Shakira Martin, National President 2017/19
Amatey Doku, Vice President Higher Education 2017/2019
Emily Chapman, Vice President Further Education 2017/2019
This campaign was focused on preventing differential fees, a real threat facing students in the autumn of 2018, as a result of government plans to implement fees based on the subjects being studied. For example, £6,500 for art subjects through to £13,000 for medicine and dentistry. The risks of such measures applied to students, education staff, and institutions with universities and colleges expected to plug any funding gaps themselves, staff facing working in a two, three, and four-tier system of education, and students no longer able to afford to study their preferred subjects.
The first stage of the campaign was to stop differential fees becoming an official recommendation in the Augar Review of Post-18 Funding. To do this we needed to make sure everyone influential in the debate was speaking out against them.
We created a hub of specific campaign resources and materials for use by students’ unions and students about the policy issues involved and asked students to ask their vice-chancellors to make a pledge against these proposals.
We also provided evidence to the Augar Review, meeting with the panel led by Dr. Philip Augar, regularly between February 2018 to May 2019.
Throughout the spring of 2019, we ran a proactive media and social media campaign highlighting the potential impacts of differential fees and emphasising the role of the review in smashing down barriers to education and addressing the findings of our Poverty Commission Report.
The Augar Review Report was finally published in May 2019, having been originally expected during December 2018. It set out the independent panel’s findings and policy recommendations, many of which reflected the evidence provided by NUS and students’ unions. These included the proposed reintroduction of maintenance grants and increased resources for disadvantaged students; the reduction in tuition fees to £7,500; and the recommended investment in a further education sector starved of resources for too long. Crucially, the report recognised Further Education as of equal standing to Higher Education and that its resourcing should reflect this parity of esteem.
Even the outgoing prime minister Theresa May agreed that maintenance grants should be reintroduced but having been a member of successive governments who initially slashed maintenance grants and NHS bursaries, and increased and promoted the hostile environment, her change in stance came a little late in the day.
Unfortunately, the report did perpetuate the premise of “low value” and “high value” courses and proposed rationalisation of further education provision, implying support for a focus on education that delivers narrow economic returns.
The government was due to respond to the Augar Review in 2019, but this timescale slipped as the Conservative Party focused on selecting a new leader and by-default prime minister, with attention then directed towards Brexit and then a general election.
Finally, during the summer and autumn of 2020, Ministers in the Department for Education and then the Prime Minister began making speeches referencing the Augar Review findings and how they plan to implement them.
Meanwhile, NUS launched the National Education Service campaign in 2019/20 to begin a conversation about the need for learning support – fully funded, accessible, and life-long. This work is now being taken forward as part of our nationwide 2020/22 campaigns a Students Deserve Better and New Vision for Education.
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