Friday 21-08-2015 - 12:23
Blog from Simon Blake, NUS Chief Executive
Tuesday 17 February was a happy day in my house. After two rather exhausting days of panels and interviews I received a call offering me the role as Chief Executive at NUS. I didn't need to be asked a second time and as I put the phone down I remember a big grin growing across my face. This was going to be fun and a privilege. And so it has proven to be in my first 100 days or so.
On Tuesday 5 May I rocked up at Macadam House having finished working at Brook the Thursday before, and having a hectic weekend celebrating my mum's 70th.
I want to start writing a bit about being at NUS and my experience over the first 100 days or so. The first draft of this blog became a bit of a beast, so in the interests of moving this forward and getting something on paper I decided to start with ten things I have learnt so far. They are not in order of importance and not being included does not mean it isn't important to me.
1. NUS and students' unions have a model of student leadership that the rest of the charity sector and civil society could learn an enormous amount from. I have always been a champion of young people's engagement, involvement, participation and leadership and have contributed to and led transformative models of participation within organisations, and I wish I had thought to go and see what NUS and SUs do.
2. Students, their lives, contexts, experiences and expectations need to be better understood in public policy, in the media and in social contexts. I have been interested in the willingness of our society to allow student poverty to exist; as if it is acceptable for people to be charged unaffordable rent or to have to work exceptionally long hours to make ends almost meet without recognising the impact on individuals health, well-being and educational achievement. The perennial stereotype of the beer swilling, cigarette smoking student that never turns up for lectures was annoying and irrelevant 20 years ago when I graduated. It is even more outdated now and needs to be challenged
3. Social media is undoubtedly a force for good, but as within wider society it can be a bit toxic within the student movement. I have seen, and been told about, completely unacceptable online responses. I have been surprised to be 'shouted at' online by people I generally agree with - we have a job to do in challenging this. It is unacceptable and poses risks to individuals well-being and our democracy.
4. Students' unions do amazing work led by talented volunteers, officers and staff working together - the breadth and depth of the work and the impact within the communities which would utterly astound lots of people. If you don't work in the movement and don't know what SU do, I recommend you go, find out and link up.
5. There are as many acronyms, bodies, think tanks and groups in the sector as there were in health. And some of the acronyms are the same. I feel as though I am learning another language. Now, for example, if you mention the 'HEA' I hear 'Health Education Authority' and when you say 'QAA' I hear 'Qualifications and Curriculum Authority'. That is changing but it takes some time.
6. NUS represents students in Further and Higher Education and hosts the National Society of Apprentices (NSOA). NSOA do terrific work to focus on what apprentices need when the politicians are simply talking about apprenticeships. The cuts to FE are short sighted and savage and we will continue to seek to influence these decisions with partners.
7. The liberation campaigns within NUS and across the movement show how much there is to do within universities, colleges, students' unions and wider society to ensure everyone is able to participate in education confidently and fulfil their potential - with the resources and support they need, free from prejudice, discrimination and harassment. We have a long way to go.
8. NUS and the student movement can be an irrepressible force for change when it organises and mobilises on the big issues. Now more than ever we need to be that force for change - education is too important to be undermined by incoherent policy and ideology.
9. There has to be room within the movement for debating and winning and for building dialogue and consensus to ensure that the needs of all students and apprentices are met. Sometimes the debate and the win can be at the expense of the dialogue.
10. The talent within NUS and the movement is immense - paid officers, volunteers, staff and supporters. When everyone works together, life-changing magic happens and you can see that day in day out - I am fantastically excited to be part of this moving forward.
In case it isn't obvious, I have thoroughly enjoyed my first few months. The welcome, care, attention and support from staff and officers across NUS and the movement has been second to none and I am grateful. Particular thanks to Peter Robertson who, having done an excellent job as interim CEO, has continued to patiently answer my questions and discuss early thinking.
I also want to thank Toni Pearce, immediate past National President who gorgeously for me, and probably painfully for her, spent several evenings before I joined explaining some of the basic structures, systems and issues. Without that pre-induction induction it would have taken me longer than it did - two days - to feel confident that I was going to enjoy my time at NUS.