Robin Parker won a second term as NUS Scotland president in a close vote at NUS Scotland conference in Irvine last weekend. The former Aberdeen University president secured more than the 63 votes needed to secure victory in the first round, polling 68 to Strathclyde president Charandeep Singh's 56, with two votes to reopen nominations.
A record 150 delegates were registered for NUS Scotland conference, with more numbers than ever before attending from the college sector after an amazing win on student support through the Our Future Our Fight campaign.
Speaking exclusively to The Journal, after the verdict was announced, Parker said: "I'm honoured to get the opportunity to carry on working alongside people who have just been inspirational in the last year. There's no doubt about it, a lot of this year has been measured in terms of the passion, commitment, and dedication that student campaigns have put in, and that's the best thing about getting to rerun, and getting to do the job again - you get to work alongside those people.
"A lot of credit to Charandeep for running a very positive campaign,[he] put forward a lot of good ideas for how NUS Scotland goes forward, and it'll be good to meet up with him once things have died away and talk about some of the good ideas in [his manifesto].
"Credit to Charandeep for putting an incredible effort into his campaign. He's been up and down the country, which has been absolutely incredible, so credit to him for running a really strong campaign, it's been positive and it's got a lot of people engaged in the work of NUS."
Our Future Our Fight was the biggest campaign in the organisation's history, with over 80,000 emails sent to MSPs, making NUS Scotland the largest and most-effective campaigning organisation in Scotland, but Parker insists there is still a lot of work to be done in the next year."It's brilliant because there are always things we can make better," he said. "There's a lot we can do in terms of taking forward and implementing an FE entitlement with the government. The government have opened their doors and all their resources to us to work really closely with them about how these things are going to work for student support.
"It's a fantastic opportunity, the government are really committed to legislating widening access which is a real opportunity for us to shape what that looks like and throw open the doors to education in Scotland for those who need it most." It was a bold move for NUS Scotland to run a priority campaign on college funding, but it was a campaign that achieved so much more than putting £40 million back into the colleges.
"The goal for next year is to leave NUS Scotland in a stronger place than when I found it," Parker added. "As well as that, making sure we take advantage of the opportunities we're being given as a campaigning organisation to radically reform student support for the better, to work on widening access, and to return to the college funding issue.
"They're tearing up the rule book in terms of how colleges are funded, how colleges are governed, and which colleges are where, so it's an incredible opportunity for us to influence and shape all of that."
Admitting that he doesn't have the ability to predict the future, Parker believes the increase in student engagement, and the achievements made in the last year have shown that the student movement is becoming stronger. He said: "I think on of the things that is really good about this conference is that we've had more people than before, that's quite a crude measure, in terms of engagement in NUS, but that's one sign.
"The other sign is that you have to look at the impact it has on students in general, and the impact we've had with the campaigning of student officer across the year has had.
"We're in a Scotland which still doesn't have tuition fees in university, a Scotland which has a much stronger student support system across HE and FE, and a Scotland that under a lot of pressure from us is managing to maintain college funding, but there is a lot of work do to be done there to make sure that the cuts that still exist, albeit smaller, have as little impact as possible."
Setting out his immediate priorities for the year ahead, Parker has committed to continuing to fight for college students, and widening access to universities. "It's always really important to have a single priority that is above all others," he said. "I think one thing I've learned in the year gone by is that you can never predict the future, we didn't know that we'd have to run such a big campaign on college funding, so there are always surprises round the corner.
"I think the priority for what we need to achieve next year is about access to education in terms of university. Universities don't reflect the Scottish population and don't hold a mirror up to the wider public of who gets to go to university, particularly in terms of socio-economic background, and we need to change that.
"In terms of colleges, they're facing a big cut to their funding still, even though it's smaller than what it was, we need to make sure the role of colleges and local access is protected."