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The past 12 months or so have seen a dramatic shift in the state and stability of higher education. It is now that students’ unions and the National Union of Students (NUS) must act intelligently as well as positively. More than ever, we need to ensure that university is accessible and that value for money is upheld; ensuring the greatest possible deal for students both current and prospective.
This undoubtedly needs to be through the constant scrutinising of universities, however, it must also be in the offering of a wide range of top quality opportunities and support for anyone studying in higher education.
The election of Liam Burns as President of the NUS last month was a crucial one. Burns, currently President of NUS Scotland, went into the election with vast support from the unions he currently represents. A key reason for this is his success in the fight against fees in Scotland. What is more though, and is no doubt the reason he was elected reasonably comfortably, is the fact that he held a role in which he already represented a large proportion of students that study in the UK. With Burns, students can expect a moderate, progressive leader who will not be afraid to find the correct balance between protest and discussion.
The direction that this leadership will take has, to an extent, already been discussed and decided. The message from the NUS Annual Conference is that the decision to blindly demonstrate when it may not be necessary is not always the most beneficial option. In the past year we have seen that even when the time is right and the demonstration is appropriate, unfortunately it is not always successful.
From here unions and the NUS must lead with their best foot forward. Both must constantly apply pressure on a national and local scale to ensure that the coalition government delivers for students where so far it has fallen short. Additionally, the NUS must set an example and support its union members in holding the senior management of universities accountable. The President-elect and Vice Presidents-elect of NUS must be strong and not give in to the pressure of the vocal few. Rather, they should act optimistically and represent the moderate and fair views of the majority of students in the UK.
Here in Lancaster we have an exceptional union that leads the way nationally. Setting an example in participation in clubs, societies and volunteering; the opportunities provided greatly contribute to thousands of us as we complete our degrees. However, there is always room for improvement. In the next year the University will be pushed to deliver a university experience that justifies the £9,000 a year students will be asked to pay. LUSU will constantly apply pressure on the University to provide top quality academic teaching and support in coherence with co-curricular opportunities that ensure Lancaster graduates are well placed for the future.
In the past week it has been in the national press that our Vice Chancellor, Professor Paul Wellings is stepping down. Professor Wellings’ actions have, on more than one occasion, angered the students and staff at Lancaster; most notably in the debate over tuition fees. However, he has also brought a lot of good things that have benefited the university and has contributed to the universities rise in standard and recognition. Historically, students have always been involved in the appointing of a new Vice Chancellor. I look forward to being involved in the process as the University searches for an appointment that will continue to push the university forward and who will have students at the forefront of their decisions.
The next year is one in which LUSU will continue to deliver opportunities and support that provide Lancaster students with both an exceptional three or four years here. LUSU will be critical when the university is not justifying its fees and will work alongside it to ensure that Lancaster University students get the best experience.