attacks, which Mr Porter described as an ‘occupational hazard’.
In addition, he was branded a hypocrite after a leaked memo uncovered that the NUS suggested cutting maintenance grants for poorer students, rather than raising tuition fees. Causing yet more controversy, it was revealed by Vince Cable on Question Time that, in another leaked memo, Mr Porter described the Government’s tuition fees policy as ‘progressive’.
Despite these allegations, Mr Porter says he can step down with pride, citing the need for a ‘fresh start’ as the reason behind his withdrawal from elections. He called for a new leader who would be able to represent the vast range of student opinions and protect the tuition fee campaign from exploitation by extremists.
A potential successor comes in the form of Mark Bergfield, who has been at the centre of attacks on Mr Porter. Bergfield has launched a campaign for presidency with the slogan, ‘spirit, determination and militancy’, arguing that ‘there is a need for a new type of leadership, one that does not dither in the face of the huge attacks on students in terms of massive hikes in tuition fees, youth unemployment and police violence at protests’.
A new President will be elected at the NUS annual conference in April.