Thursday 21-07-2016 - 12:16
The University of Northampton Students’ Union Executive Committee chose NUS’ #CutTheCosts campaign as their priority campaign for the 2015-16 academic year. Student Voice Manager Mary Oswald tells us why…
Maintenance Grants were given to students from low-income households to ease their living costs. At the University of Northampton Students’ Union we think that scrapping maintenance grants is a direct attack on students from low income backgrounds as they provide vital support for over half a million students. At the University of Northampton, 58 per cent of students were entitled to a full/partial maintenance grant in the 2015-16 academic year.
Without these grants, the least wealthy students will incur even more debt to fund their studies. Worse still, they may feel they can’t even apply due to the lack of support available. Students are finding it increasingly difficult to meet the day-to-day costs of studying, and taking away the grants will make it even harder. We believe that education should not only be for the privileged. A better-educated society is a better-functioning society – so why is the government making higher education increasingly inaccessible?
What did we do?
The Union conducted a variety of activities as part of an integrated marketing strategy:
- A flash mob was led by the University of Northampton Dance Club over lunch in the university restaurant to raise awareness of the issue and its impact on students. As the single highest area of footfall on campus, this activity was effective in educating students on the potential impact of the removal of maintenance grants.
- Our flashmob was supported by pop-up activity across both campuses conducted by student volunteers. Students were provided placards, megaphones and informational materials to further extend our educational message.
- Branded posters and digital assets were developed to provide a real, personal link with each student by asking “What would you get with your 52k debt?” Tangible alternatives were then proposed, including 15,805 meal deals from the SU shop, 315 puppies from Battersea, a small detached house in the North of England, etc. This allowed the union to keep the campaign consistently fresh by proposing relevant new products throughout the year and to target different student demographics with a variety of alternatives.
- A team of student campaigners and elected officers were invited to Westminster by NUS to directly lobby our local MP, Michael Ellis. The team were branded in the Students’ Union’s vibrant “What could you get with your 52k debt?” t-shirts and were clearly visible on site. The team spoke with Mr Ellis for a full 30 minutes and the outcome of the meeting was reported back to the student body through the Students’ Union website and social media: University of Northampton Students Lobby Westminster to Cut The Costs; Union Promotes Cut The Costs in London
- A survey was distributed to gauge how students on campus felt about the proposed changes, and the impact they felt the move would have on them. Just over 300 students completed this survey and the results used by the Executive Committee to inform their conversations and letters to Michael Ellis MP.
- The Sabbatical Officers wrote to our local MPs for their take on the matter and to urge them to vote against the move. We used findings in the aforementioned survey to give evidence to our argument.
- We wrote to our VC to understand his thoughts and if the university was against the move.
- Videos were produced with our executive team to highlight how the changes will be a negative move (see here for some examples!)
Unfortunately, the government voted for the change by 292 votes to 306, however parliament has debated the replacement of maintenance grants by loans three times since the start of 2016.
MPs first debated the removal of the maintenance grant on 14 January 2016. This was followed by a further debate in the House of Commons on 19 January 2016 and a third debate took place in the House of Lords on 25 January 2016. A total of 65 MPs also signed an early day motion which opposed changing grants to loans. The additional debates and prolonged decision was hopefully partly due to our and other SUs work on highlighting how this is detrimental to students from lower income families entering UK universities.
The campaign was effective in engaging with and educating the student body in the issue. The Students’ Union’s news articles on the subject were amongst the most read across the year, whilst social media posts received hundreds of comments and replies in response. We have seen students become much more interested in campaigning for change and shouting about things they are not happy about. This is particularly the case when it comes to student debt and finance, the student community are engaging with the Union more and more to fight against things they disagree with.