Luke James, Postgraduate Taught Section Officer for NUS, received a rapture of applause for a bold speech which challenged government over their neglect of postgraduate education.
Luke captured the packed audience at the Westminster HE Forum on "The future for postgraduate education" in Whitehall, which included representatives from HEFCE and QAA, vice-chancellors, academics, students’ union officers, and members of the House of Lords.
He opened with the question ‘Why is it that policymakers are so quiet on postgraduate education?’, concluding that government must be oblivious to the wider benefits of the sector and believe that it can sustain itself without any intervention.
The speech put forward a strong case for public investment in postgraduate education, citing the major economic and social benefits it yields, and warning of the detrimental effect on fair access and equality of opportunity that would result from further cuts to public funding and fee rises.
But Luke really got the audience’s attention when he began to outline proposals for a new student finance model, which would include a trio of support from government, employers and professional bodies, and HE institutions.
In the panel discussion which followed the speech, Luke gave more details on the proposals, stating that a government-backed, income-contingent loan scheme may be the first step towards fairer access and the sustainability of the sector.
Such a scheme, he argued, must go hand-in-hand with regulation of fees and guarantees that HEFCE and research council funding would not face further cuts. The future of the sector depended on ending the passing of costs on to the already overburdened student.
The proposals received a very positive response from delegates at the forum. NUS expect to give more details of the proposals in a publication before the end of the year.