Education Policy

Policy passed at National Conference 2021


What is the issue facing students?

• The Erasmus+ programme provides opportunities for students to study, train, and work in 34 European Union and associated countries, which are full participants in the programme, and up to 156 countries elsewhere in the world.
• Following the UK’s withdrawal agreement with the EU, the UK will no longer be able to participate in Erasmus+, meaning opportunities for both inbound and outbound study exchange in Europe are at risk.
• The UK’s planned replacement programme, the Turing scheme, is not a ‘like-for-like’ replacement for Erasmus+. It is reported that vocational education opportunities will not be supported under the new scheme. It is likely that this difference will disproportionately affect students from disadvantaged backgrounds.
• A report from the House of Lords EU Services sub-committee highlighted that the multiple benefits of the Erasmus+ programme would be extremely difficult to replicate with a new national programme.
• Erasmus+ is an integral part of language degrees in the UK and contributes heavily to the promotion of languages in our education institutions – more than half (53 per cent) of UK-domiciled students who study abroad do so through Erasmus+.
• According to the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office, the Turing scheme will not enable staff mobility or provide funding for inbound mobility. This leads to doubts surrounding the perceived attractiveness of participating in such a scheme for international HE institutions, considering the Turing scheme is not planning for reciprocal action of providing funding for inbound students.
• Moreover, from 2021-2022, EU students who want to study for over 6 months in the UK will be expected to pay international fees and apply for a visa (costing around £800 including a health surcharge). This creates another barrier for disadvantaged groups and may present the UK as a less attractive option for EU students looking to study abroad. In this case, the UK may miss out on the enriching experience of hosting thousands of EU students each year.
• British home students wanting to study in EU countries for longer than 90 days will have to adhere to different immigration processes and may have to apply for a visa. It is unclear what this process will look like and may involve complicated procedures for visa applications and incur additional costs.
• Concerns have been raised by educators in the HE sector around the Turing scheme being a) underfunded and b) ‘half-baked’ with many gaps. The new scheme needs to provide a well-rounded programme and ensure that the absence of Erasmus+ in the UK does not reduce the amount of engagement in exchange programmes from students, including engagement in European language courses.

Why is this important to us as a movement?

• NUS UK believes in a transformational educational experience that provides opportunities for all, regardless of background or identity.
• In 2017, 16,561 UK-domiciled students participated in Erasmus+.
• The UK is the third most popular destination for incoming students with 31,396 students coming to study or complete a traineeship in 2018-19. Our whole society benefits from the addition of exchange students in our communities.
• Over its lifetime of 30 years, Erasmus – which in 2014 evolved into Erasmus+ – has made learning mobility easy, invented patterns of educational cooperation and extended its approach into sport and the youth area. It delivers economies of scale for Erasmus mobility grants, joint master degrees, cooperation projects including capacity building in knowledge alliances with business, collaborative partnerships in the field of sport and policy reform with a focus on youth.[1]
• Moreover, Erasmus+ is not only for students studying degree courses, the scheme allows for vocational opportunities and the free movement of teachers to train and teach across the EU.
• The House of Lords EU-Services sub-committee report noted that leaving Erasmus+ would "disproportionately affect people from disadvantaged backgrounds and those with medical needs or disabilities".
• A student’s educational experience is transformed by the international outlooks of their EU domicile peers.
• The UK’s planned ‘Turing scheme’ is due to launch in September 2021. This means that UK students wanting to study abroad will be able to access this scheme to travel to countries across the world. According to the DofE, the Turing scheme will receive over £100 million in funding for up to 35,000 students to go on exchanges and placements overseas. However, from the 2022-2023 academic year, when it comes to EU countries, UK nationals will only be able to stay in an EU country (except from Ireland) for 90 out of every 180 days without a visa.
• Students and young people overwhelmingly voted Remain in the 2016 EU Referendum and have consistently voted for pro-EU and pro-second referendum parties in the two successive elections following the referendum.
• A progressive future is built on cooperation with our closest neighbours and allies.
• The events of recent years have represented a profound detachment from what we collectively regard as the United Kingdom’s righteous future within a free and prosperous European Union.

