Yesterday (16th July 2020) the Government released a strategy plan for the restructuring of Higher Education in response to Covid-19.
Within this strategy, the government encourage Higher Education institutions to “strip back bureacracy”, and state that “The funding of student unions should be proportionate and focused on serving the needs of the wider student population” adding that they should be funded according to this rather than “subsidising niche activism and campaigns.”
This has been interpreted on Twitter by some as an attack on Students’ Unions on part of the Government. Jim Dickinson from Wonkhe tweeted:
Unbelievable nonsense really. SUs deliver remarkable bang for buck. Given the massively important role they’ve played in the pandemic is it too much to ask for a bit of recognition rather than this culture wars twaddle?
— Jim Dickinson (@jim_dickinson) July 16, 2020
The President of The Guild of Students (Birmingham) also tweeted about the issue:
Also, niche activism? Is Black Lives Matter niche? Voter registration campaigns? Welfare and safety campaigns? Hey, reclaim the night literally highlights sexual violence faced by students. If you’re going to devalue and condemn these campaigns, say it with your chest.
— Joshua Williams (@joshuaxwilliams) July 16, 2020
Further in the document, the Government have said that for Universities to receive the funding support from the Govenment, they must create a clear financial plan that includes “focus on… funding for student activism and sabbaticals”.
This has been implied by some as an indication by the Government to Higher Education that there are too many sabbatical officers and that Student Unions should focus less on student activism and more on student activities.
Ironically, the spend on SU officers is often one of the most effective ways universities can spend money on supporting mental health and combatting hardship.
— Johnny Rich (@JohnnySRich) July 16, 2020
In response to the Government plan, Richard Brabner, Director of UPP Foundation, stated that “A Conservative government should intuitively understand that Students’ Unions are critical to the student experience because they enable the development and growth of ‘little platoons’.”
He goes on to say that “Thousands of university clubs and societies depend upon, and are supported by, well-resourced Students’ Unions. The Government has legitimate concerns about free speech but any action it should take should not weaken the vital function Students’ Unions play”.
Mr Brabner’s full statement can be found here.
The Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson, has defended the Government’s position:
“We understand the challenges universities are facing… we must look to the future…” going on to say that universities need to achieve “great value for money” and that “My priority is student welfare, not vice-chancellor salaries.”
Mr Williamson’s full statement can be found here.
If you would like to investigate this story more, you can access the original Government plan here, if you have anything you’d like to say about this story, we encourage you to write for us by emailing us, or tweeting to us @lsumedia.