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Shakira Martin responds to post-18 education and funding review

Monday 19 February 2018 NUS News

NUS' National President responds to the review into post-18 education announced by the Prime Minister today.

We welcome the long-overdue review into post-18 education and funding announced by the Prime Minister today and are glad to see that Theresa May has finally recognised that the current system is not fit for purpose. However, we are concerned that the terms of the review appear to rule out the possibility of a serious overhaul of the current system, instead opting to propose a narrow remit that can only lead to small piece reform.

Theresa May is choosing to move the deckchairs around a ship she already acknowledges to be sinking.

The Prime Minister spoke at great length about the challenges to accessing education. To truly make education fair and accessible, the government must acknowledge that education system is completely broken and therefore keep all options for change on the table.

Evidence clearly shows that the only way to meet those aspirations is to be willing to pull the system down and start again with a completely open mind. This means challenging many of the outdated principles beyond recent reforms and recognising that we all benefit from a well-educated society - the government must be seriously willing to invest in education to provide the skills that our young people and economy needs.

We fear that tinkering around the edges without major commitments to supporting students into and through universities and colleges will do more harm than good. It is concerning that further investment appears to already have been ruled and the Education Minister has suggested that institutions will not be forced to make courses more affordable. This limits the review to a highly restricted remit, yet leaves the door open to the spectre of further competition through, for example, variable fees, which will likely only damage the sector in the long run.

Today was a missed opportunity for the government to address the real issues facing students up and down the country – and we hope the review process ensures that these issues are suitably engaged with and address. Support for students through maintenance grants and other financial support needs to be a fundamental part of the yearlong review. So much HE provision is provided in FE colleges, so it was disappointing to see little commitment to students studying in this way. They are being forgotten and if the government are going to pledge that they will spend time thinking about how to help those in FE and vocational courses it must put its money where its mouth is and replace real resource that has been drained from the sector over the past 8 years.

It is concerning to see no student representation yet and we urge the government to ensure there is meaningful engagement with students and student representatives throughout the process. This review must be totally independent and have student’s interests at its core – only then will it be able to reform the system in a way that benefits learners.

This review is a huge opportunity to do tertiary education and funding differently in this country. However, if Theresa May is going to narrow the scope before it has even begun it will not be able to repair the damage caused by misjudged policy decisions. We must keep the door firmly open on options for a properly funded tertiary education system and outcomes of the review must not leave holes or funding gaps that the government are not prepared to fill.