What would the world look like if we solved it?

• In the long-term, the Erasmus+ programme should be reinstated in its entirety, as it is the key to a cooperative and accessible educational experience.
• In the short term, there should be dedicated funding within the Turing scheme for inbound EU exchange programmes, to ensure the further enriching our higher education sector and increase the likelihood of creating international partners.
• Government should ensure the time taken for visa processes (for outbound and inbound exchange) is not prohibitive and that sufficient resource is invested to making the process accessible for students from all backgrounds.
• Government should provide additional support for the Higher Education sector to cover additional costs associated with studying abroad for students.

Ideas for Implementation
• NUS raise awareness around the deficits of the Turing scheme and highlight to students and the public that it does not equate fully to Erasmus+.


Policy passed at National Conference 2022

Making University Accessible


Everyone has a right to an accessible education, but there are barriers that exist to that:
1. A lack of inclusivity in HE for non-traditional and under-represented students
Universities are becoming increasingly diverse, attracting a greater number of non-traditional and under-represented students than ever before through enhanced widening participation schemes. This includes - but is not limited to - mature students, students of faith, first-generation students, BAME students, Deaf and disabled students, LGBT+ students, and any student with access needs.

However, despite the increase in access to higher education for non-traditional and under-represented students, many such students still face greater barriers to attainment once they reach university. For example, many mature-students balance work and childcare commitments alongside their full-time education, students of faith are subject to class schedules that are incompatible with their religious commitments, and first-generation students may lack family guidance on the overall university experience, hence may have a greater need for student academic and welfare support services to help them navigate the various challenges of higher education.

Despite the clear barriers to attainment that many non-traditional and under-represented students face, there is substantial evidence to suggest that universities are not doing enough to make higher education inclusive for those students – such as via insufficient provision of student academic and welfare support services (which are often cited as a key factor to various non-traditional and under-represented student attainment gaps), as well as via timetabling that is incompatible with the likes of childcare, work or religious commitments.

Furthermore, there is substantial evidence that inflexible and non-consultive timetabling practices detrimentally impact the experience of non-traditional and under-represented students, particularly student carers and students of faith. For instance, Muslim students/staff at various universities have reported to being affected regarding Friday Prayers and academic sessions scheduled at midday on Friday, and Jewish students/staff have been affected when trying to get home before Friday sunset to observe the Sabbath, especially during the autumn/winter period. Further still, many student parents report that inflexible timetabling makes childcare difficult to balance alongside their studies.

2. The new OfS proposal threatens the recruitment of non-traditional and under-represented students
Further still, the recent OfS proposal to defund “low-quality courses” could turn out to have disastrous outcomes for the recruitment of non-traditional and under-represented students on university level courses. That is, the new proposal threatens to restrict student loan funding on university courses with poor continuation, completion and progression rates, which tend to have higher numbers of non-traditional and under-represented students enrolled on them. Although the OfS has stated that this measure is aimed at improving outcomes for all students by ensuring that their course essentially constitutes sufficient ‘value for money’, some prominent commentators within the Higher Education space – such as Jim Dickinson of WonkHE – have astutely pointed out that universities might in fact respond by recruiting fewer students from social backgrounds defined as having a higher propensity to drop out of university – such as black students or students from low-income backgrounds – so as to avoid scrutinization from the regulator. Thus, so as not to backtrack on important diversity improvements in the higher education space over the last few years, it is vital that universities strengthen their services and offerings to make higher education inclusive to all students, particularly those from non-traditional and under-represented backgrounds who may require additional support or adjustments.


Any issues pertaining to the recruitment or experience of non-traditional and under-represented students in higher education is of paramount importance to the NUS as a movement, given the fact that Equality, Diversity and Inclusion initiatives are at the heart of the work carried out by the organisation.

