NUS president Megan Dunn spoke at the conference yesterday evening. The below is an edited version of her remarks:
Students as partners is an important and attractive concept, but very challenging to make a reality. It’s vital therefore that we support, develop and promote authentic activity at a local level and ensure that institutions and students’ unions are delivering on the promise of partnership.
As the report on student engagement launched yesterday says, “Student leaders and student governors are integral to a community in which students’ independent judgements are valued and used as a basis for enhancement”.
We must all be clear that atomised student feedback could never substitute serious, collective student representation. Many students’ unions are brilliant at driving educational change, but some will need support, offered in good faith, to engage on academic and education issues.
There is no shortcut to a culture of partnership and it cannot exist without strategic leadership from both the institution and the students’ union. Individual students may engage in various forms in their learning, but a whole system of partnership must flow through the students’ union.
In response to the questions raised in the higher education Green Paper from the government about the accountability and activity of students’ unions, on Monday NUS held our #LoveSUs day. The response we had from students and students’ union officers past and present about the impact students’ unions have had on their lives was overwhelming and humbling.
I was particularly grateful to the support of sector bodies and those who have a stake and an interest in the vibrant future of students’ unions for supporting us and helping us make the case that students’ unions are life changing and education transforming organisations.
NUS will be making a compelling case to the government about the impact of students’ unions in our response to the Green Paper, but it’s vital that institutions do the same. As the report demonstrates, many will have a lot to say about the importance of students’ unions, not just in what’s been achieved in the past but the central role they play in achieving the missions of institutions and aspirations for their students’ educational experience.