The government is currently undergoing a review of further education institutions. It is vital that students’ voices are heard during this process.
The review’s stated aim is to create “fewer, larger, more efficient and resilient” institutions but it may lead to students travelling further, sacrificing more time and money to access education.
What’s certain is that it will significantly change the structure of the further education sector, so at a recent event in Sheffield we asked student governors for their thoughts:
Jodie Beck, Longley Park Sixth Form College student governor
“Area reviews could be extremely damaging because of the rushed timeframe. If the changes are not properly thought through, this could affect thousands of students for years to come. I’ve gone to college and had an amazing experience but what will happen when my little sister goes?
“As a student governor I’m aware of what’s happening, but everyone else is in the dark. It’s left up to NUS to put on consultations so student bodies can be made aware.
“The biggest issue for me is choice. At that age you're making one of the biggest decisions ever. It’s important you go to the right place and everyone has the right to choose, rather than having to go to the one college in their area. I’d want that for any student.
“At the end of the day, it's about the students. Yes colleges are businesses now, but without the students there is no business.”
Sile Sibanda, Thomas Rotherham College student governor
“It was nerve-wracking going to the first area review meeting. It was all adults in suits who knew each other and then just me and one other student governor in our jeans and T-shirts.
“I asked a question about transport, because what if students have to travel further to get to their course? I was told ‘Welcome to the world of work’. I was shocked by it.
“My biggest concern is grades. Are students going to be able to handle the pressure and the change in environment? Are they going to be able to cope with that really quickly and get the grades they need?”
Amy Smith, Sheffield College student union deputy president and student governor
“If I had to travel further to go to college I wouldn’t be able to work at my part-time job in the evenings. I’d only be able to do my Saturday shift and this would mean I couldn’t afford to get to college. Most employers won’t want you if you can only work one shift a week anyway.
“I think a lot of people in Sheffield just wouldn’t go to college if it was further away, especially if they’re carers or parents. I’ve spoken to a lot of students who go to a college within walking distance because they get anxiety on public transport. Having to take a train or bus would be detrimental to their mental health.
“I don’t think area reviews have been properly thought through. I know the government wants to save money, but if this process is rushed it’s going to cost more in the long run.”
Claire Hill, Barnsley College learner voice advisor
“The major issue for me is the mergers and what contingency plans will be put in place. What if one campus closes and students have to go to a different location? If they come from a low income background, is that taken into account? If they wanted to go to a certain college they would have gone there in the first place.
“Learner voice is massive at my college but when it comes to area reviews, the government needs to be more open.”