They’re all offering change. But will students see any?

Amira Campbell is President-elect at the National Union of Students

With the 4th of July fast approaching, parties have been publishing their manifestos – with varying intentions when it comes to tackling the multitude of problems facing further and higher education.

The last few years have been an incredibly difficult time to be a student.

Our sector is built on a model that doesn’t work for students, staff, colleges or universities, with its marketized nature steering our institutions away from being the vehicles for public good they should be – and towards a future where financial opportunities are the priority.

Ahead of the general election next month, our sector desperately needs change to be on the table.

The current government has been no friend to students, so many will be relieved to see opinion polls consistently suggesting that they will be on the way out.

But a new offering has to actually mean something. Labour’s rhetoric of “stability is change” just won’t cut it when many of our universities appear to be heading towards breaking point.

Stronger narratives do help – dropping the hostile environment and the ridiculous notion of “mickey mouse degrees” will be steps in the right direction – but change must be fundamental if our sector is to come out on the other side of this crisis.

What we need is a systemic remodelling of how the sector is funded, how universities are run, and how students and staff are supported to excel in their institutions and beyond.

Only then will education be the sustainable public good that gives back to the society that it is built upon. It’s essential to challenge the status quo and push for more radical transformations in education.

It is clear that there are a wide array of issues affecting students that the incoming government must focus on, but all of them resolve to one point. Higher education is and must be treated as a public good, and that means that government subsidy in HE needs to be felt by students.

Same old same old

We keep hearing the same story, and it is tiresome. We know that students can’t put food on the table, that they cannot afford rent on substandard housing, that they cannot pay to travel to their lectures.

There are surveys, studies, reports and pamphlets everywhere detailing and evidencing these issues from bodies such as Wonkhe, NUS, RGSU, Advance HE, HEPI, UKCISA and more. The data and research has been secured, and the actions to be taken are clear.

And yet, as the manifestos from the various parties have trickled out during the past few weeks, it has been clear who is paying attention, who values education, and who is prepared to make promises and commit to them.

We would be complacent however to ignore the fact that education is a devolved matter, and when it comes to the general election, a lot of what we hear about is England only policies, and that will somehow lead to change in devolved areas.

We already know what 25 years of Labour control has done to education in Wales, and if the forecasts are to be believed, it’ll be an interesting relationship between the UK and Welsh Labour Governments, and if the clear red water will now run dry.

There lingers this unshakeable fear that the only way to help students right now has to cost lots of money. Whether that be taxpayers money, raising tuition fees, further exploiting overseas students, or more borrowing.

But there are things in the immediate period that we can do to help students now that do not cost lots and lots of money – whether that be rent controls, legislating against the use of guarantors, or reversing policies that impact punitively on our international student community.

We must address the direct human effects of hostile immigration policies on individuals’ lives and bridge the understanding gap to ensure that immigration compliance does not inadvertently morph into immigration enforcement. Our global community deserves better.

Anger and passion

This election is an opportunity to vote not only on higher education policy, but also on an array of things that matter to students.

We’ve seen the passion and anger of hundreds of students throughout the UK over recent weeks about what’s happening in Palestine and Israel, failed promises about climate goals, the surge of hate crimes against trans people, and the awful rhetoric about migration.

For many students, this election isn’t about a single issue – but a vote for those who we believe can deliver actual, meaningful change to our communities and wider afield.

The truth is this – we all know that making a meaningful, material difference to young people’s lives is something that a new government can very easily do within its first 100 days.

We will be inheriting a movement fresh from building huge new blocks of voter power. Students won’t let that hunger for change drop over the summer. We look forward to meeting with the new government, and making sure that this is a watershed moment for students.

With Alex Stanley, VP Higher Education, Ben Friel, President NUS-USI, Deio Owen, President NUS Wales, Sai Shraddha Suresh Viswanathan, President NUS Scotland, Saranya Thambirajah, VP Liberation and Equality, and Qasim Hussain, VP Further Education.

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