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Posts Tagged ‘Fair Access’

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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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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July & August 09…times are a-changing

Posted by Tobin Webb on September 23, 2009

July was a month of goodbyes and hellos, a bittersweet month that saw the end of my two-year ‘reign of terror’ at the University of Bristol Students’ Union and my Chairmanship of the Aldwych Group – but I couldn’t be happier – to have passed those jobs on to two exceptionally talented officers – Owen Peachey at Bristol and Emmanuel Akpan-Inwang from LSE who is already doing great things at Aldwych, I wish them both the best of luck in the world, every success to you both. Meeting the new Aldwych officers was great too at our training and handover weekend in Newcastle – 09-10 seems to have seen a particularly talented bunch of union officers out there and I’m excited about working with you as an NEC member over the coming months.

Later in the month I attended Active Political Leadership training at UWE and participated in everyone’s favourite roleplay; Fibchester. Playing the part of a Pro Vice-Chancellor was a cathartic experience for me as I channelled two particular PVCs from my old institution, often using their exact words and giving the officers a real hard time. It is sad though really that the Fibchester worst-case scenario is so rooted in reality, it’s great that we prepare officers to face these situations, but I really wish the University management out there would get a grip and see the value of strong and active students to their institutions – how there is such a strong mutual benefit when it all works the way it should.

Interestingly this month also saw me defending those access policies I mentioned in my last blog in a number of radio interviews I took part in for NUS. In particular LBC with James Whale was a ‘delight’ as he informed listeners that giving lower grade offers to students from failing schools who showed potential was “devaluing the degrees” as Universities were being asked “to let any old tom, dick and harry get in, in the name of political correctness and hitting targets”. Well, he was a nice man wasn’t he. I want to draw people’s attention to this graph taken from “Unleashing Aspiration”


Evidence from HEFCE shows that, once at university, a typical state-educated pupil will perform at the equivalent level to an independently schooled pupil with A-Levels between one and two grades higher (see figure 6e). Put another way, a state-educated pupil typically outperforms an independently schooled pupil with the same grades.

I (again) recommend reading the whole report. From my own experience also at Bristol where they have this access agreement in place, a long term study due to be published later this year shows that those students admitted with the lower entry grade have gone on to succeed and in many cases out perform their peers.

Where institutions employ these kinds of access agreements, they work.

These policies are a life line to those students who are not failing, but being failed, and that quite clearly would shine if given the opportunity and the support.

I want to see this kind of agreement in every university, especially in the Russell and 94 groups. It’s fair to say that if we had a perfect, fair and fully funded school system, such measures would not be needed – true. But we don’t, and until that time (and all the private schools would go broke) we have this one thing we can do – and for this generation, it’s the right thing to do.

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Association of Graduate Recruiters (AGR) Annual Conference

Posted by Tobin Webb on September 23, 2009

With thanks to Katie Dalton, President of NUS Wales – I was invited to do a little NUS Wales work in attending this event in just over the Severn bridge from me in Newport, which turned out to be much more of a thought-provoking event than I expected.

I was invited to address the conference as part of a panel talking about the student experience and recruitment methods of AGR members. What emerged was a heated debate about fair access to professions and an ‘outing’ of dodgy recruitment methods. We’ve all heard the debate for many years now about fair access to HE, but it amazes me that the same kind of public pressure isn’t being mounted on graduate recruiters.

Alan Milburn MP’s very welcome report “Unleashing Aspiration” which you can (and should) read, starts to address these issues, but opening the doors to more apprentices is like trying to wallpaper over the cracks of this deeply ingrained issue. Graduate recruiters need to be exposed for what they are up to – many in the room were quite open and unapologetic about their methods which play right into the old elitist vision of HE – “we don’t even bother looking at applicants from universities we don’t recognise the name of” said one young recruitment manager “we simply don’t have the time.” One recruiter – from a firm I wish I could remember the name of – was passionately arguing in favour of breaking down these barriers and she went further to say that she had switched to system where she was seeking “potential” as well as “attainment”, encouraging recruiters to drop their old fashioned approaches of seeking out Russell/94 Group grads with a 2:1 that can pass a maths test and said she had started looking at contextual data and taking a wholistic approach to her assessment of applicants to great success, which her recruits going on to thrive and succeed.

I couldn’t help but think that this argument was strikingly similar to the ones around progressive access agreements to Universities, where contextual data is taken into account and lower grade offers given and recent published studies show that these students almost always go on to not only thrive in their HE institution, but often outshine those students from more traditional backgrounds and schools. It seems to me that the graduate recruiters are just the next barrier to social mobility and inclusion that starts with what postcode you’re born in, what school you go to and what university you may end up at – but it seems the kinds of attitudes they represent are even more out-of-date than the worst offending HE institutions.

It’s time to ramp up the pressure on these people – with youth and graduate unemployment so disturbingly high, David Lammy coming on the radio as he did this month and telling us “not to worry, I’ve been on the phone to PwC and they still have vacancies” just doesn’t fill me full of hope I’m afraid…

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