Unfair criticism

February 19, 1999

I was stunned and deeply disappointed that the Association of Colleges should criticise the role of the National Union of Students in the representation of FE students and their unions ("Colleges round on NUS priorities", THES, February 5).

The NUS has worked in partnership with the AoC in submitted written and oral evidence to the Kennedy committee on widening participation and lobbied the Department for Education and Employment/Further Education Funding Council access fund group. The broadening of access funds to all students from 1999-2000 is partly due to our campaigning on this issue and its representation through the response to the Lane report.

The NUS also contributes a staff member to the Association of Local Authorities advisory group and to the Lane committee on post-16 student awards. At the chair's request the NUS provided new research data on hardship that was incorporated into the Lane committee report. The AoC provided no such data to the committee.

The NUS has consistently lobbied government on unemployed people accessing FE through the welfare benefit concession known as the 16-hour rule. The NUS released FEFC figures for the numbers of claimants studying in further education - one-seventh of all FEFC-funded places, or nearly 400,000 students in 1997 - by definition in hardship because they are too poor to pay their own fees. The AoC used these figures, acknowledging the NUS as the source.

Unlike the AoC, we take up a large number of FE student hardship cases and have trained countless students, student unions and college managers in the intricacies of unemployed peoples' access to FE.

The NUS posed three questions to this year's FEFC AGM on student hardship, one of which, on the scheduling of access funds, received an apology from FEFC finance director Geoff Hall. The AoC asked no questions on student hardship or funding.

The AoC spokeswoman quoted would have done well to consult members of her own organisation before criticising activity she knows nothing about.

Andrew Pakes. National president, NUS

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