Between Election and Changeover – What has happened

This was originally posted on Facebook on Friday, 8 June: http://www.facebook.com/notes/james-mcash-eusapres/between-election-and-changeover-what-has-happened/114884988652331

It seems like forever ago that I won my election to be the next President of EUSA, a role that I will begin properly on Monday. The last two weeks has been the ‘changeover’ period where myself and the other new sabbaticals, Max Crema, Hazel Marzetti and Andrew Burnie, learn the rope of the organisation and get passed masses of information from the current sabbatical officers (sabbs). I will share some of my experiences of changeover as soon as I can. However, between the election and changeover I went to 2 events which are of great relevance to Edinburgh students: NUS National Conference, and NUS Scotland Networks. Here is a brief account of these events and what I thought of them:

NUS National Conference

National Conference was at the end of April in Sheffield.

A motion brought to Conference by Edinburgh to call a national demonstration against fees, cuts and privatisations was passed by a sizeable majority. This means that NUS will be organising a big march in London this autumn. For the next few months, one of EUSA’s priorities will be ensuring that the demo is relevant to students in Scotland, and that large numbers of Edinburgh students make it down for the event.

In the elections two of last year’s sabbatical officers, Mike Williamson and Emma Meehan, won a place on the National Executive Council – the senior decision-making body for NUS. It is highly unusual for a union to win two seats in one election, so this is excellent news. Having EUSA representatives on NUS committees ensures that the campaigns that our national unions run are always relevant to Edinburgh students. In addition to this, Edinburgh students have seats on the Scottish Executive Council, Women’s Committee, International Students Committee, Black Students Committee, LGBT Student Committee, Disabled Students Committee. We are very well represented.

The major disappointments with conference was the lack of time and the overly-bureaucratic and corporate nature of the event. For instance, a number of motions discussing the situation with international students (visa changes, high fees etc) were brought to conference but none of them were actually debated. Someone made a speech about how disappointing that this was and how they felt that more time was needed for discussion of policy. This was cut short so that, the National President, Liam Burns, could give a presentation on a deal that he had secured with Spotify. This prioritisation of discount music-downloads was a real kick in the teeth for international students facing deportation.

Towards the end of the conference there was an election for new members of NUS’s trustee board. A student officer from Birmingham, Ed Bauer, who EUSA has ‘guiding’ policy in supporting against victimisation from his student union, was elected along with two others. The person who won the most votes, Tessa Birley, named EUSA as an example of a bad trustee board and promised not to overturn democratic decisions. This was slightly embarrassing.

NUS Scotland Networks

NUS Scotland organises its campaigns into three ‘networks’. The first, the ‘Priority Network’, focuses on some of the big national issues like student support (loans, bursaries etc) and education funding (tuition fees etc). The second, the ‘Education Network’, includes all aspects of student life directly related to education, like teaching, assessment, feedback. The third, the ‘Community Network’, deals with issues outside the university or college campus, like housing, crime and so on. There are regular network events where students can influence the priorities of NUS Scotland and I went to one for both the Priority and Education Networks. I have some reservations about how this is organised as it seems to benefit the student unions who can afford to send more students to the events but it’s certainly better than having NUS Scotland make these decisions without meaningful input from students at all.

Priority Network

The main discussions at priority network were about the national demo and widening access (ensuring that people from disadvantaged backgrounds can get into education). A key thing that is happening is ‘Outcome Agreements’ which are contracts signed between the Scottish Gov and universities which include targets on widening access. Edinburgh is particularly bad in this respect: we have one of the lowest intakes from disadvantaged areas, and a tiny intake from ethnic minority students. In the next few weeks I am going to be working on getting the university to agree to some strict targets for improvements.

Education

Three key campaigns that NUS Scotland is running through its ‘Education network’

Anonymous marking – women and ethnic minorities are significantly more likely to get a first class degree when their work is assessed anonymously. Removing the possibility of staff bias is a key way of tackling discrimination and also ensuring that students who have clash with their tutors are not penalised for it. At Edinburgh lots of our assessment is anonymous but not all – this national campaign should be really helpful for Edinburgh students. Hazel Marzetti, our new VP Societies and Activities, is working on this campaign here in Edinburgh.

HEAR – The Scottish Government is introducing Higher Education Achievement Records into universities. These extend university transcripts from a list of grades to a full record of all your achievements at university, including society and sport involvement, being a class rep, or volunteering. NUS Scotland is campaigning to make sure that these benefit students and graduates as much as possible, whilst ensuring that students have full control of what goes into them. This year’s graduates will be the first to get a HEAR – please let us know what you think of them.

KIS – The Scottish Government wants to incorporate Key Information Sets into university admission processes. This would mean that students have access to a bundle of vital information about a given degree course. The principle of having wider access to information is great but at the moment it looks like the kind of information that they would be providing will a) not include some of the most important things, b) mislead many students (for instance saying that an Edinburgh degree costs £9,000 per year when it doesn’t for Scottish, or overseas students), c) contribute to the idea that education is a consumer object that should be purchased. NUS Scotland are going to fight for these Key Information Sets to provide useful, accurate and holistic information about each university and degree course, not just meaningless unproductive statistics.

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