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What happened when NUS went to Labour Party conference?

Friday 30-09-2016 - 15:03

At the start of the week, NUS were in Liverpool for the Labour Party conference – leading events, meeting MPs and shaping debates about the future of the UKs education system.

Across the four days of the conference, your NUS officers spoke at and attended dozens of panels and roundtables, spanning the breadth of issues affecting students across the country.

These ranged from Brexit to the HE Bill, student mental health to the impact of Prevent, the future of skills and further education to the lifelong learning agenda.

NUS held two fringe events of its own; the first, co-hosted with us by LabourList and MillionPlus, looked at what Brexit means for HE in the UK.

A packed room heard from Gordon Marsden MP (Shadow HE Minister), Roberta Blackman-Woods MP (Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Universities), Professor Dave Phoenix (Vice-Chancellor, LSBU) – as well as our very own President, Malia Bouattia.

The discussion covered the impact that Brexit will have on students, universities and the government’s HE Bill – with Malia expressing severe concerns about the threat that the Bill poses to the safety of students, if it will be easier for universities to collapse, and with a clear message about the value of EU students being able to come and study in the UK.

During the event, Malia said: “The friendships and new perspectives that grow between students from every corner of the world during their time at university are one of the things that make higher education so transformative. If Brexit jeopardises the status of EU students in the UK’s universities, every student will be the worse for it.”

  

The second NUS event caught the interest of the conference, with the room being so full people had to sit on the floor to find space.

The event looked at the impact of the statutory Prevent duty on different students and communities, and the audience heard big concerns raised by Yasmin Qureshi MP, Malia Bouattia, Rob Goodfellow (President, UCU) and Assed Baig (Channel 4 journalist) about the potential that Prevent has to target Muslim students in particular.

As you may have seen on Buzzfeed, the event was at the centre of controversy when one of the panellists, a student from Luton who was due to join to speak about his own personal experience of the application of the Prevent duty, was actually declined entry to the conference. His powerful contribution was made by speaker phone instead and led to rapturous applause from those in the room.

Beyond our own events, if you were at conference, you may have seen President Malia Bouattia speaking on a UCU panel about the HE Bill or Vice President Shelly Asquith raising concerns about mental health.

Education has been a big talking point of the conference – following the re-election of Jeremy Corbyn and his announcement of a campaign against grammar schools, and Angela Rayner’s first speech as Shadow Education Secretary in which she outlined her personal experiences of barriers to study. By being at the centre of this debate, NUS has continued to get the voices of students directly heard by the decision-makers and opinion formers on the issues that are directly affecting them.

This weekend, NUS representatives will be heading to Birmingham for the Conservative Party conference where we’re holding another fringe event (full details here) with the Universities Minister himself Jo Johnson MP, and will be joining even more panels to discuss improving access to higher education, the role of HE in the skills agenda, and the true meaning of Brexit for students.

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