Indeed, the proposed attack on “low value” courses by the OfS impacts some of the courses and institutions that arguably add the most value to the future of a student, given that such institutions tend to recruit students who have not had many opportunities to ‘succeed’ in an educational and/or economic sense in their life so far. Hence, for non-traditional and under-represented students, access to higher education can be truly life-changing, and what’s more, their varied life experiences outside of higher education arguably adds valuable diversity to the graduate talent pool.

Yet if universities recruit fewer non-traditional and under-represented students out of fear that they will fail to meet new OfS requirements, there is a strong risk of backtracking on diversity improvements within the higher education sector, which strongly contradicts the NUS stance on EDI in higher education. That is, rather than ‘taking fewer risks’ by recruiting less non-traditional and under-represented students onto programmes, universities must recognize that such students might simply require extra tools, adjustments or support structures to be in place in order to succeed in a higher education setting.


If universities successfully improved the student experience – particularly for non-traditional and under-represented students – were to be successful, it would likely encourage a more diverse body of students to see through a degree qualification, thereby leading to a more diverse graduate pool and hence a more inclusive society as a whole, given that a more varied array of graduates would be entering the skilled jobs market.

If we tackled access issues effectively, FE students and 1st generation students would have clearer and more supported paths to tertiary education options, that are marketed effectively by providers so that students can choose to study at institutions that have the facilities to allow them to succeed, and that have the fulfil reasonable adjustment requests.

Finally, improving student support structures in light of the new OfS proposal would help more students – particularly the likes of ethnic minority students, first-generation students, students from low-income backgrounds, students of faith, student carers and mature students – to gain confidence in their abilities to succeed in higher education and increase their perception of their own value. Improving the student experience to make university more ‘inclusive’ could thereby positively influence key EDI metrics in the higher education space over time, such as the BAME awarding gap as well as the dropout rate for other marginalised groups.


● NUS should campaign for university providers to make the student experience more inclusive to ensure that non-traditional and under-represented students continue to be represented in the higher education space.
● NUS should campaign for universities to re-examine their approach to the student experience, particularly in light of the new OfS proposals.
● NUS should lobby for Universities to improve key student support structures that are of particular importance to students from non-traditional and under-represented background. E.g
○ More regular academic monitoring to enable students to feel more confident to approach academic staff for advice, as well as more constructive and comprehensive assessment feedback to enable students to identify key areas for improvement in their work
○ University-administered student liberation groups or networks aimed at building community and academic confidence amongst some of the most ‘at-risk’ groups in higher education i.e. BAME students, student carers or mature students.
● NUS should campaign for Universities to adopt the following inclusive timetabling policies (in consultation with staff/student communities):
1. When academic sessions are longer than 1 hour, students and staff should be given 10-minute breaks before the end of each hour (or an equivalent arrangement of the same time). If appropriate, universities may combine this break with the time allocated for session changes. Where applicable, this change would allow for most students of faith to pray during the breaks.
2. Universities should grant the daily provision of a minimum 1-hour lunch break between 12:00 and 14:00 to all students and staff. This measure could be adapted to be used to provide a break for Muslim Friday Prayer and universities should consult relevant student and staff bodies on what specific time would be appropriate.
3. Universities should proactively include students in the scheduling process and consult with students and staff before publishing the final versions of academic timetables. Consultations could either be via open meetings or through individual surveys. Universities should provide draft timetables to students and staff to review one week before the consultation period. Universities should publish final versions of academic timetables at a minimum of three weeks before starting academic terms/periods of formal assessment.
4. If requested during the consultation period, universities should avoid scheduling academic sessions during religious observances. They should recognise religious observances (like the Jewish Sabbath) as valid reasons to request alternative arrangements for academic sessions.
5. In all cases where universities cannot make alternative arrangements requested during the initial consultation period, universities should offer an open meeting with that community to reach a resolution and explain why they cannot meet the original requests.
6. If universities cannot make alternative arrangements, universities should consider the following advice: Regarding lectures, seminars or tutorials, universities should ensure that high-quality audio-visual recordings are available to all students and that affected students can ask their lecturer questions regarding their course.


