By Emilie Tapping
The first day of National Conference 2011 has kicked off with delegates here as bright and early as 7am. Posters, banners and stalls are already up, everyone eager to know who is going to win the most uncertain presidential election in recent memory. Thomas Byrne strolls nervously into the media room – quietly cautious. A first year student from York, and indeed first time attendee at National Conference, Thomas Byrne is an unlikely candidate for the most prestigious position in NUS
Citing the fact that inequalities in education in the UK are greater than any other country in Brazil, Byrne wants to know why NUS has spent so much time arguing over tuition fees. He believes in market politics and that universities being reliant on students for funding will make them better at “catering to students’ needs.” He accuses Labour and NUS of scaremongering, professing “there’s no need to talk about debt, there’s no need to talk about loans”, rebranding the new system as an alternative graduate tax to the Blueprint put forward by NUS. He claims “the biggest barrier has been language”.
One of the few delegates at this conference who believes that the new system will work out better for students he suggests that “what’s holding students back is bad schools down the line, not this specter of tuition fees.” His manifesto concentrates on reducing bureaucracy in the teaching profession to get the best teachers in to state schools and grant the “same freedoms to people lower down the scale, in the middle of the scale” than those at private schools. He’s a fan of keeping young people in training, but thinks the current system of EMA doesn’t work, and he is calling for a new “discretionary system” to ensure the poorest and most vulnerable get the support they need.
Contrary to popular belief, Thomas Byrne is no longer a card-carrying member of the Conservative Party, finding that people considered his arguments as more credible when removed from party politics. Byrne believes he is a “different candidate”, offering a “proactive solution rather than crying out for what we can save of quite a failed system”. He has no delusions of grandeur; all he is looking for is to change the mind of one delegate to think that he can provide a “better future for NUS, a better future for students”.