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Archive for February, 2010

2010…will this be the year that we Vote For Students?

Posted by Tobin Webb on February 1, 2010

Today NUS launched our biggest ever General Election campaign called Vote for Students. Between now and the election we will seek to register, educate and mobilise thousands of students nationwide, ensuring our members are fully informed about the position of the candidates seeking their votes.

Students represent 15% of the voting population, yet too often our voice goes unheard. Many students fail to get registered on the electoral roll and many are simply ignored by local candidates who choose not to engage a significant percentage of their constituency.

Well, not this time.

This election is tipped to be one of the closest elections in a decade, and our votes could mean the difference between someone winning and losing. That is why NUS is today launching the Vote for Students website. We are asking students, parents and general members of the public to join us and fight against a rise in fees by committing to using their vote to protect education and protect future students. Those that sign up to the site will be informed before polling day about where each of their candidates stand on the issue of fees, helping to educate voters, and keep our issues at the forefront of this general election campaign.

Last November (see “Come Clean on Fees Blog below) we issued a warning to candidates. We urged MPs and PPCs to Come Clean on Fees and sign the NUS Funding our Future pledge stating that they would; “pledge to vote against any increase in fees in the next parliament and to pressure the government to introduce a fairer alternative”. Since our emergency lobby of parliament we have had over 200 MPs and PPCs sign up, with more joining the list every single day.

The Vote for Students website is a crucial tool in our long standing fight for a fairer funding system. Students have determined election results before and we can certainly do it again. I hope you will join us in the fight against a rise in fees, pledge to use your vote and together help protect and preserve education for the students of today and tomorrow.

For more information about the site and how you can get involved in the campaign, click here.

To pledge to use your vote for students go to here.

To see how your students’ union can be involved, click here.

I will be keeping you up to date here with my work on this campaign, which I am making my priority within my NUS work for the next few months. I plan also to blog more generally on the events on the run up to the election and hope to spark some comment and debate on here. So get involved, get registered, and get voting in 2010.

(via Susan Nash’s blog, with some edits)

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The rest of 2009 – being a student!

Posted by Tobin Webb on February 1, 2010

After a series of months packed full of activity with NUS, I took a bit of a back seat for a few weeks as I reminded myself that I was still a student… Masters deadline looming, I put my head down and I got it done. By mid-December “Notes in the Margins: African-American Music, Race and the American Cinema” was complete and handed in. After seven years, finally my student days are over… Honestly, the debt I have now as a result is really frightening, especially the “real” debt incurred by taking out bank loans to fund post-graduate study. Couldn’t have graduated at a worse time really – since finishing as President at UBU, I am still yet to find full time employment, and believe me I am looking hard! It’s really tough, but it only proves to galvanise me to fight event harder for NUS in 2010 as we focus our efforts on putting students near the top of the agenda for the general election.

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Come Clean on Fees – November 11th 2009

Posted by Tobin Webb on February 1, 2010

The fees review panel and process finally announced and low & behold, NUS is not on it. To many the panel looks like a bit of a stitch-up and, of course, it won’t report back until after the general election. So, feeling very despondent about all this a few of us sat around a table decided we needed some snap action on this – a show of strength if you like – alert the media, the public and the politicians that we won’t take this lying down. And so “Come Clean on Fees” was dreamt up, and three days later it happened.

"oooh, oooh Mandy, we want to know-oh-oh-oh if you'll pay our fees!"

I was really overwhelmed with the strength of support from students’ unions up and down the land who just dropped everything and came to London. Students in their hundreds descended on Parliament spending the morning distributing literature to the public, followed by a stunt on Parliament Square that was very well attended by media, and the feeling amongst us all was strong – the message was getting across.

Next, we were piling into a Parliamentary committee room where, really, we had no idea what might happen. Over the previous three days we had been asking students to e-mail their MPs to tell them that we will be there and that if they valued the student vote and had something to say about fees – they better turn up. Over the course of the afternoon, over 60 MPs shuffled in and out of the room and corridor taking their turn on the “open mic” to give us their views on HE – yes even David Lammy turned up and gave a (surprisingly) impressive speech highlighting his commitment to widening access and genuinely welcoming the NUS’ work and the lobby that day.. But it was astonishing, MP after MP just kept turning up and agreeing to sign our pledge. For a full article and set of photos see here.

So the campaign well and truly has momentum, the public are on our side with a YouGov poll commissioned by pressure group Compass revealing that only 12% of the public think the review should even consider increasing fees, while a majority believes that it should look at alternatives to fees. We have MPs’ and PPCs’ attention and now we have a pledge to roll out across the country. Next stop – general election – we need to prove that the student vote is strong and the student vote matters. MPs and PPCs that don’t sign up to the pledge will be named and shamed and if they don’t come clean on their position on fees before we are asked to vote for them, may they see the error of their ways at the ballot box.

