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An Office for Students with no students? We don’t think so.

Wednesday 14-09-2016 - 17:10

We keep saying that the Westminster Government is not listening to students, and they seem intent on proving us right.

Last week they, once again, tried to cut students out of crucial oral evidence sessions tabled by the Higher Education and Research Bill Committee, despite the Minister for Universities and Science, Jo Johnson, continuing with the rhetoric that the reforms are designed to benefit students. Thanks, but we’ll be the judge of that!  

NUS is committed to ensuring that students have a voice that is too powerful to ignore, and we proved it last Tuesday when we set up camp outside Parliament and created our own “Office for Students” where I live streamed my own little mock session of giving evidence to the committee.  

It took just a matter of hours before NUS received an invite to give evidence to the committee, this time for real. On Thursday, I gave evidence to the HE Bill committee and provided arguments for why students should have much greater involvement in the decisions which will affect their study and ultimately the rest of their lives.  

I called for students to be on the board of the new Office for Students (OfS), which will be the main funder and regulator of higher education in England as well as dealing with access and widening participation. A body with such power to change the lives of students should not be devoid of student representation, because it is students currently studying who are best placed to know what their experiences are like and what needs to be done to improve education.  

An amendment to the Bill which would have added at least one reserved place for a student representative on the OfS board was debated by the Committee later in the day. It fell by 11 votes to 9: every Conservative member of the Committee voted it down; every SNP and Labour party member of the Committee voted for it. Another telling sign that the Government is not interested in students and care only about their marketisation agenda.  

I also set out students’ concerns about the lack of protections for students against the influx of new, untested providers which could well put profits over students. My thoughts echoed the words of Malia, our National President, who made a plea to vice chancellors in her speech to Universities UK Annual Conference to stand up for students and for the sector and ensure that the Government do not allow students and staff to suffer from the collapse and exit of providers in the market.  

As the Committee continues with its examination of the Bill line-by-line, we will be supporting amendments to be tabled to completely remove the powers to create differential fees that would be linked to scores in the Teaching Excellence Framework. We are certainly not the only ones who believe that quality doesn’t grow on fees and we will continue to construct a unified opposition, which will be seen on the streets in the #Nov19 demo and in the corridors of Parliament through the continued lobbying and pressure on politicians to stand up for students and protect them from even higher fees and debts.  

Students and our unions can continue to support us by putting pressure on MPs, particularly those on the Bill Committee, to support changes which put students first and do not leave them out of the decisions that will affect them.  

You can start by tweeting the MPs on the Bill Committee. We have a number of sample tweets on NUS Connect to help you get started.  

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