Wednesday 06-01-2016 - 15:20
Happy New Year! I want to share with you how I’m taking #LoveSUs forward over the next few months.
After our initial day of action in November – and an outpouring of support for students’ unions – we have showed clearly that students’ unions are valued for making a difference to students and society. To support this, and to make sure we were being heard in Parliament, we hosted a roundtable event about SUs’ contribution to their local communities through the All Party Parliamentary Group on Students. We must now keep some momentum around this campaign.
That’s why I’m embarking on the #LoveSUs tour, where I will visit the nations and students’ unions from north to south to discuss the challenges facing the future of the student movement.
Because we need to get real now. We are seeing an increasingly concerning series of threats to our movement* from government and its instruments. And while I am clear we will not shy away from engaging constructively to get the best deal for SUs, we must also be prepared to fight for their future if the time comes. We must prepare ourselves to defend our students’ unions. It is the first role of NUS to safeguard the future of the student movement and I will keep this as a priority until we see the threats subside.
We will not be reactionary, because it makes us weak. We will promote a positive message, tapping into the evident love for SUs felt by many – current or former students, friends and staff of the movement – and build a national lobbying network around the recognition of our value in education and society, and a shared desire to secure a better, stronger future for SUs across the UK.
It has never been more important to understand and articulate the difference SUs are making in the world, to understand where our supporters are and to evidence that we are quality organisations. I will be talking to students’ unions about ways of taking this forward throughout the tour and keeping members updated via the usual potpourri of emails, articles and blogs.
I have dates available for the tour from mid-February, so if you would like a visit then please do invite me: firstname.lastname@example.org
* How the threat to our student movement has been building
2014 – 2015: We have seen sustained political and media attacks on charities across various topics including political campaigning, senior staff pay, fundraising techniques, governance and use of public money – despite no change in levels of public trust in charities. (NCVO)
January 2014: The Lobbying Act (also known as the Gagging Law) regulates and burdens non-profit organisations with respect to campaigning in the run-up to elections.
October 2014: The Charity Commission receives £9m from the government to strengthen its regulatory functions. (Third Sector)
March 2015: The Charity Commission interferes directly and politically into the affairs of the Joseph Roundtree Foundation. Later in Judicial Review they concede to have overstepped their remit. (Guardian)
May 2015: Conservative majority government elected. Commentators note the revival of Thatcher/Major agenda. (Telegraph)
May 2015: Sajid Javid becomes Secretary of State for Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS). Robert Halfon also appointed to Cabinet. Both took NUS to the European Court of Human Rights as students in the 80s arguing for opt-in membership of SUs. (Wonkhe)
August 2015: The Chair of the Charity Commission, William Shawcross, makes inflammatory remarks about charities and their behaviour. This even leads to calls for his resignation from the head of the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations. (Civil Society)
September 2015: First round of Further Education Area Reviews in England and Wales. Where institutions are encouraged or forced to merge experience has shown there is limited consideration for SUs and rarely any extra resource made available. This puts SUs in a weak position. (FE Week)
October 2015: The Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) announce future removal of Q23, about students’ unions, from the National Student Survey. (HEFCE)
November 2015: The Trade Union Bill brings higher voting thresholds for ballots as well as other anti-union measures. Frances O’Grady, the TUC General Secretary, said “the bill is the biggest attack on unions in 30 years”. (BBC)
November 2015: Surprise inclusion of Q20 in the Green Paper, asking about improving the transparency and accountability of students’ unions. (Gov.uk)
November 2015: Even more cuts to FE announced in the Autumn Statement. 27 per cent real terms cut since 2010. Adult skills budget has been cut by 35%. 16-19 budget has fallen 14 per cent in real terms. 1.3 million fewer adult learners. So far we’re finding SUs are being left with little or no budgets and staff redundancies. (From our own NUS briefing)
November 2015: The new Office for Students is announced to “champion value for money and the student interest in its decision-making” but with no indication how the organisation will work with SUs. (Gov.uk)
December 2015: The Charities Bill sets out more powers for the Charity Commission, enabling it to be able to dismiss trustees/directors at its own discretion when charities are seen to be bringing the sector into disrepute. (Parliament.uk)
December 2015: Ministers suggest charities receiving public money should be subject to FOI requests (Telegraph) (despite proposing the opposite for universities). (SPA)