Students” Unions in the FE sector generally have to make do with grants amounting to no more than 0.02% of a typical college budget.
That is the damning conclusion of an inspection carried out by the National Union of Students (NUS), which also found that one fifth of those surveyed received no block grant at all, and 17% had no office to work in. As an aside to the main survey it was found that around 35% of the 373 NUS affiliates, in the FE sector, did not even have a functioning students” union at all.
A Headless Body
For many in Higher Education a students” union is just as relevant to their wellbeing and future success as the course they are studying. Whilst largely accredited for organising and setting up clubs, societies and events, HE students” unions also play a vital role in amplifying students” views and concerns to the upper echelons of management, whilst also providing a source of counsel and advice when times are hard.
The same cannot be said for the majority of their FE counterparts who, due to under funding and a general lack of executive recognition, often have limited, unqualified and misinformed involvement in college life. Nowhere is this more visible than in the following figures; over half of all SU officers in the FE sector are untrained and that, of the 88% majority of SUs supported by a Staff/Student Liaison Officer (SSLO), 23% receive just 2 hours or less per week of that staff member’s time.
The survey also points at leadership problems revealing inconsistencies in governance arrangements. One third of respondents said they did not have seats on academic boards, whilst 44% of student governors indicated that they were automatically excluded from “reserved business” on corporation agendas.
Alarms but no Surprises
Ellie Russell, formally president of Haywards Heath College students” union and now NUS Vice President for Further Education, said that the findings, which include the stark admission from 11 SUs that elections (required to be undertaken by law) are never held in their college, came as no real shock but were worrying, all the same.
The NUS now feel they have the “cold hard facts” to support their “Load and Clear” campaign; a movement which is championing the rights of more than 4 million further education students to a trained, recognised, monitored and representative voice.
On their list of demands is the easily achievable call for college SUs to receive a minimum block grant of 0.05%, which for most is only a 0.03% rise from their current contribution. The NUS is also seeking improvements in governance and support; requesting that 50% of a SSLO’s full-time contract be dedicated to the SU as well as asking for each college to elect at least 2 student governors.
Russell said: “An adequately funded, resourced and supported student union should be enshrined in the learners” entitlement.” This underwritten right, say the NUS, should be audited by OFSTED within college inspections.
Phillip Byrne, Union Affairs Correspondent
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