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NUS National Conference 2017 highlights

Last week, Brighton played host to the annual National Union of Students (NUS) National Conference where ARU Students’ Union were represented. This conference saw, among other things, the election of a new leadership. The headline news is that incumbent President, Malia Bouattia, was unseated by current Vice President (Further Education), Shakira Martin. This, combined with an influx of new officers with less radical politics than their predecessors, marks a symbolic rejection of hard left student politics by a majority of delegates in favour of a more moderate approach. How exactly this will manifest is yet to be seen, but this Wonkhe article speculates that it may involve less resources being channeled into demonstrations and more emphasis on lobbying senior political figures.

Martin will be only the second NUS President never to have gone to university. The article suggests that ‘Vice President for Higher Education will therefore be more important than usual’. The new VP HE is Amatey Doku of Cambridge University, whose dissertation concerned the institutional racism at (awkwardly) Cambridge University. His interests primarily lie in closing the black and minority ethnic (BME) attainment gap. Together with Martin’s own experiences as a single mother and self-proclaimed former drug dealer, access and widening participation are likely to feature prominently on the NUS’ list of priorities this year.

Another priority, the article states, is likely to be producing a ‘manifesto for teaching excellence’ to rival the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF). This resonates with a commitment laid out in our own policy on the Students’ Union’s stance toward the TEF: ‘to lobby ARU to create a definition and internal benchmark of teaching quality informed by staff and student opinion’.

The Higher Education and Research Act

Last week the highly contentious Higher Education and Research Bill finally passed into law, following months of debate between the Houses of Parliament, as well as external pressure from the National Union of Students (NUS) and the University and College Union (UCU). Although the NUS were proud of the hard-won concessions that they achieved, the UCU General Secretary, Sally Hunt, warned that ‘they ask the government to make a minor detour while allowing them to keep their long-term plans to marketise the sector firmly on track’.

The Act sanctions the creation of an Office for Students, which will oversee a significant change to the regulatory architecture of higher education as we know it, with the implementation of the Teaching Excellence Framework. This framework will allegedly ‘introduce stronger incentives for universities to raise teaching quality and support students into employment’, but its linking of student satisfaction statistics and graduate employment data to hikes in tuition fees has been heavily criticized.

One of the amendments that the Lords were able to attach to the Bill was to postpone the coupling of these data to fees until September 2020. Thanks to pressure put upon the Universities Minister, Jo Johnson, there has also been concessions with regard to: offering Sharia-compliant loans to Muslim students; having student representation in the Office for Students; making the efficacy of the Teaching Excellence Framework subject to an independent evaluation, and forcing universities to publish data on attainment gaps at their institutions.

This article, however, warns that the Act might open the gates to further change for Higher Education in England. ‘In the next five years’ it predicts, ‘we could see…the terms of borrowing a student loan begin to change from universal provision towards a risk assessment of the student’s background, the university chosen, and the typical repayment rates for their chosen subject’.


Highlights from the week’s papers

Augmented reality and games-based learning looks at the potential technological future of teaching.

Part-time student numbers plummet examines the reasons surrounding a sharp fall in students choosing to balance study and work.