Category: Policy Topic Idea
Submitted by: Blackpool & The Fylde College, Activate Learning, Sheffield College
Further education students need the support of students’ unions for their lives: we need fair wages, high quality housing and mental health services.
Students’ unions in FE don’t always currently have a dedicated staff member to support the students’ union, and sometimes only have volunteer SU officers. It can be challenging to get in contact with them, because of the structures of FE colleges.
There can be problems with the culture of engagement in Colleges – College staff don’t know what the Students’ Union is, and so don’t promote it. Lots of colleges are multi-campus, and engagement can vary between campuses, which makes it more difficult to get the message out.
This leads to problems with engaging students and getting them involved in campaigns; there is a culture for students of just coming to learn, and not always getting involved in campaigns.
Funding for students’ unions in further education is very varied and it often depends on the financial sustainability of the college – students’ union funding could be the first thing to get cut if the College starts to lose money. Some unions get a flat block grant to cover societies, campaigns and equipment, which is often not enough to cover all of this. In some students’ unions it is very difficult to access their own money! But we see colleges building new projects and spending money on things that seem unnecessary and will not directly benefit students.
Funding from TOTUM cards alone would often not be enough to sustain the students’ union in the event of losing money. TOTUM’s priority seems to be on HE unions, and so FE unions can miss out, even though we are reliant on the funding from the cards – this all means students’ union funding in further education colleges is very precarious.
Every Further Education College should have a strong and developed students’ union which is able to engage the students on their campus and make life better for students at their college, allowing the students’ union officers to support and represent their members.
Students’ unions need professional staff members who can do work to support officers with administrative work, planning and the general running of a students’ union. Dedicated staff members need funding. NUS could lobby the government and relevant organisations to fund Colleges to fund their students’ unions with increased block grants. NUS should also support students’ unions to lobby their MPs and local councils to put pressure on for more funding.
Students’ unions should be supported to educate College staff about their unions and supported by NUS to do this, but it’s not just the responsibility of the union. NUS can help with this nationally by lobbying the government and relevant groups or organisations to support strong students’ unions.
We agree with this submission, but add that there can be a real conflict of interest for staff employed in FE unions - they are the direct employees of the college, not a separate,autonomous organisation like university unions. If your employer's instructions/policy differs to those of the union, staff can be in a really difficult position. Is there room in the policy to allow for NUS helping to support FE union staff who find themselves in a conflict of interest?