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Everything you do on the ground can change students' lives

Friday 31-07-2015 - 09:48

I’ve been in office for a month now and have experienced many of the feelings that sabbatical officers have at NUS Lead and Change courses in the past two weeks. I thought I’d write about my reflections and experience of meeting such fantastic people.

First of all, I’d like to say thank you - thank you for investing your time with NUS on this course. I really hope you’ve had fun, been challenged, and made some vital new networks and friends that will support you in the year ahead.

NUS is here to support you.  As your Vice President for Higher Education, I want to do things differently this year. I want to be on the ground - in universities and colleges – providing support for the issues you’re working on, not just asking you to sign up to something you don’t feel is relevant to your students.

Whatever the project or campaign - get in touch. I want to hear about it, shout about it, and help in any way I can. I also want to help you connect with each other if you’re working on the same thing.  We are stronger together, so drop me a line and invite me to your union!

Apart from fighting against the rise in tuition fees, cuts to student support and the age cap on postgraduate loans, I will be working with you on what we want from a Higher Education quality assessment system.  My projects this year are:

  • Running an alternative assessment campaign in order to tackle attainment gaps (specifically for BME and international students)
  • Liberating our curricula from the unrepresentative stale stuff that’s been taught for centuries
  • Helping build sustainable, effective and truly inclusive course rep and union structures that work for all students, specifically postgrads, mature, part-time students and student parents and carers. 

While I push these issues with sector bodies, you could be campaigning on this locally, so I’m committed to helping you and your reps do this kind of transformational work – to bring about true student-staff partnerships.

But that’s not all - our remits as Sabbatical Officers are so broad and varied - dependent on the kind of institution and types of students we represent.  I have 18 full-time NUS colleagues who are committed to supporting you too.  You can call upon them for help at any time.  We also have committees of elected part-time volunteers –you can even become one this year. Do get in touch to find out more about our zone and sections structures!

Nationally we fight for free, liberated, democratic education. That is our vision.  

My vision is to put access and liberation at the heart of a truly transformative education system.

Sometimes we’re put off by lots of measures announced by government. Just last week, HEFCE announced cuts to undergraduate teaching and postgraduate research grants. The government has the cheek to talk about improving teaching quality whilst refusing to properly fund it.

Yet we are relentless. Don’t let anyone tell you that the victories we gain along the way are not contributing to our vision.

Free education is also about changing the library opening hours to accommodate student parents.

It’s about strong course rep networks that can challenge curricula and assessment methods.

It’s about saving that course from being closed, that module on gender studies being cut, or introducing anonymous marking to tackle the attainment gap.  So much of what we do in our students’ unions can totally reframe how, why and what students learn. So do get involved in our campaigns at NUS - but let us get involved in yours, too.Affecting change is about shifting power from the powerful few to the powerless many and making our collective voice truly heard. Power is political, because defending our rights and interests is political, whatever our aims.

Everything we do is political, everything you do on the ground can change students’ lives - it’s all linked to the national picture. Central funding to universities is cut: they have to make do with less - hence all our local issues around slow feedback, overworked staff having to be personal tutors to hundreds of students or unsuitable facilities.

I’ve been motivated – and absolutely inspired - by some of the conversations I have had during Lead & Change and can’t wait for another round next week.

I’ve enjoyed seeing others grow and have been challenged myself to change the way we work to better support your plans. I hope many of you feel the same.

I’m really excited about the year ahead and cannot wait to work with all of you.

We are going to change education and change society, one Quality Review at a time.

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