The no-platforming of NUS is one of many interesting incidents of apparently contradictory actions and opinions in the campus culture wars in recent years – but at least the promise was that engagement with NUS would be replaced with…
..alternative student representation, such as from the Office for Students student panel or from individual student unions, to ensure all students’ views are reflected fairly in conversations about higher education.
The Department for Education also asked arm’s length bodies, including the Office for Students (OfS), to take similar action.
In the absence of any announcement that the ban has been lifted, I thought I’d check up on progress on that “alternative representation”.
Every so often DfE handily publishes details on ministerial gifts given and received, hospitality, travel and external meetings. So I’ve looked at four logs – Q2-4 2022, and Q1 2023. The evidence isn’t encouraging.
In April-June 2022, it could be that the odd student rep snuck into meetings with Student Minds and AMOSSHE to talk mental health and even OfS to chat grade inflation. But I doubt it.
In July-September, maybe the Student Loans Company’s Peter Lauener took a “customer” along with him to his encounter with James Cleverly and Kit Malthouse, perhaps UCU’s Jo Grady had a student activist in tow and maybe one of UCAS, University Alliance, Million Plus, Guild HE, Independent HE, Universities UK, Office for Students, Ofqual, the Russell Group or the Association of Colleges smuggled in a learner for their meetings. I can’t see it somehow.
In the final quarter of 2022 there were any number of roundtables and discussions, including on the Free Speech Bill – but no evidence of any engagement with students.
Then in the early part of this year Gillian Keegan managed a meeting with Toby Young, Eric Kaufmann, Iain Mansfield and Bryn Harris over freedom of speech, and Claire Coutinho sat down with that group of mathematicians who got over-excited about a subject benchmark statement, but somehow failed to discuss the issues with students or their SUs.
There were meetings with the Union of Jewish Students to discuss the NUS thing, and Lords DfE minister Diana Barran met the Russell Group and Policy Exchange to discuss cost of living for students, but unless a student rep was sneaked into those encounters, there’s no evidence of engagement in that quarter either.
I’ll be honest – with a couple of notable exceptions, years ago when I worked at NUS I always found meetings with ministers to be spectacularly pointless. But at least they pretended in the olden days.