What's happening, boys and girls? So, this week myself and some other RGU students have been away on an adventure to Brighton for NUS National Conference 2016. Now, I'm not expecting many of you to know what that is, but I want to give you a little update about what has been happening and where we've been!
So, RGU:Union is members of the National Union of Students which is the major lobbying and representative body for students in the UK. Conference is a chance for several hundreds of delegates from across the country to come together to vote on national policies and campaigns, set the direction of NUS for the year to come and to elect national student leadership. For those of you who aren't interested in democracy (probably most of you) this doesn't sound interesting, but NUS Conference is the biggest democratic student gathering in the world!
RGU Delegates: Edward Pollock (President Communication and Democracy), Yvonne Ofordu (President Education and Welfare), Bianca Geangalau (Student Delegate) and Martin Thomson (Vice President Wellbeing and Equal Opportunities)
Myself, Yvonne, Martin and Bianca attended the conference to represent RGU! Over the past three days, we've had a pretty incredible experience. Conference is massive, pretty intimidating, and pretty complicated! With hundreds of motions being debating and voted on, several elections and an AGM all packed into 14 hour days, conference is intense. NUS has a number of campaign areas, where we heard updates from the elected officers, and debated on policies for the coming year. I couldn't possible tell you all the motions we voted on, but I want to paint a picture of the discussions at conference, where the student movement is heading and how we represented you nationally.
Stay In The EU - Across the country, students are overwhelmingly in support of staying in the EU. We supported a number of motions to work on a strong campaign to protect education, protect international students and remain in the EU. We want free movement of students, want an inclusive society, we want opportunities for students across the continent. With the EU Referendum approaching very soon, conference saw a wide range of debate on the issue. On behalf of the students of RGU, we voted to support the campaign to stay in the European Union.
Fight the Cuts, Protect Education - Another significant topic that came up time and time again at conference was the cuts and impact the current UK Government is having on education. While in Scotland we are in a different position with a different government, the cuts to education are still massively affecting our students (with RGU receiving a 3.9% cut in funding). We are in support of free, inclusive, assessable education for all, and want to work to fight cuts to education wherever possible. Regardless of political parties, we are passionate about fighting against dangerous and crippling cuts being made in areas such as nursing bursaries, or disabled students allowances. We supported a number of motions to fight against austerity and campaign for a better deal for students.
Students Against Prevent - A significant bit of legislation in recent years has meant that public sector bodies (such as universities) now have a duty to prevent against radicalisation and terrorism. The trouble with this is that it is putting staff in education in a position where racism and discrimination are coming to light and students are being stereotyped and discriminated against. This is a very dangerous message to students and society. NUS is very strongly opposed to the prevent legislation, and we also voted in support of motions fighting prevent. At RGU, we are managing our responsibilities in the legislation as casually as possible, meaning that we already have proceedures in place for booking events, and will apply these measures and processes to all events and all students (as we do already). All we've had to do is formally write this process and ensure we collect more information on external speakers. We oppose any legislation that discriminates students and are working out best on ground level to ensure our implementation is to safeguard and not to discriminate.
Boycott the NSS and DLHE- This was certainly a difficult and controversial motion. These two main national surveys track student feedback and graduate employability which is used by universities and external organisations for ranking and improvements. Now, it's well known that these surveys are flawed and are not the right measure of quality. At conference a proposal was made to do a national boycott of these surveys to fight back against the government's new 'Teaching Excellent Framework' and plans for education that aim to marketise education, and link fees to 'quality' (measured through these surveys). A national boycott of these surveys would have a big impact on these plans and would send a strong message. The trouble is that they would also have a massive impact on our institutions. At RGU the DHLE survey is massively important as it is the one that gives us our Number One employability ranking. The information in this survey is of massive importance to students, and is one of the key reasons students came to RGU. At this point in time the TEF and Green Paper don't have immediate impacts on Scotland. If we supported and participated in a boycott of these surveys, it would have a major impact on the university and students of the future. We felt that significant works needs done to improve these mechanisms and measure satisfaction better. Without a national metric, institutions may move to use their own measures which is far less impartial and easier to manipulate. While a boycott may be a valuable lobbying tool locally against institutions, nationally it is dangerous and would have a big impact on RGU. In this instance, we decided to vote against the boycott. However, the motion itself passed. This is likely to be a topic for further consideration at democratic events at RGU to decide if we as a union want to participate in the boycott or not.
A Voice for Trans Students - One of the stand out motions from the AGM was to create a new Transexual Officer and a separate Trans campaign at NUS. We voted in favour of this motion, which passed unanimously. It was an amazing moment with standing ovations and tears in the room. RGU has dozens of Trans students and this decision at conference is a radical step forward in giving these students a voice and protecting students who go unheard. We hope this new campaign can help us improve our representation and give us the guidance we need to be more representative.
National President, Megan Dunn, addressing conference
There were hundreds of other motions discussed over the three days. Outside of conference #TeamRGU got to have a great time exploring Brighton, relaxing on the beach and visiting the pier! Not too shabby. As well as sunbathing on the beach, and voting on motions, we also participated in elections for national representatives! Along with re-electing Shelly, Richard, Shakira and Sorana, Robbie was also elected, and we elected NUS's first black National President in Malia Bouattia.
Conference is certainly a busy and challenging few days, with a huge amount of discussion and democracy. I feel proud to have represented RGU, and been a part of what was an fascinating and exciting event. NUS is not perfect, it doesn't work for everyone, and it's a complicated beast, but being in that room, seeing the passion of students from across the country, seeing the unity on key issues, it's inspiring to know that the student movement is making changes and is a massively powerful voice for millions of students.
If any students would like to talk more about our affiliation with NUS or any of the votes we made at conference, I am more than happy to talk to students! As always, feel free to drop me an e-mail on firstname.lastname@example.org