Friday 25-09-2015 - 10:13
This is a guest article by Niall Hamilton, Reading University Students’ Union Education Officer
At RUSU (Reading University Students’ Union) we have been running, in conjunction with NUS, a #CutTheCosts campaign. During this campaign we have been collecting student testimonials, reaching out to local students and colleges, lobbying our Vice-Chancellor, Sir David Bell, to oppose the change of grants to loans, and targeting our local Members of Parliament in an attempt to get them to vote against this attack on student finance.
Last Friday (18th September) was the national lobby day organised by NUS. This was designed to allow students’ unions to confront their local MPs about the changes of grants to loans. At Reading University Students’ Union, our student population falls into the constituency of not one, but three conservative MPs; Alok Sharma (Reading West), John Redwood (Wokingham) and Rob Wilson (Reading East). In preparation for the lobby day, the five full-time officers at RUSU wrote to each MP and invited them to discuss what this change would mean to students in their constituency and nationally. Despite these letters being sent over one month before the lobby, we received replies only a few days before the 18th. Unfortunately, each of our three constituency MPs ignored our invitation to meet and fed us the same generic conservative line on the budget.
Not disheartened, we decided to focus all of our energy on one MP, Rob Wilson, as the majority of our students fall into the Reading East constituency. Mr Wilson responded to our ten letters a month later, just a few days before the 18th. As the majority of our students are his constituents, we felt this issue should have been more pressing to him. As a last minute attempt to arrange a meeting, we set out on a social media campaign and implored our students to tweet him with testimonials and their thoughts under the #CutTheCosts hashtag. Despite a significant number of tweets directed at him from a number of different students, he only replied to RUSU’S President with a photograph of the letter he had sent to us earlier that week. Way to listen to your constituency Rob...
At Reading we know our students feel passionately about this issue. To date, we have received a number of testimonials from a diverse range of current students explaining that they wouldn’t have gone to university, or considered applying to university, without the security of a grant.
“I do not believe it is fair that the poorest should be victimised for a financial situation caused by the rich and I believe something should be done”
“The money given from the maintenance grant has provided me with the opportunity to move up in the world where I did not have to worry about my financial background or situation and always had the chance to put my career ahead of finance.”
“This grant has given me hope and without it, I doubt I'll be here next year. Please don't let the government get rid of this grant. There are people like me out there and there are people in even worse situations. Should we not all have an equal chance at a better future?”
Finally, we set up a Change.org petition designed to pressure our Vice-Chancellor, Sir David Bell, to openly oppose this reform on behalf of the University of Reading: https://www.change.org/p/sir-david-bell-sir-david-bell-condemn-the-recent-changes-to-maintenance-grants
As we move forward into Welcome Week and Freshers’ Fortnight, we aim to raise the profile of this issue with our students through targeted social media and plenty of campaigning on campus. At Reading, we’ve been inspired by other unions and the brilliant results they’ve been achieving by talking to their local MPs. We will not be deterred by the lack of response from ours.
Berkshire Blue, we’re coming for you.
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!