Policy passed at National Conference 2022

New Vision for Education: Abolishing a Broken System; Reimagining Post-Market Transformative Education and a Strong Student Movement

What’s the issue?

Education in the UK is a market. What do markets do? They crash.
Higher Education in the UK today is heavily marketised. The lifting of the tuition fee cap and uncapping student numbers has resulted in institutions adopting models from business, being run by overpaid, unaccountable senior management teams. In Further Education, many college SUs are treated like branches of the institution. Across post-16 education, students are treated like pound signs, not people. Democratisation is a route to undoing this crisis and building spaces of education run by students, for students.

The core success measure for marketised education and society is profit and GDP. This decentralises wellbeing, equity and sustainability as the central purpose of education.
NUS, Students’ Unions, NSoA, activists and student groups are spending more resource making the current system survivable. Our time, energy and money is effectively propping up a system that’s harming us.

We’ve been so exhausted by patching up problems that we haven’t been able to imagine a new system

Over the last century, the movement has fought for and won on widening access initiatives. Many lives, and perceptions in society have changed due to us!

Despite the incredible work done by the student movement and our allies, the system is now running itself into the ground: just like any other market, it is heading for a crash. 
The mental health crisis, the housing crisis and the cost of living crisis: these are not just headlines, they’re our daily lives.

Without an alternative, the government are poised to take their next stab at education. 
They’re building an argument to turn the TRIUMPH of widening access into a problem that needs solving. 

They’re crashing unis and colleges out of the market in order to roll back access and reduce high quality post-16 education in the UK. 

There’s a lot going on:
●    A cultural campaign demonising students and unis as snowflakes and enemies of freedom and free speech. 
●    A conscious narrative that a degree doesn’t offer quality or value e.g. ‘mickey mouse degrees.’
●    A campaign of distraction for FE and HE through underfunding.
●    The active promotion of apprenticeships as a preferred alternative to FE and HE for everyone other than the wealthy – without investing anything into the apprentice experience

The truth is this: 
We won on access but the Govt fought back and turned education into a marketplace:
We resisted the market;
We tried to reform the market;
It’s time to replace it.

Our institutions are organised to exclude meaningful student involvement. This was orchestrated by legislation. In the 1994 Education Act, unions were turned into charities because the government feared students’ political power. This depoliticisation has continued over the past three decades. 

Now, students’ collective power is relegated to ‘consultation’ through heavy institutional bureaucracy, modelled on private companies, which actively isolates our elected officers from those they represent and makes pushing for change highly inaccessible for most students. This is paired with metrics that make the experiences of marginalised students invisible, harming students and institutions. 

Students can see that the system we learn in doesn’t work, and are more politicised than they have been in years, participating in youth strikes for climate, organising the largest rent strikes in years, and turning out in thousands to picket lines. Democratisation movements bringing together students and staff have sprung up in response to mishandling of the pandemic by senior managers. UoM students voted overwhelmingly to remove the Vice-Chancellor and replace her with a democratically-elected successor. Though often ignored, calls for radical reform of higher education have never been louder.

Universities operating as businesses have led to ongoing strikes. Subjecting staff to worsening pay and working conditions while reducing their pensions has stopped students getting the education they deserve. University managements seem unwilling to make decisions that treat students or staff with dignity, preventing either group having consistently positive experiences at work or while studying. 

Overwhelmingly pale, male, stale university management teams are making decisions that disproportionately impact the lives of marginalised students. Throughout the pandemic, the needs of disabled and immunocompromised students have been ignored. However, this is a problem that extends further, with universities supporting transphobia, and imposing racist security and policing on students.

Raising alternative models for university management is not considered a legitimate idea by the government and universities, despite widespread flaws in the current system. NUS is well-placed to campaign at a national level for fundamental changes to the education system, including tackling the lack of student involvement in decision-making structures, or appointment and oversight of senior managers, and to support democratisation efforts in our institutions and SUs. 

