Higher Education Zone Conference opened with a Question Time entitled “Who are the winners and losers of the White Paper?”.
Sophie Richardson, President at QMSU chaired and introduced the debate on the government’s education reforms.
Carl Lygo, Principal at BPP University College, said that the winners would be part time students, but that the losers would be those students who wouldn’t apply to higher education.
Chris Morecroft, ex-President at the Association of Colleges, said that it was important to remember we do not currently live in a perfect world, and that it would be many of the same people who would be both winners and losers.
Tricia King, Pro-Vice Master Student Experience at Birkbeck, said that the winners would be the sector as they were gaining a lot of attention from Martin Lewis, who is a “weighty champion” for the need for a review.
Usman Ali, NUS Vice President Higher Education, said that the universities in the middle range would be forced to fight for students, lower their fees and have less perceived prestige, leaving them the big losers of the White Paper.
The winners were “clearly the government” with the losers “students, public, institutions, everyone in this room”.
Questions from the floor came on whether education was a “social good or commodity”, if it was fair to have a panel of this nature, how extra fees might be used in different universities given their very different aims, and whether we “had given up the fight for free education”.
Usman responded that to engage with these issues the NUS must be challenged, and make sure that “we’ve got the answers” to the arguments we disagree with, and that that students’ unions have a “moral role” to play in promoting student aspiration, and that students should have a “stake in education, not just purchasing power”.
Tricia said the “rhetoric of debt” perpetuated by the media was not constructive, and that students “always chose, even if not on price”, whilst Chris claimed that students “have always been consumers, whether you like it or not”.
Carl Lygo said that students’ unions should “beat down the doors” of MPs to show them the wider experience of students outside Oxbridge.
Usman finished by arguing that students as consumers supposes a “false choice” when social class and grades make the choice for students, and that students’ unions should “lead by example” to move away from the culture of traditional students, “not just talking about”.