Category: NUS-USI Policy Proposal
Our tertiary education system has become increasingly marketized, with financial burdens being shifted away from the public and on to the individual. This has meant our Universities have begun to exist for profit, which has led to course closures, unmanageable workloads and casual contracts for staff, hidden course costs, rising accommodation costs and potential fee increases for students. It has also led to the outsourcing of services, including counselling provision.
Student’s already struggle to make ends meet, with 78% of students struggling with mental health in their time at University, in large part due to financial pressures. It has also led to Higher Education staff striking on 3 occasions since 2018. Tertiary education in N.I. is broken, and both staff and students are at the cold face.
It is our strongly held belief that tuition fees must be abolished as they act as a barrier to access, particularly for students from lowest income backgrounds. We believe that maintenance grants should be restored and that accommodation is made affordable. We also believe that EMA must be continued to ensure FE students are able to study without financial pressures and that FE student unions are given proper protection in their institutions. We also believe it is vital to stand with our staff in their disputes because when staff feel they’re being underpaid, overworked and under-valued, it affects students. We must decolonize our institutions, which means to democratize decision making giving students and staff a voice and ensure our institutions divest from fossil fuels and the arms trade.
Our relationship with UCU is one that should be nurtured and cherished in recognition of our common opposition to the marketization of education and our united goal for a national education service that is properly funded, accessible and lifelong that has students, workers and social justice at its’ core.
Is there a citation pertaining to financial pressures giving causation for 78% of students experiencing mental health issues? I also wonder how students might be affected by making everything on their side free of charge, yes, there would be benefits, who wouldn't like to go to university for free and enjoy the security of accommodation without worrying about rent fees, but there are downsides to every action and inaction, and I'm not sure the inevitable sacrifice of student motivation would be good for the individual, the community, or the wider economy.
Hi James, thanks for your comments. The 78% figure comes from NUS-USI mental health survey that was carried out a few years ago. The idea behind free education are plentiful, but the central point is that currently people from low income backgrounds are too often locked out of education, or really struggle to get through education. Our belief is that everyone, irrespective of background, should be able to access education and there should be a level playing field when they're in education. In terms of motivation, I think motivation wouldn't change and in fact would be better, the motivation to study is broadly based on future prospects and a desire to learn, getting rid of barriers to access wouldn't change that, in fact financial pressures are a significant de-motivator, so many students are forced to work part-time to make end's meet, and many often struggle to work part-time (to pay for rent, utilities, groceries etc) and study which means they may under-perform or drop out all together. In terms of the wider economy, knocking down barriers to access ensuring a level playing field, will help grow a highly skilled workforce and help to bridge the gap between the richest and the poorest within our society. Once again, thanks for your comments, it shows the need to ensure this is discussed at conference so we can make sure we get the policy right!