Bring FE into the fold, urges NUS

March 28, 1997

Students have pledged their support for Sir Ron Dearing's inquiry into the future of higher education, but want more of a voice for further education.

More than 1,500 delegates at the annual conference of the National Union of Students in Blackpool this week agreed that "the divide between further education and higher education exists but is a false and unnecessary divide".

This was the first time in four years that further education was debated in full, with the conference agreeing that further education students should elect their own vice president in future.

They also called for more attention to student development in higher education, a replacement for the research assessment exercise, and rejection of any move towards elitism in the higher education system.

Douglas Trainer, national president of NUS, said: "We have stated that we are making further education the heart of our work with Dearing."

Speakers agreed that the inquiry had given students a unique opportunity to influence future government policy on higher education and urged members of the union to make the most of it rather than indulge in "petty squabbling".

But Joe Cardwell, standing for president as a socialist worker candidate, said the inquiry was set up merely as a means for the Government to avoid its responsibilities for higher education.

Inevitably, politics was a key issue at the conference, which was shortened by a day to stop students missing out on canvassing for general election candidates.

Conservatives and Liberal Democrat students called for a less politicised NUS while far leftwing students criticised their leadership for being too much in the pockets of New Labour. This did not prevent Mr Trainer being re-elected for a second year as president, pledging to fight against top-up fees, promote wider participation and oppose right-wing and Islamic extremists.

* The National Union of Students Scotland faces a wave of disaffiliation campaigns in the wake of its annual conference.

Student at Aberdeen, Stirling and Paisley universities are planning to hold referendums on membership of the union next month, with several further education colleges expected to follow.

A number of conference delegates were angered by the failure to reach a controversial debate on the union's policy on student support.

There was also indignation over an anonymous leaflet which made thinly veiled personal attacks on leading delegates.

Alasdair MacFarlane, senior vice president of Aberdeen's student representative council, who is leading its disaffiliation campaign, said the conference had suppressed and ignored democracy, and the value of union membership was questionable if a debate on student support was at the bottom of the agenda.

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