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NUS HE Zone Conference, Manchester Oct 28/29 2009

Posted by Tobin Webb on February 1, 2010

After two years of campaigning to make these new zone conferences happen, I was very excited about attending and interested in how it was all going to work… It was two days packed full of really interesting discussion, debate and events that I have never experienced at an NUS event before – very impressive in terms of engagement and a great learning opportunity for officers and activists that attended. My only criticism would be the “democracy-lite” approach to the promised policy discussions and zone committee elections. Now don’t think for a second that I am harking back to the arguments of the “save NUS democracy” crowd, because at the end of the day what did happen was 1000 times better than the total lack of provision for participation in policy formation before conference that we had under the old system, but I do think that we missed a trick and I hope that whoever is VPHE next year takes a look at this. Ideally a lot more time needs to be given over in the schedule to talking about NUS policy, as walking around the room with bits of flip chart paper for ten minutes really didn’t cut it for me.

Highlight of the event for me though was the speaker event with David Willetts the conservative shadow Sec. of State for Universities. Firstly, I think it is really positive that the tories are engaging with NUS and that we are engaging with them, at the end of the day the British public may well be fool-hardy enough to vote them into power at the next general election and they will hold all the cards in the review of higher education then – and either way they hold such a significant number of votes in parliament that it can only be a good thing if we can influence their decision making.

But can we…? I think the tories have listened to our message and translated it into their language. I’ve always talked about the danger that the student movement faces in being idle with their rhetoric when it comes to issues of quality in education – never, ever, ever utter the words “value for money”. Willetts (and now Mandelson unfortunately) talk about the need for Universities to deliver a quality education if they are to justify the fees they charge… ok, that makes sense, but if we nod along with it too vigorously, we end up being used by politicians like Willetts who send out press releases saying “I went to an NUS event and talked about value for money – look at me, aren’t I great, and you know what the students gave me a warm reception – clearly they agree that they need more contact hours if they are going to pay a couple more thousand pounds in the future…” .

And there you have it, linking money to quality in education is a dangerous game, because whilst it makes sense for the here and now, it is a slippery slope towards a justification for higher fees – I’ve sat in countless university meetings where the mantra “premium fees for a premium education” has been repeated, the Universities that can justify prestige now are poised ready to start charging the full whak if the cap came off because they have a “premium product”. And then the whole market in HE develops.

Willetts was impressive, yes, but he really didn’t say anything substantial beyond this “value for money” message, which I think we need to be very, very careful about endorsing.

You can get the resources from the HE conference here:

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Bristol Taken-over

Posted by Tobin Webb on February 1, 2010

Woah…serious blog neglect over the last few months – it’s been a crazy time, so much going on – lots of blogs coming your way today to get us up to date starting with this.

The Bristol town takeover has come and gone and that’s a relief I can tell you. The day itself went reasonably well, but the gods were not on our side as we had to contest with a serious downpour of rain during the outside activities. That aside, a decent amount of dedicated protesters turned up to the council house and stuck through the cold and wet to make their point known – after all the rain won’t stop the government putting up fees will it….?

In the evening came the debate, and this was really very interesting indeed. With an exciting panel of both leading academics and prospective parliamentary candidates (PPCs), we had a really varied debate following a very challenging presentation from Wes Streeting which highlighted the divide in access to education across economic demographics as demonstrated here in Bristol, which I have blogged about before.

The academics gave very well rounded and interesting speeches on their views of the future of higher education, but the real interest for me, and indeed the power of this campaign, came in listening to the PPCs. Unfortunately Adeela Shafi, the conservative PPC for Bristol East did not turn up, but Paul Harrod the LibDem PPC for Bristol North West gave robust defence for a progressive future for higher education funding, but was unconvincing when challenged on how the lib dem policy for free education actually works and whether his party leadership will be putting it in the 2010 manifesto.

Aaron Porter, Wes Streeting & Paul Smith

But pretty much everyone agreed that the star speech of the night came from Paul Smith, Labour PPC for Bristol West. Now – “you would say that” I’m sure you’re thinking, and yeah I am a political supporter of Paul’s – but it is true to say that he got the warmest reception of applause and I talked to many students from across the political spectrum that agreed he hit the nail on the head. I have to salute PPC’s like Paul who stand up and say that their party got it wrong, that he is worried that the leadership is heading in the wrong direction on HE policy and will do everything in his power to campaign for a fairer solution – that takes guts, and it’s politicians with that kind of integrity that we need in the House of Commons to restore public faith in the system.

As the town take-over truck rolled out of town, it was to gather momentum, a lot of publicity and soon…a lot more PPCs like Paul…

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