Wednesday 30-09-2015 - 11:48
This is a guest article by Charlie Hughes, President of the University of Bedfordshire Students’ Union
After posting three letters to my local MPs, I never imagined that it would be the Conservative member that would respond first!
I secured a meeting with Richard Fuller MP for Bedford & Kempston up in Portcullis House at Westminster and didn’t quite know what to expect. On the morning I got over to the office early to organize my notes and research Richard to see his previous voting history, or if he had said anything on the move from grants to loans. There wasn’t much to go on, so I structured my talk to gauge his own views on the subject, before I challenged and questioned them.
After a quick train journey to London and a tube over to Westminster, I joined a long queue of suit-clad men and women trying to get into Portcullis House (I of course had opted for some Beds SU stash!). Before being searched, the policewoman was quick to ask what I had in my hand and what I was planning to do with it (an NUS provided speakerphone cut-out). I assured her it was just for a photo opportunity and she ushered me through.
Richard, who I had previously met on two occasions, took me through, bought me a coffee and after a quick catch-up on what we had been up to, we got onto the subject in hand.
I had always expected meeting with a Conservative MP would be a tough gig when arguing against one of their moves in their latest budget, but I have to give credit to Richard, he was willing to listen to what I had to say, challenge my views, let me challenge his and also widen the discussion to look at other areas where work could be done to help students out with their living costs, such as student accommodation.
Richard very much believed, like his party, that the increase in the maximum loan support to £8,200 far outweighed the benefits of the maximum grant plus loan this year of £7,400. He also said that he didn’t think those on lower incomes should have to pay taxes so that some of us can go to university. I think this was one of the particular arguments that I could not resonate with. Education is surely for the greater good, a source of social mobility and I believe grants are central to the aim of widening participation to higher education. Grants exist so that students from low income backgrounds can go to university, can afford to travel to the other side of the UK to get into a university that they want to go to and can receive a better education to effectively be innovative and drive the economy forward. I don’t believe in free education in HE but widening participation should be central to the UK HE strategy and everyone should have the opportunity to be supported to go to university and through their time at university.
Although Richard was opposed to the #CutTheCosts campaign by NUS, he offered me his support in my current work looking at accommodation at the university. In addition, he also agreed that if the move to maintenance loans began to have an adverse effect on the number of students from low income families going to university, he would support the reverse of it - not quite what I was looking for, but a small win nevertheless.
I really enjoyed my trip to meet with Richard and although I didn’t get the result I was hoping for, it wasn’t exactly wasted. I’d really encourage you all to meet with your local MPs. Make sure you research and prepare your arguments before you meet with them. Don’t be afraid to go off topic either. This is not only an opportunity to discuss the #CutTheCosts campaign but probably the first time many Sabbatical Officers will have met their local MP. Talk about current issues, talk about what you’re up to in your union and ask what their plans are for their tenure as an MP. You will be able to find so many other campaigns that each of you is working on where you can work together and make a greater impact for both your student body and your local community.
How is your students’ union supporting the #CutTheCosts campaign to save maintenance grants? We’d love to promote your work to the membership on NUS Connect - simply get in touch with firstname.lastname@example.org and tell us what you’re doing on campus!