Why is this important to us as a movement?

Education is a human right that the student movement has been protecting, defending and extending for over a century. 

We are facing a generational crisis point with education at its centre. It is an uncertain economic, social and ecological future. 

The for-profit model of UK Universities hinders both students and academic workers. The struggle against fees and for fair wages is the same: creating an accessible, equitable and fair higher public education system. None of both aims will be solved without full opposition from students and academics against a model that extracts wages and fees from their communities in the most precarious conditions. Also, for PhD students, working conditions in academia are fundamental, not only because we are workers, also because we will be involved in academia in the long run. GTAs are the link between both communities to gain solidarity.

Not all universities have committed to allowing online access post-lockdown. Some universities are enacting strict face-to-face policies, which completely reverse the progress achieved during the pandemic with regards to accessibility. This may, in part, be because many teaching spaces are not equipped with technology which enables hybrid sessions to run as smoothly as face-to-face ones. Thus, we would like to see universities thoroughly consult students on their experiences of online learning to ascertain what the student body believe to be the most effective form of delivery as well as invest in classroom technology that enables high-quality blended learning. As outlined above, many - if not all - students could greatly benefit from being allowed to attend online when they wish to. Students should be empowered to choose the mode of learning that suits their needs and online alternatives could help learners not miss out on course content if they find themselves unable to attend in-person. 

A push for hybrid delivery fits within NUS’s New Vision for Education, a movement fighting for funded, accessible, lifelong and democratised education for all students. On 30th January NUS President, Larissa Kennedy, tweeted the following: ‘when online learning benefitted non-disabled students suddenly it was possible…immunocompromised and disabled students continue to need it to access education but now it’s impossible again? This is what disablism in education looks like.’

Education provides the fuel that will transform our future. Change education and you change the world.
Students’ ideas are always at the cutting edge: we push society forward.

FE students play a fundamental part in the student movement, from protesting unfair grading during the pandemic to helping to organise the climate strikes. FE students are passionate about student issues and should have the support in place to reflect this. 

If we don’t articulate a new vision for post-market transformative education then no-one will. No-one is going to do this for us.

NUS can and should hold the space for our movement to come together and imagine what a post-market transformative education looks like. 

NUS can and should focus on the roots of the issues we face and bring students together in a united powerful movement to create radical change.

What does the world look like if we change it?

Knowledge will be collectively owned and freely accessible globally; not limited. There is enough to go around!

The purpose of education will be to realise the transformational power of knowledge and ideas in pursuit of human wellbeing. 

Education will be transformational, not transactional. 

Education will be at the heart of tackling the challenges of our time: eradicating inequality, living peacefully and sustainably on this planet, and improving the quality of life for everyone. 

Institutions operating in a more democratic way, with participation from both students and staff, where students have influence in decision-making at every level, would begin to tackle many of these issues. 

If universities consulted students about modes of delivery and offered a remote learning option, they could create more inclusive learning environments and ensure that education remains accessible for all.

SUs can lead the way in developing a culture of democracy and participation by increasing their own internal democracy. SUs should be supported by NUS-provided critical, student-focused governance training to enable them to work, navigate through and disrupt the complex systems in which universities and colleges operate - and help them find opportunities for student involvement and democratisation within institutions. 

More established FE student unions would bring a greater awareness of the student movement to younger students and maybe even increase participation in HE unions down the line. It would also raise the profile of issues that these students may face later, such as funding further study and the cost of living. By increasing the presence of FE students in the movement we can gain further insight into issues affecting students, increase the reach of the movement and achieve more, quicker.

Students and staff should have a vote on the appointment of Vice-Chancellors, which would create a system of accountability and engagement within the institutions they lead. Elected students and staff should participate in the selection and appointment of new independent governors/councillors, similarly to SU Trustee boards. 
The university funding model should be reformed to shift focus away from market-based targets towards a system of government block-funding, where money is guaranteed not dependent on false targets and extortionate student fees. 
Consumer legislation should not apply to universities, as it is wrong that students are treated as consumers of a product. Currently, universities attempt to treat students as both consumers and not at the same time, resulting in a harmed student experience.  However, we recognise that we will continue to need protection in this violent system. We need a new student bill of rights that replaces the current consumer rights system. A system that protects us as learners not consumers. 

