NUS President calls for debate on ‘real student issues’ at Annual Conference

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The recession’s effect on students is set to dominate talk at this year’s NUS Annual Conference, as delegates and students union leaders look to find ways of easing students’ financial burden. In a statement sent out to union representatives, Wes Streeting, National President of the National Union of Students, outlined the very great need of discussing the country’s current economic climate and its relation to students. He said that ignoring the issue would be equivalent to “fiddling when Rome burns”. 

Mr. Streeting highlighted the fact that as many households start to feel the pinch, students coming from these households will be affected too. In a statement he said: “Headlines in recent weeks have not been good for prospective students, current students or graduates. We’ve [the NUS] been working hard to influence the government’s response to this crisis, pressing for additional help for those in hardship, reducing the interest rates on student loans in line with inflation and an urgent increase in the cap on student numbers to ensure that the record numbers of people applying to university this year are able to find a place.”

LUSU President, Michael Payne, commented that he felt it was “absolutley brilliant that Wes has raised these issues. I think as this is coming from the leadership of the NUS then constiuent groups such as Lancaster should support it.”

He added: “At the moment there is a massive lack of guidence by the NUS and the National Executive Committee on how the recession affect students and, equally important, how it will affect student unions: how it will affect their commercial activities and finances. At the end of the day it’s thoses activites and finances fund the student services we offer and representation for students.” LUSU is holding an extraodinary Union Counil meeting today to discuss amendments to motions put to the conference. Lancaster will be sending seven elected delegates and the president to the conference in early April. 

Streeting has passed 4 amendments to Motion 608 of the conference discussion. The motion, which focuses on the financial situation of students, will now also include recommendations on graduate employability, applicant places and student support during a recession. 

The need for this support was demonstrated in a recent study by the Open University. Researchers there found that since July 2008 full-time students have been saddling a rate of inflation 50 per cent above the national average. The Student Price Index, published by the university, shows the inflation rate for students being 6.6 per cent, compared to 4.4 per cent for all UK households, making the 07/08 academic year one of the most expensive on record. 

Despite this squeeze on student finances, a number of universities have started cutting back their funding for student bursaries, a move which Mr. Streeting has pledged to oppose if the motion is passed by those in attendance at the Annual Conference. 

The effects of the economic downturn on prospective students and graduates will also be debated at the Conference. The Association of Graduate Recruiters recently forecast graduate employment to drop by 5.4 per cent in 2009, the first time vacancies have fallen since 2003. Almost 50 per cent of organisations are expected to take on fewer graduates this year, with 64.4 per cent admitting this was in some way connected to the downfall. 

While graduate employment falls, the number of applicants to university has risen to record numbers, included a marked growth in the number of mature applicants. However, even with the government having recently re-set the cap on the number of university places available nationally, the NUS is still concerned that a significant number of potential students will be turned away due to lack of spaces. 

Other notable motions to be discussed at the Conference include a call for the cap on tuition fees not to be lifted, which would give universities free reign to charge whatever fees they liked per annum.  

“I am delighted that students’ unions have voted to prioritse the education debate at conference,” Mr. Streeting said. “I am in the process of tabling amendments through students’ unions to ensure that we get a real debate on the issues raised by the recession and get some good education funding policy passed to take us into the government’s fees review next year. This year’s conference promises to be one that debates real issues affecting students up and down the country.”

Students can vote for Lancaster’s NUS delegates in the Union elections, on Thursday of Week 8. 

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