Gordon Brown was one. But Tony Blair wasn’t. Jack Straw was, but not Clare Short. We’re talking about student activists.
Once a force to be reckoned with and breeding ground for tomorrow’s leaders, the influence of student unions has in recent years waned.
There are signs the National Union of Students is starting to lose its grip on the student population with a number of university guilds disassociating themselves from it, including Aston University.
Some claim campus politics is all but dead with today’s students more focused on obtaining a good degree and getting on the career ladder as quick as possible to pay off their growing mountain of debt.
All is not lost, however - and next week the NUS will launch a fight-back to show that students are still every bit as active as they have ever been.
An inaugural award to be held at Birmingham’s Millennium Point will aim to recognise the ability of student activists “to raise the profile of important issues and affect change at a local, regional or even national level”.
Student campaigners from campuses across the country will gather at the NUS Awards on Monday to highlight their work.
NUS President Gemma Tumelty said: “The NUS Awards will be the first event to celebrate students’ unions and the good work they do.
“Students are one of society’s most passionate and vocal groups when it comes to fighting injustice and standing up for the rights of oppressed minorities. It is about time their courage and dedication were rewarded.”
In 2006, students at Birmingham’s Aston University voted to opt out of the NUS proclaiming the organisation does not represent their voice anymore.
The universities of Edinburgh, St Andrews, UMIST, Glasgow and Imperial College London have also cut themselves loose from the union.
Students at Aston University argued the NUS had not provided strong enough leadership in the fight against tuition top-up fees which tripled the amount undergraduates paid every year.
They also maintained they were not getting value for money for the thousands of pounds spent to be part of the organisation. The NUS Awards, to be held in the Thinktank science museum, will include award categories such as student unionist of the year, campaign of the year, course representative of the year, student union publication of the year and student journalist of the year.
The headline award will be the Endsleigh Student of the Year Award, nominations for which include Laura Sterling from the University of Birmingham Guild of Students.
Veteran writer, journalists and broadcaster John Sergeant will host the ceremony.
The current Prime Minister is the country’s most famous former student union activist. During his time at Edinburgh University in the 1970s, he was elected Rector of the student body. He used the post to challenge the university’s governing body and according to accounts demonstrated an appetite for detail and winning battles.
Jack Straw, Labour’s Justice Secretary, was elected president of the students’ union at Leeds University in 1967 and became president of the national union in 1969. He was known at the time for his left wing politics.
However, during his period as Home Secretary, he was attacked by the left who believed his policies were too authoritarian and banned from his former student union in 2000.