The 1994 Education Act and students’ unions

by Alex Bols June 26, 2014

It is now twenty years since the 1994 Education Act, an important moment for students’ unions and the higher education sector at large. Much has changed since, both inside the student movement and outside where perceptions of students and representation has been constantly evolving. Alex Bols takes a look at the last 20 years of evolution and how it might inform the next 20 years of students’ unions.

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Willetts’ long march

by Jim Dickinson May 9, 2014

Ahead of a likely Government reshuffle, Jim Dickinson looks back a key speech made by David Willetts in 2007. An important moment, he used the opportunity to heal the Conservative Party’s fractured relationship with students’ unions and set out some big ambitions for the sector, particularly around teaching. Jim reflects on the progress made since 2007 and looks ahead to what might be needed now, as we head in to the final days of this Parliament.

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Expanding the debate

by Jim Dickinson January 6, 2014

Cheered on by the right-wing press, it is a widely-held belief that there are “too many graduates”. So what does HE expansion look like in that context and what form should it take? Not pulling the ladder up, but moving and positioning it, ensuring that the expansion of the future offers transformation and returns appropriate to the age, not build on outdated ideas and prejudices. Jim Dickinson reflects on the wider debate and the ideologies and politics that drive it.

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Dispatches from a wonk’s nightmare

by Debbie McVitty May 2, 2012

Imagine, fellow wonks, if you will, your vice chancellor or chief executive coming to you one day to be briefed on the latest impenetrable funding council communiqué. Deciding what your institution’s or organisation’s opinion should be will involve speaking with experts and respected colleagues, reviewing research, thinking about how the media might tell the story and second-guessing your competitors. It probably includes waving a finger in the air to test which way the political winds are blowing.

It almost certainly does not involve handing the decision over to a thousand-strong student rabble with a three-day hangover. Who know significantly less than you do about any given policy issue in higher education. For a body of professionals hired and valued for our expert knowledge base, NUS National Conference must surely seem to wonks to be the worst idea ever concocted.

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Fear the future campus wars

by Mark Leach September 9, 2011

There’s a long tradition of student politics and activism at university. Sometimes it has been in response to wider political concerns such as wars or cuts. But other times it has been specifically targeted at university management in order to force a change in policy. The past twenty years have seen a step-change in the professionalisation of university leadership, with modern governance practices embedded, clearer lines of accountability drawn and more transparent systems of change deployed. At roughly the same time, students’ unions have undergone a similar process of professionalisation. This has resulted in a very different campus culture emerging over the past twenty years – where it was once an adversarial relationship, students’ unions are now seen as partners in ensuring a high-quality student experience.

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New NUS President elected – no revolution but subtle shifts in tone ahoy

by Mark Leach April 13, 2011

The news that Liam Burns has been elected as the new President of The National Union of students arrived earlier this afternoon. He won by a fairly convincing margin – 446 votes with Shane Chowen coming in second place with 279. Pundits were predicting a much tighter race – and there have been some extremely close results over the years. (In 2004, the winner won with a majority of just 2 votes).

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Aaron Porter decides not to re-stand for election [updated]

by Mark Leach February 21, 2011

Last week we reported on Aaron Porter’s impossibly difficult political situation and today he has announced that he won’t be seeking re-election in the forthcoming NUS elections. This will come as a shock to many who assumed that he would re-stand and most probably win. From his statement, it’s clear that he’s come to the conclusion […]

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Aaron Porter’s catch-22

by Mark Leach February 17, 2011

This morning’s story in The Times about a leaked NUS memo advising students’ unions to “not fight against fees” was depressingly predictable. Wonkhe has seen the secret memo which is not at all hard to get hold of and it doesn’t advise anything of the sort. It discusses fees and what institutions might take into account when setting pricing levels and it suggest that SUs if not already, should demand to be part of the decision making process as the legitimate representatives of the student body. It suggests questions that might be worth asking as part of holistic campaign to ensure a fair deal for students. It doesn’t take an expert in campaigning to realise that a students’ union president will get more leverage through a well-informed debate at University Council than standing outside the registry with a placard saying “NO TO FEES!”

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The challenge of representation

by Martin Hughes February 8, 2011

How do you represent the collective interests of the HE sector? Universities UK, the representative organisation for the UK’s universities, aims to be the voice for all institutions. They attempt to “promote a successful and diverse higher education sector” [Source]. This is a difficult task. A big reason is because of the word ‘diverse’. While […]

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