Thursday 26-11-2015 - 14:29
This year NUS were in Bournemouth, Brighton, Manchester and Aberdeen for the Liberal Democrat, Labour, Conservative and SNP Party Conferences. In addition to attending a series of panel discussions and debates, NUS hosted two sets of fringes at the Party Conferences - the first of which were co-hosted with Million +
In Manchester at the Conservative Party Conference, NUS and Million+ held a lively and informative fringe event titled ‘Does Britain only love some universities?’ on Britain’s higher education sector, and the various policy issues affecting the sector including teaching quality and student numbers. Amongst the panellists were Professor Dave Phoenix, Chair of Million + and Vice Chancellor of London South Bank University; Minister for Universities and Science, Jo Johnson MP; NUS President Megan Dunn, Ben Howlett MP and Peter Hoskin, associate editor of ConservativeHome who chaired the event.
Similarly, in Brighton at the Labour Party Conference, NUS held a fringe titled ‘Where Next for Labour’s Higher Education Policy’ which focused on the need for access to education and fair funding systems to be put at the heart of the education system, whilst also looking at broader policy issues of how higher education and further education can adapt to the changing needs of the modern economy and address the productivity gap in the UK labour market. Contributing Editor at LabourList, Stefan Stern chaired a panel of speakers including; Shadow Education Minister, Gordon Marsden MP; APPG on Students Chair, Paul Blomfield MP; Vice Chancellor of London South Bank University and chair of Million + Dave Phoenix; and NUS President Megan Dunn.
We held the last of our NUS/Million+ fringes, ‘How will SNP stand up for higher education in Westminster and Holyrood?’ in Aberdeen at the SNP conference. The session saw the panellist’s talk of the challenges facing the sector through the Westminster government’s proposed changes to maintenance grants, as well as the current visa policies for international students. Student finance for both FE and HE students was discussed, along with the need to attract more women into certain sectors. Panellists included; Angela Constance MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning; Carol Monaghan MP, SNP spokesperson for public services and education; Megan Dunn, NUS President; Vonnie Sandlan, NUS Scotland President; Prof Andrea Nolan OBE, principal and Vice Chancellor, Edinburgh Napier University; Prof Michael Gunn, Vice Chancellor and Chief Executive Staffordshire University; and Tom Freeman, journalist at Holyrood Magazine.
At the Liberal Democrat, Labour and Conservative conferences we also held series of fringes in conjunction with the New Economics Foundation (NEF) titled ‘How can people-power kick start our democracy’. In addition to this series of fringes we also held a series of fringes with NEF titled ‘Can people power-kick start democracy’. These fringes were held outside of the secure zone in Bournemouth, Brighton and Manchester, bringing together politicians, students, local media and the local community in lively debates which looked how we can create political change at a local level, the role that students and students’ unions play in this, and how this can bring about national change.
Particular issues raised included work that NEF have undertaken, including around ‘fairness commissions’, which provide a forum for community engagement and advocacy on their local priorities; the role that students’ unions play in encouraging and facilitating political engagement on and off campus; and practical steps which government could enact, such as extending votes to 16 and 17 year-olds, developing political education in schools and colleges, and integrating university and college enrolment with voter registration.