The National Union of Students (NUS) has elected Toni Pearce to succeed Liam Burns as the organisation’s president at their national conference in Sheffield.
Pearce, 23, fought off competition from the far-left candidate Vicki Baars, and Tory candidate Peter Smallwood, to secure 57.8% of the vote. The protest candidate, UCL student Sam Gaus’ inanimate carbon rod, withdrew from the race on the second day of the conference despite attracting a cult following over the course of the campaign.
The new president – chosen to represent more than nine million students – will be the first female to hold the position since 2008 and, having not attended university, only the second from a further education background. Her victory follows a two-year stint as NUS vice-president for further education.
In her first speech as president-elect, Pearce told the conference: “Between now and 2015 we need to hold a full and frank debate about what education means to society and to properly articulate the public value of education in communities up and down the country.”
It marks the culmination of a meteoric rise for Toni Pearce who, by her own admission, “spectacularly failed” her initial A-Level exams before her first foray into student politics as president of Cornwall College Students’ Union.
Meanwhile, the NUS found itself mired in controversy on day one. As news of the death of Margaret Thatcher filtered through the conference hall, spontaneous cheers and bursts of applause broke out amongst a small but significant group of delegates. Outgoing president Liam Burns, who had already taken to the stage to deliver his opening address, returned to the floor to appeal for “sensitivity” and “respect”.
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