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Archive for October, 2009

Funding Our Future & the Bristol Town Takeover, Sept 09 round-up

Posted by Tobin Webb on October 12, 2009

campaigners sign up at freshers' fairs

campaigners sign up at freshers' fairs

September has been a jam-packed month of activity for me and NUS as a whole on the funding campaign, I’ve been on the road (well the trains really) and visiting your unions to help roll out and launch the campaign to a new audience of freshers up and down the country. It’s been a fantastic experience so far, the level of student opinion out there is more unified than ever before – I’ve met a scandalous amount of students who are terribly affected by the current situation with Student Finance England still waiting to hear as to whether they are going to have the loan/grant money to pay their rent with deadlines looming closer. They, like me, all agree that the time has come for wholesale reform of the University and student funding arrangements in higher education.

well....d'uh?

well....d'uh?

What is even more encouraging are the number of students who enthusiastically answered the question “if we get in contact with you about some action we are taking as part of this campaign, would you be interested in playing a role?” – we have signed up a whole raft of new student volunteers and activists to mobalise the campaign. In particular, at the UWE and Uni of Bristol freshers’ fairs where I have been working in particular as Campaign Organiser for the Bristol town takeover, we asked students to take a little ‘action today’, by writing down their views, feelings and demands on the placards and hold them up for the camera, as we build a campaign base – just a few of our new campaigners are pictured above.

It’s getting really exciting here now as we gear up towards the takeover in a couple of weeks’ time – places for the panel debate at the townhall meeting have been really popular with local politicians in particular prospective MPs – which is fantastic news in a general election year as hopefully we will be hearing something substantive from them that we can hold them to at the ballot box.

But why is it important that this debate is being held here in Bristol – I think this kind of city is crucial, not only politically because it contains a number of marginal seats up at the next election and the student vote/student issues make a real impact, but because of the make up of our city – something many people who attended NUS’ “APL” this year will have heard about.

Bristol is a divided city, split by a river and by the stark differences in the fortunes of its young people. Look to the west of the city and you will find the highest concentration in one parliamentary constituency of independent schools and an area where 50 per cent of teenagers are expected to go to university. A few miles away, on the other side of the river in Bristol South, (where I live) only one in ten teenagers went to university in 2000, ranking the area in the bottom four in the country for post-secondary school attendance, and these areas are little more than a stone’s throw from two thriving universities – although, for some children, they may as well be a thousand miles away.

what's on...

what's on...

The 2001 Census statistics for Bristol mask the economic extremes that divide areas such as Clifton and Stoke Bishop, the suburban retreat of professionals and home to the University of Bristol, and areas such as Knowle and Hartcliffe, which are dominated by council estates. At 8 per cent, Bristol has a higher proportion of students in full-time education aged 16 and over than the national average of 5 per cent. The city also has a higher proportion of graduates (24 per cent) than the national average (19 per cent). In Clifton, where 50 per cent of homes are owner-occupied and 39 per cent are privately rented, 51 per cent of the population has a degree and only 6 per cent has no qualifications.

Yet in Bristol South, where 41 per cent of homes are rented from the council, 51 per cent of people have no qualifications and just 6 per cent have degrees.

NUS Funding Our Future Campaign in Bristol promises to be a truly community orientated event with people coming from all areas of our city to be involved and talk about the realities of how a fairly funded and fully accessible higher education could and would benefit them – I for one am really excited about seeing a campaign about higher education funding that takes into account the views of the community at large as it will here in Bristol – make sure you get involved and here’s how:

Join the Facebook group: http://tinyurl.com/yh52pbb

Come to the town hall debate: http://tinyurl.com/yf3mh95

Come to the flashmob on College Green: http://tinyurl.com/yg6b7dz


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Labour Party Conference, Brighton 09

Posted by Tobin Webb on October 12, 2009

Well the Sun really did shine on the conference this year (the one in the sky I mean) as I spent a beautiful week in Brighton working with NUS and Labour Students.

100_1368NUS Funding our Future Fringe

As part of the party conference programme NUS hosted a fringe with Million+ at the Labour Party Conference that I attended where Wes our National President challenged David Lammy Minister for Higher Education and Intellectual Property to define what the Labour Party’s position is on higher education funding.

Wes warned the party not to hide behind the review stating: “It’s shameful that the government will not discuss higher education funding. Labour should set out its position on higher education and recognise that it is not in the interests of opportunity, access or mobility for fees to continue.”

I have to say, the atmosphere was electric – David Lammy was really on the spot and retorted with a list of Labour’s achievements on Higher Education in the last twelve years – all true, all laudable, and not to be forgotten, but it has to be said, Wes definitely commanded the room’s opinion on demanding that Labour put forward an HE funding policy ahead of the next general election and their was a real buzz of talk after the fringe and beyond about Wes and Lammy’s exchange. I talked a great deal about it with people I bumped into later into that week, especially whilst attending a regional reception where I talked with both sitting MPs and candidates for Bristol and the South West many of whom are keen to get involved with our town takeover campaign. I get the sense that there is a real appetite amongst a good deal of candidates especially in cities with Universities to be able to come out publicly and say something to students and their families about the future funding arrangements. With Labour and the Tories saying little and the LibDems grabbing headlines with their leadership disagreeing with party policy on free education – it’s really open season for one of the big three to seize the opportunity and run with this towards the election. I personally hope it’s Labour and I am certainly reassured after attending conference that the Labour membership base and a good deal of its elected officials out there are also hungry to see a progressive and positive policy on HE from Labour in the near future. Come on David – deliver the goods!

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