Sunday, 3 February 2013

The Age of the Exceptional Candidate

Before I start, let me say that this isn't an attack on the national union, so put away your pitch forks, this is just a statement of fact. If you're a straight, white, able bodied, undergraduate, home, male student (especially if you attend an English university) then it's really hard to get elected in NUS!

It's really not a bad thing, in fact it's more than overdue. For years women have been under-represented on the NUS NEC, especially in the President and VP positions. For the first time in a long time, in April 2012 there were a majority of women in the six full time positions elected at national conference. This year the front runners for National President are also women (sorry Peter ... and the Inanimate Carbon Rod, who I assume is gender neutral), and if a woman is elected then they will be the first female national president since Gemma Tumelty, who left office in 2008.

Figures released by UCAS just a couple of days ago show that over 55% of applicants to university this year are female, and in this cohort there's actually more young men then there are women. This is a trend that looks set to continue in the years to come. Women should be represented more, but with every winner there is a loser; in the NUS that is the proverbial traditional student.

It's not a matter of your sexual orientation, gender, the colour of your skin, or where you come from, it's a matter of how many NUS events you can attend before you get on the ballot paper at national conference. So for women there's Women's Conference, for black students there's Black Students' Conference, and so on and so forth. The more events you can attend the more profiling you can do.

To prove my point, there's a genuine advantage for Education sabbaticals over their Activities counterparts. If you're a union President then you've hit the jackpot, because you could conceivably attend any open NUS event without arousing question. As such, there are plenty of other mitigating factors that give the advantage back to men.

The good news is that the women at the pinnacle of student politics right now really are there on merit. They've all gone through a system that has disadvantaged women. Less than a third of students' unions who have a president have that position filled by a woman. There are far more male union sabbatical candidates then female, which is the real tragedy by the way; I genuinely believe that women have the advantage in SU elections, it's just they don't stand in the first place. If there are more young women going to university then this is the perfect time for that to change.

We are at a stage now, perhaps for the first time ever, where there is a relative equality for women in standing in elections. Sure if you're one of those students who fulfills the demographics I've outlined above then you're going to have to be an exceptional candidate to win an NUS election now, but women have always had to be exceptional candidates to even have a chance.

It is the age of the exceptional candidate, and that can only be a good thing.