Damn right we’re transparent and accountable

Thursday 17-12-2015 - 15:24

We have prepared a draft response to question 20 (on improving the transparency and accountability of SUs) from the government’s HE Green Paper. We will be sending round a full draft response to members in the New Year; we’d appreciate your feedback before we submit it mid January.

We are expecting students’ unions to submit individual responses in additional to NUS’s national one.

I wanted to outline in how we’ve approached Question 20 so we can ensure unions’ responses are complementing the national message. Given the context, it is important we are (and are seen to be) united on this.

A. Our core message. 
I’d like all students’ unions to include these points:

  • NUS welcomes the government’s recognition of the important role SUs play in representing students’ interests. Students’ unions across the country do incredible work on their campuses and in their communities.
  • We are already regulated. Primarily by the Charities Commission, but other regulation is relevant too. We have many responsibilities with regards to transparency and accountability.
  •  This is an opportunity. We want to work with government to make changes which support students’ unions to be a more effective force for good in education and society.

B. The main narrative. 
I suggest you cover most of this:

  • Students’ unions are committed to being transparent and accountable. As democratic institutions dedicated to representing their members, students’ unions consistently strive to innovate in this area.
  • We have developed considerably over the last 20 years.* In terms of our organisational quality we are very proud of our progress.
  • We are not complacent and recognise that there is always more that can be done. We see the potential to continue to develop as a strong self-regulated students’ union movement with robust, consistent and comparable published data about what students’ think of them through the NSS; a quality framework that is externally validated and has widespread adoption; and unprecedented levels of student engagement underpinned by consistent and robust sharing of data.
  • Students’ unions are a vital part of the education landscape and powerful agents of positive change.* Whether it is through their work changing the social norms around drinking on our campuses through their work on alcohol impact; or leading the debate on sustainability; or in providing life-changing experiences through their clubs and societies; or in acting as key partners in driving up educational quality through the extensive and well developed role they play providing critical challenge to Higher Education providers; students’ unions are widely recognised as a positive and powerful influence on higher education. 

C. Additional colour and evidence. 
You might want to think about including these things throughout your response:

  • What the SU means to you and your students. For example, any research you have done or what you learned from the #LoveSUs day of action.
  • Your own organisational values and how you put them into practice.
  • External organisations you work with to assess the quality of your SU’s practices.*
  • How your SU fits into the national picture. It is worth highlighting that each of our unions is far from unique in our quality practices and contribution to society.

D. Our key proposals to increase transparency and accountability
Include each as you see relevant: 

  • A bank of questions about students’ unions should be added to the core National Student Survey.
  • National agreement that institutional data will be shared with unions, in a way that clearly respects data protection rules and the privacy of students, but that facilitates greater positive engagement between unions and their membership.
  • National support for Quality Students’ Unions and whether publication of a union’s QSU status could be considered part of the information requirements placed on HE providers.

*Extensive supporting details and evidence for this point are included in the full version.

Starting in January I’m pleased to say I will be embarking on a #LoveSUs tour of students’ unions. This is my way of having a national conversation with members, absorbing your ideas and sharing what I learn along the way. I want to talk about how we make the most of opportunities presented by the HE Green Paper and the Area Reviews of Further Education, whilst simultaneously building public support for SUs and preparing to defend the student movement.



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