NUS caught up with some of its most notable alumni to speak about their most poignant memories of the student movement and how their experiences helped to prepare them for successful careers. The following are some excerpts of those fascinating conversations.
NUS’ oldest living former president Stanley Jenkins on how leading NUS during a period of international co-operation gave him invaluable experiences that would stay with him through a lifelong career with the foreign office:
“I was a non-political being when I entered NUS. I was a highly political being when I left. I had to travel all over the world. I had to meet heads of state. I had to argue the NUS case in communist countries, and all this was a vast experience which I could not have been without.”
Top journalist and ITN newscaster Alastair Stewart on how his experiences on the NUS national executive committee paved his way for a career in the media:
“I have absolutely no doubt at all that what I did in my time at NUS, both as a part-time member of the executive and on a two-year sabbatical, taught me a huge amount: it taught me self-confidence, it taught me communication skills; it taught me to think and analyse.”
NUS’ first ever woman president Sue Slipman, who has been a leading figure in numerous third sector organisations, on her executive’s legacy for women in the movement:
“I’ve got lots of precious memories, and one of them will be about leaving an executive that when I first joined in 1974, there had only ever been in its existence one woman on that executive. By the time I left we had 50 per cent.”
NUS’ first ever black president Trevor Phillips, who is now chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, on the significance of his election:
“Race was a much more potent issue around that period than it is now, and I think my election was an important symbolic factor.
"There is no doubt in my mind that the student movement, in electing me, was also sending a great big fat signal to everybody else about the importance of tolerance and inclusion and all those kind of values that I think now we take for granted.”
Former home secretary Charles Clarke on how the experience of being NUS president was an important precursor to his long career in national politics:
“I think anybody who’s been fortunate enough, as I was, to be involved in student politics, requires a whole set of skills and attributes.
"The most important is to learn to listen to people, because in student politics people are very vociferous. You listen to what’s going on and you have to understand that there are a wide variety of different types of people.”
Author, journalist and broadcaster David Aaronovitch on the unique challenges of leading student movement:
“All of sudden, you can’t be a teenager any more whereby it’s always somebody else’s fault and you can shake your locks at them. You’ve got to run it, and you’ve got to make the decisions about the where the money goes.
"In the political sense, you have to do the business of persuading people that you’re right or listening to them if you might be wrong, making the policies, and not only that, but working out how policies interrelate with what actually happens.”
Jack Straw, who led the national student movement through a great period of change that spanned two governments and saw the UK voting age lowered to 18, on the importance of the student vote:
"NUS always had pretty good access to ministers but then we had the change in voting age.
“There was an issue whether students could vote from their respective university or college address – I think a returning officer refused a registration. We took that issue to the court of appeal and won, which is why students can be registered – and most are – in two places at once.
“That meant there was suddenly a great interest in the student vote, because it was obviously much easier to organise, and frankly much higher turnout among students if they were voting from their colleges.”