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Five Ideas... the key themes at this year’s Zone Conferences

Monday 05-10-2015 - 13:57

With our Zone Conferences around the corner, here’s a look into the key themes and talking points shaping this year’s series of events in Bradford.  

Hundreds of delegates will descend on the city of Bradford for our annual Zone Conferences this month between Tuesday 27 and Friday 30 October to discuss the key issues which students are facing on campuses and colleges alike across the UK.

Each of NUS’ five ‘Zones’ have both a distinct flavour and areas of debate. Our Zone Conferences allow us to understand these problems as a movement, begin to form our collective beliefs and start to take ownership of solutions. With that in mind, here are the key themes shaping this year’s Zone Conferences.


1. Further Education: Area Reviews in FE

FE is changing once again. The government’s Post-16 Education and Training Review announced this summer will dramatically reduce the numbers of providers as they come together to plan out “fewer, larger, more resilient and efficient providers” across England and Wales.

We know that tighter budgets as a result of many years of cuts to FE is why we’re here. But, does this present an opportunity for the student movement to redefine what we expect from our education?  FE Zone want to debate and discuss our view of the future for FE in a time of massive change.

How do we ensure that local student voice not only plays a key part in each area review, but that students expectations of access, engagement and the quality of their education can be put back at the heart of FE providers? And how can we champion the work of students and unions in an already regionalised Scotland and Northern Ireland and make sure all learners are able to access high-quality FE whatever their circumstances?

Register for Further Education Zone Conference here.


2. Higher Education: The Marketisation of HE

As a movement we fight for improving students’ education, access and defending education as a public good. We have one of the most harmful governments for students in the last quarter of a century  - adopting measure after measure for introducing market forces in Higher Education, they say in order to drive ‘quality’ or improve ‘choice’. Yet cut after cut, they refuse to properly fund our institutions and place the burden of cost onto students, saddling them with unprecedented levels of debt.

The HE Zone should lead the debate on improving teaching & learning and win on widening access. But how do we do this on our terms in such an auspicious environment? How do we as a movement shift the discussion away from markets and towards a deeper collective conversation about the social value of education and the role of universities today. 

How do we put up resistance and shape discussions without becoming complicit and lead a narrative on a truly transformative education system?

Register for Higher Education Zone Conference here.


3. Union Development: The Impact of Student Opportunities

NUS showed last year that the public and those we need for support, understand very little about our core purpose or, more fundamentally, why SUs exist. For some, the relevance of a students’ union was commonly seen to be directly linked to the numbers of students engaged. It is proposed that this puts the student movement in a weak position – struggling to articulate on our own terms why we should exist let alone receive wider support for our objectives.

We concluded that SUs should develop a clearer idea of what we stand for. By redefining our achievements in terms of the impact we intend to create, we will improve understanding about the value of students’ unions, improve the perceptions of SUs as a source of positive change within society – not just for students – and ultimately help secure the future of our movement. We will also start to free ourselves from delivering services for the sake of it, or settling into ‘traditional’ models for SUs, in favour of being able to build more flexible approaches to our work.

Union Development Zone will begin to tackle this challenge by looking at Student Opportunities – an absolutely key area of activity for students’ unions. Student Opportunities change many lives and shape society around us. We will be focusing on drawing out what’s important and considering repercussions for how we run our students’ unions, including NUS.

Register for Union Development Zone Conference here.


4. Society & Citizenship: Fossil Fuel Divestment

Divestment is the opposite of an investment – it simply means getting rid of stocks, bonds, or investment funds that are unethical or morally ambiguous. The largest and most impactful divestment campaign in history focused on South African Apartheid. The goal of the Fossil Free campaign is the stop the fossil fuel industry from causing catastrophic climate change by withdrawing funding and withdrawing their social license to continue with business as usual.

NUS believes it is against the ethos and purpose of our education institutions to contribute to the destruction of human beings and of the environment, and formally supports the Fossil Free campaign. At the time of writing six Higher Education institutions have committed to divesting from fossil fuels, with many more on the cusp of campaign successes. But how should we negotiate the more controversial issues of course sponsorship and engaging affected subject areas in that debate? And of course the big question looming is…what next? We’ll explore our potential to work together as a movement to ensure that divesting from fossil fuels also becomes a positive opportunity to reinvest in the alternative: renewable energy cooperatives and on-campus renewables.

Register for Society & Citizenship Zone Conference here.


5. Welfare: Our Welfare State

Safety nets and support services in our institutions are under pressure - and in society they are under attack. From counselling and the NHS to students' access to funding and housing; safeguarding and improving support for our members is part of a wider campaign for a well-funded welfare state.

Welfare Zone will discuss and determine what a welfare state that serves students looks like, our priorities for achieving it both locally and nationally, and how we can better work with the wider movement.

Register for Welfare Zone Conference here


Zone Conferences 2015 takes place in Bradford between Tuesday 27 and Friday 30 October. Registration for the conference is now open, and you can book your place here.

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