Shakira Martin, who’s never been to university, has been elected as the new NUS President

Shakira Martin has been elected as the next NUS President at the union’s National Conference in Brighton.

Only the second NUS President not to have gone to university, Shakira will replace controversial President Malia Bouattia as the NUS looks forward from a year that has seen three universities vote to leave the union. This also marks a first for the NUS, with two black women contesting the presidency.

Shakira beat off competition from Malia Bouattia and Tom Harwood, winning 56 per cent of the votes in the first round. The vote count was:

402 – Shakira Martin
272 – Malia Bouattia
35 – Tom Harwood
8 – RON (Re-open nominations)

After her victory, she said: “I am honoured and humbled to have been elected as NUS’ National President. I take this as a vote of trust that our members believe I can lead our national movement to be the fighting and campaigning organisation we need it to be, representing the breadth of our diverse membership. Further Education made me who I am today and look forward to sharing stories of just how powerful all forms of education can be when we’re all given access to it. During my term in office I want to spend my time listening, learning and leading.”

Having risen through the ranks of student politics via a variety of positions held at London’s Lewisham College, Shakira was elected as the Vice President Further Education in 2015, and held the post for 2016.7

She dropped out of college several times, giving up on courses ranging from business to social work, but eventually found her feet as the Women’s Officer of Lewisham College. From there, she became the President of Lewisham College.

She was encouraged to run for VP FE after taking Business Secretary Vince Cable to task over further education. At the time however, she was unaware that the person she was challenging was a government minister. Since then, her and Vince have remained in contact.

 

Yet, a list of positions and courses scarcely describes Shakira’s path to the presidency.

Soon after turning 16, she moved out of home, a time when she “started selling drugs basically.” She gave up on it after becoming “too emotionally attached to the customers”, but says it taught her valuable business skills. For three years, she worked in a doctor’s surgery, but left after being faced with racist and sexist jokes.

As a mother of two children, Shakira found herself in an abusive relationship, an experience that she describes as the catalyst for her to stand for her first election, and begin her journey in student politics.

Unconventional, yes, but Shakira’s experiences tell the story of resilience, a determination to turn around adverse situations, and a deep appreciation for the transformative power of education.

From a focus on further education over the past two years as VP FE, Shakira now faces the challenge of turning her policy towards all students. Speaking at the conference on Tuesday, Shakira outlined an emergency motion, detailing her plans for a student manifesto to be negotiated with major parties ahead of the general election, as well as a mass voter registration campaign.

These form part of the wider policy platform she has campaigned on, which focuses on the pledge that “my NUS will get things done.” Proposing increased investment in further education, value for money, student jobs, and lobbying to tackle the rising cost of housing, Shakira has promised that “my NUS will be fun, vibrant, and a welcoming environment to be part of.”