Ben Whittaker, NUS Vice President (Welfare), writes about the effect the Comprehensive Spending Review has on student welfare.
We know that a student’s welfare is pivotal to their ability to succeed. Whether that’s about the roof over a students’ head, their safety, their mental health or access to services helping them to navigate through their academic careers, we know that the experiences of students outside the academic context are the things that can make or break a student’s education.
And we also know the CSR looks to attack key services on all fronts; housing, crime, benefits, safety and health have all been implicated in the announcements. However, indirectly, many of the student specific services that students depend on – accommodation, counselling, careers, study skills and support, advice and advocacy, financial support to name but a few – will be key targets as universities and colleges seek to claw back. We need to be prepared to make tough decisions, but also ready to protect the very things that can make FE and HE accessible.
There are still so many areas in which we fall abysmally short of serving our members’ welfare needs: student parents with insufficient childcare, ever-diminishing discretionary funds, a lack of decent but affordable accommodation. How do we fight to deliver more, when the resources we have are less?
We need to speak out for why welfare matters. The CSR wasn’t a crushing blow for education just because of cuts to teaching budgets. Our student movement is a diverse one, and there is not one student out there who won’t have also been affected by the cuts to police budgets, by prospect of no future regulation in the PRS, by the scrapping of PCTs, or by the cuts to local authorities.
We need to add evidence to our arsenal. We all need to find out about what our services cost, and what value we get for that money – what impact do services have on retention and attainment? Where are the gaps in local provision? Who are the key contacts we need to be liaising with in the police, our councils, and our institutions to ensure our students voices are heard loud and clear around the table when decisions are being made?
We need to identify how we can do more, with less. Now more than ever we need to think creatively about how to provide solutions to these problems – where can we collaborate, and where can we adapt and build on services without additional resource? We need to establish our priorities. As unions we are going to have to recognise that our priorities may be different, but as a national union we can unite in the fight to protect the services, benefits and rights that are a lifeline to our students.
I hope to see you at the National Demo on Wednesday 10 November. This is the opportunity of a lifetime to shout a loud and clear message to decision makers in this country that we will not accept cuts that put our education at risk.