Ideas for implementation

-    A broad campaign to reverse marketisation and increase democratic engagement of students in university structures by NUS, SUs and student campaigners, working alongside staff trade unions, could start to reverse the harmful policies of the past 40 years, restoring education as a public service instead of a commodity. This campaign should not solely focus on fees but demand a public, inclusive, accessible education. 

-    We want to replace the ineffective consumer rights legal framework with one centred on our rights as learners. NUS could develop a new ‘Bill of Rights for Students’. Initially an aspirational vision it would in time form the basis for an act of parliament to demarketise our education system.

-    NUS should deliver political education at all levels on the history and importance of workers’ and students’ unions, with a focus on reaching those in our school system. 

-    NUS should propose a motion to all Student Unions to strike when union members in UK Universities strike in solidarity for working rights and a new model for public education.

-    NUS should offer full support to General Teaching Assistants, who are mostly PhD Students. GTAs are the most pressured and precarious members of the academic community.  

-    NUS, through NUS Charity, could provide a greater deal of support to FE unions and help them become more established and structured with full-time officers and democratic procedures in place. As well as investigating other ways in which they can be funded. As well as this they should support officers in participating in the student movement at a national and local level. This way FE students can have more of a say in their education as well as in the student movement as a whole. NUS should campaign to  make democratic student representation a legal requirement for all FE institutions.


Policy passed at National Conference 2023


What’s the issue and how does it affect students?
The education system is becoming increasingly inaccessible for a number of learners; from Further Education funding not extended to those above 24, apprentices being paid an unlivable wage, and Higher Education loans seeing real-terms cuts year on year.

Once learners have entered education, the support they are given is not enough. From disabled and neurodiverse students struggling to engage in an inaccessible environment, international students being forced to understand a westernised context, parents and carers not being able to afford care costs, and working class students being disadvantaged by digital poverty in an ever increasingly digital society.

But getting students into institutions isn’t enough, once they are there they should be supported. Disabled students should find themselves in an accessible and inclusive environment, international students should see themselves reflected in their curricula, and working class students should have adequate financial support.
Further work also needs to be done to equal the playing field. Introducing mandatory study skills education would ensure international students and those returning from long periods outside of education are supported, increasing funding for educational technology support would benefit all, but especially disabled students, and pushing for infrastructural changes around transport would allow students to physically access their campuses.

What changes would we like to see in society to change this?
The NUS should lobby to ensure there is equal access to, and support for, education for all students- from FE to HE. To achieve this, the NUS could lobby for the following changes:

  • To stop the removal of alternative qualifications such as BTECs, and where they have been removed, replaced with a true equivalent.
  • For apprenticeships to be paid a fair and liveable wage.
  • For care funding for parents and carers which will cover costs such as childcare to enable people access to truly lifelong learning and allowing those with vocational qualifications to reskill throughout their lifetime.
  • For adequate support for students to address digital poverty and the digital skills gap, providing free and equal access to laptops.
  • For more government funding towards free and accessible online resources to ensure equity in access to high quality post-compulsory education independent of local provision.
  • The NUS should lobby relevant sector bodies to create guidance and frameworks on how institutions can support neurodiverse students from the point of entry to the point of exit.
  • The NUS should lobby for study skills to become a non-mandatory part of core curriculum for both Further and Higher Education.
  • The NUS should lobby at a regional or national level to ensure that students have adequate and affordable public transport to enable them to study on campus.
  • The NUS should lobby for proper scrutiny of sector regulators to ensure they are effective in protecting students, their interests, and their aspirations.
  • The NUS should lobby for fee and loans reform for Higher Education, reducing student fees for undergraduate students and lobbying for an increase in the maintenance loan given to postgraduate taught students.