This year all four FXU Presidents want to make sure that students in Cornwall are involved in national issues and discussions, and also that the key players on the national level are involved in (and aware of) things going on in Cornwall. For this to happen FXU and the Presidents are keen to make sure we are engaged with the National Union of Students (NUS) and are playing an active part in what they do. So, last week all of the Presidents headed up to Bradford to be part of the NUS Zones Conferences.
Some of you might have heard of NUS because you’ve got an NUS card that gets you discounts in shops and restaurants, and whilst we can all agree this is great, NUS actually do a lot more than you might think. They are here to help FXU support you as well as being our key link to the government, and therefore, our connection to issues going on at a national level. This is why we went to the Zones Conferences – to find out more about what the NUS Officers are doing but to also find out more about national issues which will have a big impact on you and your University experience.
Between us we went to three different Zones Conferences – Grace and Fred to Higher Education, Amanda to Union Development and Alexa to Welfare.
Above: FXU Presidents 2015-16. Fred Mallin – President Falmouth, Alexa Webster – President Community & Welfare, Grace Fisher – President Exeter and Amanda Chetwynd-Cowieson – President Student Experience.
Check out below what we thought…
The Higher Education Zone, which Grace and Fred attended, focused around the marketisation of Higher Education (HE) and understanding the future of how universities will assess the quality of their degrees.
The marketisation of HE is an interesting topic as with students paying £9k fees they are being seen more and more as consumers, therefore giving them more power and making students question the value of their degrees. Speaking to other Student Unions it was really interesting to see how empowered they and therefore their students felt, unfortunately some didn’t feel at all empowered. However, for FXU we’re in a much stronger position in that the universities do listen to us and help us empower you to make change happen.
Also within this debate there’s the conversation around how universities assess the quality of their degrees and what measures they use to do this. This is really important at the moment as the government are reviewing how this is done. Assessing quality is set to become more important as the government is looking to introduce something called the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF), this will split universities into groupings dependent on the quality of their teaching and could mean that universities in the top group will be able to charge more for their degrees. Unfortunately, NUS ‘democratically voted’ that they would boycott the TEF consultation meaning they won’t be involved in shaping the decisions that the government will make. Although NUS aren’t involved, Grace is involved in the consultation with Exeter University, the results of which hopefully being published by the end of November. Fred currently isn’t involved with Falmouth University in their TEF related discussions, however, he is now actively chasing this one up to see what’s going on.
The Union Development Zone, that Amanda attended, focused around how the NUS can help us measure the impact of you all getting involved in Sports, Societies, Volunteering, RAD, Representation, etc within the FXU.
How do we measure and then accurately show the value of being involved in FXU activities both to yourselves and to the wider society? If there can be a nationally recognised measurement for how valuable ALL your extra-curricular achievements are, it will increase employability of students who participate. This is obviously very important for us as a union, because we need to know that what we’re doing is 100% beneficial to as many students as possible. This is something we are working on in many different ways. Firstly, with NUS on how they can come up with national standards for ‘recognition of student opportunities’; secondly with other Presidents from other Students’ Unions on forming a national event recognising the achievements of societies (in the way that BUCS works for sports clubs and RAD for fundraisers). Thirdly, on a more local basis, one our Top Ten Priorities this year is to work with Falmouth University to begin including the HEAR report into graduations, as Exeter currently do.
We also chose to go to sessions focussing around inclusion within sport, and whilst this mostly concentrated on LGBTQ+ inclusion there were some interesting discussions about how to further the accessibility of all sport to students with disabilities. Both of these are areas we are really excited to be focussing on, especially as we’re organising two fun events/campaigns next term – one revolving around disabilities in sport and the return of the popular rainbow laces campaign!!
Above: Picture from the Rainbow Laces Campaign 2015.
The Welfare Zone, which Alexa attended, focused on student wellbeing, health, as well as issues around subjects such as accommodation. Accommodation in particular was a focus of the event, where we talked about everything from Article 4 (a motion stopping the development of houses that are multiple occupancy, ie. Student houses) to the standards of student housing. With both Alexa and Amanda focusing their efforts on these issues, along with the shortage of student housing that we are facing, it was helpful to attend and there will be a campaign run with NUS coming up shortly.
Mental Health and Disabled Students Allowance was also discussed at length. From how we can unite to fight against the cuts, to holistic methods for alternatives for our students, this was something that many student unions found themselves having at the top of their agenda. Alexa herself is currently on the panels with FX Plus, UoE, and Fal Uni to discuss and come up with action plans on what shall happen when the DSA cuts are put in place.
FXU are also currently setting up Nightline to offer students support through the hours of 8pm until 8am (set to launch September 2016), finding alternative ways for students to combat stress, anxiety, depression, etc. as well as being in contact with local support groups. Finally, Alexa is now in talks to get several staff members from NUS down to visit our corner of the UK! Shelly Asquith (VP Welfare) in particular will be coming down hopefully at the end of this term to visit Cornwall so we can discuss issues affecting you the students, as well as to discuss national campaigns.
The Politics of NUS
One of the main things that all four Presidents noticed during our time at the conferences was that there are large divisions in the NUS Full Time Officers. These guys are basically the national version of us but with one big difference and although we weren’t surprised by these public disagreements, it did make some situations fairly uncomfortable to be present in. If we (the FXU Presidents) disagree on decisions or what to do, we get a cup of tea, have a conversation, sort out what the differences are and make a decision based on what our students need us to prioritise. Unfortunately, its seems that NUS officers would rather resort to Twitter and sly public comments, rather than sit down and work out what needs to be done in the best interest of their membership. This has meant that some decisions made by NUS recently have resulted in Student Unions across the country being divided, rather then being given adequate answers/advice on really important national issues, one example being DSA another being TEF.
What was good about zones was that these divisions were being openly discussed with some positive discussion and action around Student Unions, therefore students, once again being put at the heart of decisions made by NUS. As they should be! Students’ Unions should be united by NUS so that the national voice of the student movement is strong. This was really positive and we hope to see more action like this being taken forwards at future events. You can rest assured that this is something your four FXU Presidents will be working on this year – especially with Alexa being elected to the NUS Welfare Zone Committee! HOLLA!
If you would like to get in contact with the FXU Presidents or FXU, please visit our website www.fxu.org.uk or pop into the FXU Offices at Penryn or Falmouth.