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Don’t foot the (HE) Bill on your own. Say #Yes2NUS.

Wednesday 11-05-2016 - 14:48

In one week’s time, on 18 May, the Queen’s Speech will be given in Parliament. This is when the Government releases its plans for legislation for the year ahead.

It is highly likely that the speech will announce a Higher Education Bill, outlining the introduction of a Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF), a new architecture for regulation of the sector and a possible attack on students’ unions.

These are the biggest changes HE could see for decades - with tuition fees raising above £9k a year for students in England, and the introduction of differentiated fees between universities.

I want to be clear about one thing: we won’t beat a piece of legislation and fight for our vision of education if we don't stand together.

We build our collective voice and vision in consultation with our members - countless meetings, workshops, and 1-to-1’s took place when the HE Green Paper came out last November and we had a united response as a student movement. And this has been extremely important.

It will be the same with this corresponding HE White Paper accompanying the Bill, where a collective of students’ unions and our democratically passed policy (at the largest student gathering in the world, might I add) are what informs NUS’ approach - so the best way to get your voice heard is to be an affiliated students’ union.

An isolated voice will get lost in a sea of sharks intent on destroying the notion of education as a public good.

I think everyone acknowledges things can improve, no organisation is perfect - when I ran to be VP I ran to change NUS and through collective effort we are getting there. I got involved because, like you, I wanted to change things. I’ve paused a fully-funded PhD to help run NUS - I’m passionate about students otherwise why would I be doing this?

Trust me changing my title from Miss Vieru to Dr Vieru is way more appealing than whatever (really non) ‘safe’ career options you think NUS officers get.

And this year is a key time for affecting change within NUS: with an ongoing governance and democratic review this is the best time to stay involved and influence.

It will also be a key year to stay united in the face of external attacks. I am humbled and honoured to be your VPHE in a what could be a historic year for Higher Education in the United Kingdom.

This is why I need your voice and I need your challenge in order to fulfil my role as an elected representative.

I’ve even heard some say ‘we need to teach NUS officers a lesson by scaring them with disaffiliation, then return when NUS’ ways are mended’. This strikes me as non-sensical, leaving will just starve our campaigns of funding as well as your input, challenge and debate and make them weaker as a result. We’d hardly ‘mend’, we’d just be a slowly dissolving echo chamber.

I don’t always agree with things I have to carry out, votes haven’t always gone my way - but that’s democracy and I get beyond my politics each day to serve members.

What we do is informed by layers of democratic processes and whenever an officer has to make a call you’re held accountable - and I couldn’t agree more that we need to keep improving those mechanisms.

Together, we’ve achieved great things. Only in the last year the HE Campaign alongside our members has had some key wins:

  • Won access to postgraduate loans for students aged over 30 with the #CapsOff campaign.
  • Made postgraduate loans available to all Masters courses, for part-time study and distance learning, as well as reducing the repayment rate from 9 per cent to 6 per cent
  • Put attainment gaps on the national agenda, worked with the Office for Fair Access on making the Black attainment gap a key measure in access agreements
  • Secured a commitment from government to strategically tackle postgraduate attainment gaps and address the under-representation of Black academics
  • Worked with SUs and students to improve teaching and learning locally on issues like timetabling, assessment & feedback, learning resources and personal tutoring - check out our benchmarking toolkits here
  • Launched NUS’ Quality Doesn’t Grow On Fees campaign in response to the HE Green Paper, rebutting the government’s proposals on linking fee increases with a Teaching Excellence Framework, supporting unions to engage in the fightback and influencing the sector’s responses
  • Launched NUS’ Liberate My Degree campaign, to empower students and officers to campaign locally to decolonise and liberate the curricula, and push for alternative assessment models to tackle attainment gaps
  • Held the first roundtable event for student parents and carers to discuss improving access and will be using the findings to develop guidance for unions and submit evidence to government
  • Mobilised students’ unions in responding to the review of the quality assurance system in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, making the student voice the second largest demographic of respondents
  • Supported the NUS Women’s Campaign #StandByMe campaign on reviewing university policies on dealing with sexual harassment on campus and worked with the Office for the Independent Adjudicator on reviewing complaints procedures, developing updated guidance for institutions and the evidence submitted to the Universities UK taskforce - this has resulted in triggering a legal review
  • Launching guidance on equipping unions to improve mental health support for Postgraduate Research students

Now we’ve got an even bigger year ahead, and we all need each other.

I’m not going to lie, I feel nervous about what’s going to land on our laps next Wednesday and there’s a lot at stake. But I feel privileged to wake up and work for students every day. And I know what we are able to achieve together through the power of our *collective* strength.

So get involved and I can’t wait to work together, say #Yes2NUS.

Sorana Vieru

Vice President (Higher Education)

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