Friday 18-03-2016 - 10:10
FOUR years ago, NUS Wales launched a typically ambitious piece of work.
If we ripped up post-16 education in Wales and started again - what would it look like?
Free from all the vested interests, the multitude of reviews and the fractured and divided sector we see now.
This was ambitious because it sought to engage as much of the student population of Wales in an exercise to redesign how they learn. To look beyond immediate political priorities and rebuild for the long-term.
The Imagine Education exercise sought to change the parameters of dialogue, debate and discussion on education in Wales, and what resulted from the commission was a vision developed by students which recognised the barriers and inequalities of the current system, and offered ways to overcome them.
The vision that emerged recognised education as a lifelong process, which didn’t funnel students on to one prescribed path. A system that meant a student’s journey is flexible, forgiving of mistakes and supportive for those who want to change course. Students imagined an education system where they were true partners in designing and co-creating their education, while institutions were embedded and active in their communities.
Fast forward to today, and Imagine Education is a step closer to reality.
The publication of the Hazelkorn Review last week incorporated a huge chunk of what our commission recommended should happen with our education system:
- Increased partnership within the sector
- A collaborative approach to deliver education that meets the needs of the learners and the economy
- Institutions with civic engagement at the core of their activities.
- A funding council that works to ensure equity across all forms of learning
For those who have been involved with the student movement in Wales for a while, it is a familiar tale.
For years, students have demanded a united education system driven by, and responsive to, the needs of students. We’ve long argued that a long-term strategy - beyond the whims of five-year elected terms - should be at the forefront in developing our universities and colleges.
What we need now is a commitment from the next Welsh Government to retain the principles which students first set out two years before Professor Ellen Hazelkorn started her review.
We must see a genuine move towards HE and FE institutions working in partnership with their local communities - and for a funding council and regulator that can steward both parts of the sector towards the same ultimate aim.
The recommendations within the review are just the start, but the start of an important journey in creating a post-16 education sector in Wales that is truly accessible, flexible, rooted in partnership and embedded in communities.
The student movement is often accused of being detached from reality, of blue-sky thinking and not considering the harsh realities before them.
But the outcomes of this review - and the massive success NUS Wales had in reversing proposed cuts to the higher education budget - prove what can be achieved when students are allowed to lead from the front.
Now is the time for politicians to follow our lead and make this vision a reality.