In the second of a series of interviews with some of the left-wing candidates for NUS leadership, William Pinkney-Baird interviews Shakira Martin, standing for VP Further Education.

‘We’re screaming that we want free education, we’re screaming when we want it, but we need to start thinking about why we want free education and how we’re going to get it.’ Shakira Martin addresses last month's demonstration for free education. Photo: William Pinkney-Baird.

‘We’re screaming that we want free education, we’re screaming when we want it, but we need to start thinking about why we want free education and how we’re going to get it.’ Shakira Martin addresses last month’s demonstration for free education. Photo: William Pinkney-Baird.

‘VP FE (VP FE), is what I want to be (is what I want to be). If you vote for me (if you vote for me), that’s what I’m going to be (that’s what I’m going to be).’ So opens Shakira Martin’s very catchy rap video for her campaign to be the next Vice President Further Education for NUS. I recently caught up with Shakira, to ask her why she was standing and her vision for the position.

‘The reason I’ve decided to stand for VP FE is because it’s taken me ten years of chances to get me to where I am today, and I feel I want to give something back to the sector that has given to me.’ Shakira related how some years ago, she had been the victim of domestic violence, but after moving into a women’s refuge, accepted that ‘I’m a victim of domestic violence, but I’m also a survivor in my own right’. This led her to want to use this empowerment to help inspire other women who’d been through the same situation in her college, which led for her to run to be the women’s officer at her college. At the time, she didn’t know what a student union was, she just wanted ‘wanted to share my story and help other women gain back their confidence.’

Shakira said that getting involved in the student movement and in NUS was ‘like me finding myself and finding a place where I’m not misunderstood and where people appreciate what I’m saying.’ Since getting involved in the student movement, Shakira told me about all the people she’d met who had been inspired by her—people from a range of different backgrounds—and this gave her the confidence to feel she could stand for a leadership position as VP Further Education. Shakira stressed the importance of drawing upon her life experiences in standing for this position: ‘Many of us go to university to gain our qualifications for a profession, but I use adversity to gain my lifetime qualifications.’

For Shakira, the biggest issue facing further education is lack of funding. ‘It means students can’t get the resources that they need or the support they need. And the teachers are at the bottom, the ones that are directly influencing the students’ lives are losing their jobs.’ Shakira argued that ‘without getting our college funding, there’s not going to be any reason to fight for other causes’. She said that she would still campaign on issues like EMA, women in leadership, and racial equality as VP Further Education, but if the colleges all closed down in the next few years, there’d be no point. Thus, her top priority would be getting sustainable funding for Further Education for the next 5-10 years.

Relating to that, she wanted to work to make the government value further education—she argued that ‘The reason it’s so easy for the government to make cuts to FE is because they don’t value it.’ She stressed the importance of challenging this perspective: ‘we all need to work together to get the government to recognise how important FE is for a lot of people, to recognise the importance FE has to individuals’ lives, but also to the economy.’ Equally important was her idea that anyone should have the opportunity to study in Further Education, summed up in her slogan ‘FE: Free Education, Further Education, For Everyone.’

Alongside working to make the government recognise the importance of Further Education, Shakira stressed the importance of working to help FE students students understand ‘that everything in life comes down to politics’, to understand that ‘the central issues that we face—austerity, discrimination, racism, anti-Semitism, homophobia, Islamophobia, the cuts to our youth service and further education—is all linked to politics’. Shakira related that, for her, ‘direct action is about directly speaking to people about issues and trying to get them involved.’

Shakira also wanted to raise the representation of Further Education within NUS. Despite FE students making up more of the membership of NUS than students in Higher Education, they have been underrepresented in all levels of NUS. Part of her approach as VP FE, then, would be to ‘rebuild a foundation with the unions that are already assimilated, while recruiting new FE institutions to join up, and give them a good reason why’. She also proposed to increase the number of seats on the NUS National Executive Council from 15 to 20, and have half of them reserved for FE students, to ensure fairer representation for FE students (while also increasing the number of women represented).

In the role of VP Further Education, Shakira stressed the importance of bringing the Nations together in the FE campaign, through ‘having consultations with other officers from the Nations, and from college presidents, about what they want to be included, and what will be the most suitable for them’. She also emphasised the value of working with already existing campaigns—such as the anti-austerity and anti-racist movements.

Finally, Shakira ended with a few thoughts on free education: ‘We’re screaming that we want free education, we’re screaming when we want it, but we need to start thinking about why we want free education and how we’re going to get it.’

William Pinkney-Baird

About William Pinkney-Baird

William is one of the Co-Editors of Bright Green.