Lost era of life of study

June 1, 2001

THES reporters talk to Phil Woolas and Stephen Twigg, MPs who are both former NUS presidents.

Phil Woolas

Phil Woolas, Labour candidate for Oldham East and Saddleworth, fears higher education expansion has hit student life hard, writes Alan Thomson

Mr Woolas, president of the National Union of Students 1984-86, said: "The traditional student experience has gone forever - moving away from home, living on campus, academic study, going to Europe in the vacations, getting drunk, meeting a variety of people in a safe environment.

"The students who live in Oldham commute to university in Manchester, Salford, Huddersfield. Their experience is much more akin to going to work. Lots live at home and have social circles where they live not study."

Mr Woolas, who worked as a television news producer before winning his seat in 1997 and is now parliamentary private secretary to transport minister Lord Macdonald, says that student poverty is a problem.

But he says that, against his instincts, student representatives have told him that the new maintenance system leaves them with more money overall. However, many still have to rely on vacation and term time work.

He says he is "thrilled" that the Labour manifesto has ruled out top-up fees but believes the government needs to re-evaluate what the sector offers to achieve its participation targets.

The Oldham East and Saddleworth constituency has had a turbulent few years. Mr Woolas took the seat from the Liberal Democrats, who had held it for two years following the death of the previous Conservative incumbent. In the last election Woolas had a 3,389 majority, leaving it vulnerable to swing yet again.

Stephen Twigg

Labour's Stephen Twigg is calling for the re-introduction of targeted maintenance grants, writes Cherry Canovan .

Mr Twigg, NUS president 1990-92, says he was concerned that funding changes were deterring mature students from studying. He said: "We need to make sure we are widening access, not just increasing numbers.

"We need to look and see if changes might need to be made. We need to look at the kind of maintenance packages that can be made available."

Bringing in fees had been necessary, he said. But abolishing maintenance grants had created a situation "that we need to keep an eye on".

The government was looking at ideas such as repaying student loans for some people going into teaching.

Mr Twigg is once again fighting the Enfield Southgate constituency in north London, where he famously defeated Michael Portillo in what became the defining moment of the 1997 general election.

But with a majority of only 1,433, he faces a tough battle.

  Election 2001 index page

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