Monday 23-11-2015 - 09:42
Why do we need students’ unions? What’s the point of them? Is there one unifying thing?
Education has always been a space rightly loaded with disagreement and debate. What is it for? To supply the economy? To solve global problems? And in whose interests does the system work?
Time and again, students bear the brunt of changes to education. Extreme debt makes students ill and averse to taking risk. The high cost of living punishes all but the wealthiest students, and pushes many away from education altogether. Cuts close down courses, while college mergers limit opportunities in areas where they are needed the most.
We need an education system where anyone can be a student and be supported through education without experiencing isolation, discrimination or injustice - a system that works for the many to support a progressive, developed and prosperous society.
We know that students have the power to make this change but as individuals, students are underpowered in terms of influence and economic power. Governments and policy-makers often rely on this to railroad through their agenda.
However, there’s one thing that can’t be ignored – students’ power when we work together through students’ unions.
This is the basis of our movement - greater than the sum of its parts - astonishing power, a formidable track record and a clear mission to build more power for students. That’s why we need students’ unions.
Loving SUs is easy because you’re beautiful
Students’ unions ability to transform the state of our educational landscape – whilst amazing – is not the reason I love them. Students’ unions aren’t abstract ideals or values held in the abstract. The reason I #LoveSUs is because students’ unions change lives. And I know that, because they changed mine.
Many of you know I was the first person in my family to go to university. I grew up in social housing, with three siblings, raised by our mum. I left behind most of my mates in Dover to go to university in Hull (UK City of Culture, 2017), knowing no one, not knowing what to expect, feeling isolated and alone. I felt like I’d left my friends, my home and my family home for something that wasn’t worth it. I went to the accommodation office to ask when I could return back to Dover.
And then I found my new home.
I joined a society, and I met new people and made new friends. And then I ran in an election and then a campaign, and then I was a member of another student group, and another, and another. Then I was playing music with other people, and doing stuff I’d never dreamed of and then I had a family, and friends and a new life.
And throughout all of that, my students’ union looked out for me; when I needed food parcels or when I needed support. It was always there. And my story is far from unique. In fact, it’s ordinary. And that’s why I #LoveSUs.
We gotta fight fight fight fight, fight for this #LoveSUs
The #LoveSUs campaign is not a marketing gimmick to boost brand awareness or whatever. Today I’m asking you to reflect publicly on why you care about our movement, because the future of students’ unions might depend on it.
This is part of a response by NUS to the Higher Education Green Paper, which raised the question of the transparency and accountability of students’ unions. We are proud to be able to answer these questions directly, and without hesitation.
Firstly because we care honestly about the question – students’ unions aim to be as democratic as possible - but also because we are well-run organisations, with widespread support, and we will take every opportunity to shout about this. But there is an underlying story here. The government have hinted these changes are associated to their reforms of trade unions – new draconian legislation to clamp down on collective action – and we have previous experience from 20 years ago of similar attempts against students’ unions.
The world is different now, students’ unions are even more embedded across education and certainly recent governments have worked very constructively with the student movement. But today we need to #LoveSUs for a reason, and let the reason be showing the levels of love for students’ unions. It’s also why over this year I’m steering work to make sure we are able to evidence the contribution we make to students and wider society.
So today, contact your Vice-Chancellor, get your President of the Dance Society and your favourite lecturer to be proud and to say why they #LoveSUs too.
If you’d like to know more, click here.
(Yes, there are four references to love songs in this blog. You are welcome, student movement.)