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Higher Education On The Ropes

It ‘s been an interesting last few months, to say the least!

My last blog was just before the national student demonstration in November. It’s been all systems go since then. The vote for the increase in tuition fees went through and students access to university has been stunted. UKBA have announced the results of the Tier 4 review. Here’s the link to the UKBA page: http://www.ukba.homeoffice.gov.uk/employers/points/sponsoringmigrants/eligibility/tierstudents/

With fees now to be set within a range of £6,000 – £9,000 per academic year. Putting students into record debt post-graduation, funding for University education being greatly cut, I think it is fair to say that Higher Education in England is definitely on “the ropes” and the HE landscape has changed for good. HE is in the middle of what looks like definite marketisation. Universities will now have to start looking at initiatives for further income generation. Our alumni become desperately important to us and we have to look at enterprise as a way forward.

Students will become customers and will no longer care about what our GM has termed “Collective Individualism” and will begin looking up “Compare the market” type websites all the more. They will be looking for value for money and I fear, will no longer care about the “Big Issues” as they will be paying more than they ever done. And will ask many more questions of their institutions.

So, how can Students’ Unions remain representative of their student bodies? Do we have to become simply organisations that provide needed services? What is the way forward for Students’ Unions as representative bodies? In recent months we have focussed, and rightly so, on the national education strategy. But now, we need to start paying attention closer to home. And listen, not only to the voices that shout the loudest, but also to the voices that don’t shout at all. The student who may never come to SU offices to speak to the officers, but will share his/her very valid views over a drink in the bar and the student who, roaring drunk at 3 in the morning will very candidly tell you their opinions.

All of these are valid views. I think that in the times to come, students’ unions need to become relevant to their student bodies. University Board of Governors’ will begin to pay more attention to us. They will scrutinise our accounts more and will ask a lot more questions of us. How will we prove to our institutions that we continue to remain relevant? And how can we prove that we do actually speak for the students?

In this last academic year, I’ve worked hard at building a closer relationship with the Kingston University Board of Governors. And I think it’s safe to say that the Kingston University Students’ Union boasts a closer working relationship with the University Board of Governors than we ever have. We now need to ensure that we keep that and work closer together to ensure the university keeps students’ issues as primary.

Now more than ever, institutions will look to Students’ Unions to help define what our students require. And if we cannot give coherent evidence based responses, I fear we will find ourselves quickly becoming irrelevant, and extinction is the inevitable end.

I’m thankful that Chris Dingle (Current VP Education) has been elected as the new President, to succeed me. He has a very clear route in forging forward. And has a firm grasp on our strategic goals and the ways to ensure they are met.

It’s safe to say that there are some tough times ahead for KU and KUSU alike. Now is the time to begin to work together so that we do not simply weather the coming storm, but we come out stronger than when we began.

Higher Education may be on the ropes, but it’s not out for the count.


One response

  1. Andrew

    I’d agree that the developments in Higher Education call on the Students’ Unions to enhance their position in two ways: firstly by communicating student views effectively to the university – both at strategic and grass roots level – and acting as a watchdog, for want of a better word, to ensure that students are clear about what their 9k is getting. Expectations, and their addressing, has never been more vital.

    There are two channels of communication that need to be better than ever – the communication between students and their union, and the channel between the union and the university. Getting these both right (and I applaud your work with the Board of Governors) is vital; I don’t think this can be underscored enough. I hope the new President can continue the good work done in this area.

    April 21, 2011 at 11:14 am

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