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What happened when NUS went to SNP conference?

Friday 21-10-2016 - 17:00

A week ago, your officers from NUS and NUS Scotland headed to Glasgow to attend the last of this year’s party conferences

Having run events at both Labour and Conservative party conferences, we were also there in force at SNP conference (13-15 October) to make the case for accessible and transformative education to SNPs representatives in both Westminster and Holyrood.

NUS ran its own event on the conference fringe – in partnership with MillionPlus – that called for action on access and participation in Scotland and across the whole UK. NUS UK President Malia Bouattia and NUS Scotland President Vonnie Sandlan spoke on a panel that included Shirley-Anne Somerville MSP, HE and FE Minister in the Scottish Government, and Carol Monaghan MP, the SNP’s Education spokesperson in Westminster, as well as Clive Mulholland and Shirley Atkinson, Vice Chancellors at Highlands and Islands and Sunderland respectively.

Malia and Vonnie both made impassioned cases for improving access and widening participation, focusing attention on the recent Commission for Widening Access and the promise of a review of Student Support in Scotland and dramatic changes to grants, bursaries and financial support for student made by the UK government.

Beyond our own event, NUS and NUS Scotland had an active weekend – meeting up with key figures from the education sector and at all levels of the SNP, as well as speaking on the panels of other organisations to ensure students’ interests were heard loud and clear, far and wide.

Vonnie participated in IPPR Scotland’s What next for Scotland and Europe? event, alongside Geoff Aberdein, former Chief of Staff to the First Minister; Stephen Gethins MP, the SNPs Europe Spokesperson at Westminster; and, John Edward, former senior campaign spokesperson for Scotland Stronger In. In the discussion on the political challenges that lie ahead for post-Brexit Scotland, Vonnie focussed on the importance of ensuring young people’s voices are at the heart of the debate, not least after 16 and 17 year olds were denied a voice and a vote, and the huge risks to education posed by Brexit. Vonnie also emphasised the huge contributions made by EU students to our campuses, communities and countries, and welcomed Scottish Government commitments to work to protect the status of EU nationals in Scotland and also guarantee funding for prospective EU students.

Elsewhere, Vonnie spoke alongside Callum McCaig MP, SNP Spokesperson for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy; Trisha McAuley OBE; Yvonne MacDermid, Chief Executive, Money Advice Scotland; and, Sacha Deshmukh, Smart Energy GB Chief Executive, at a Smart Energy GB fringe event about the future of energy. Vonnie highlighted NUS’ Homes fit for study research, which revealed how the lives of many students at university and their ability to study effectively are hit hard by how difficult and how expensive it can be to heat their rented property. She also welcomed recent funding secured by NUS from Smart Energy GB to produce materials to communicate the benefits of smart meters to students in the private-rented sector.

The SNP conference concludes NUS’s party conference activity for this year. Across the three conferences, NUS has ensured that students’ voices have been heard and that decisions and debates have been shaped across the full breadth of the political spectrum.

With Parliament now back in session in Westminster and reforms to education coming thick and fast, the work of NUS will continue to engage with parliament, politicians and the major parties in the debates to come – and we will keep supporting students and students’ unions to campaign and lobby on the ground in their constituencies to make sure their MPs represent them.

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