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DfE sector taskforce: critics question student and staff exclusion

The shadow universities minister questioned “how can a taskforce solve the crisis” without input from trade unions and student groups

The shadow universities minister has questioned why the government’s university taskforce does not include staff and student representatives.

Critics have today slammed the universities minister for excluding the NUS and the University and College Union (UCU) from the Department for Education’s taskforce for higher education sector groups.

Shadow universities minister Emma Hardy tweeted: “Why were the NUS and UCU not there, Michelle Donelan? Will this be rectified? How can a task force solve the crisis facing universities without also speaking to student and staff representatives?”

Dr Jo Grady, UCU general secretary, told University Business it was “very disappointing that UCU and the NUS have not been invited to join” the ministerial taskforce.

“University staff and students are best placed to identify the issues facing universities and our voices must be central to any solution,” she added.

The NUS national president Larissa Kennedy today wrote to Ms Donelan to express disappointment “that there will be no student representation within the group at all”.

“If students really are to be the priority, they must be given a seat at the table,” the NUS president said.

“I know that we have not always agreed on how to respond during the pandemic and, particularly over the last week, there will have been numerous points of disagreement between us. However, we have very much enjoyed being able to work closely with yourself and your office during the pandemic to relay the views of students and work collaboratively to come to some solutions for the problems that have emerged,” the NUS letter continued.

“Open and clear communication, even if we disagree, is even more critical at this time, if we are to ensure that students are listened to and decisions are made in their best interests.”

Larissa Kennedy tweeted from her personal account: “We were the ones warning them against everything they’ve just put students through … students deserve way better.”

DfE sector taskforce: critics question student and staff exclusion larissa kennedy
The national president of the NUS said “students deserve way better”.

The union announced that students from across the UK are to hold socially-distanced, static pickets outside Department for Education (DfE) buildings in London, Bristol, Coventry, Nottingham, Sheffield and Manchester at 1pm tomorrow (Thursday 20th August).

Ms Kennedy said the pickets were necessary because “[students] are fed up of not being listened to”. The union is calling for an independent review of what it describe as this year’s “exam fiasco”.

Daily taskforce meetings are to be held between Michelle Donelan and the chief executives of Universities UK (UUK), Guild HE, Universities Alliance, the Russell Group, the Office for Students (OfS), Ucas and Million Plus.

The Department for Education confirmed on Monday it will also axe the temporary student number cap to allow universities to accept more students who now have the required A-level grades following Monday’s A-level U-turn.

In a statement released to reporters last night Ms Donelan said: “We are supporting universities, including by announcing our intention to remove temporary student number controls and working with them to help them prioritise students and uphold their first choice either this coming year, or as a last resort the following year.

“We announced a package of support for the sector during the pandemic, including bringing forward tuition fee and research funding, and a scheme to assess any restructuring support higher education providers may need.”

UCU yesterday called for a financial bailout for the sector. Dr Grady said the removal of the student number cap would mean “certain universities can hoover up students hitting the finances of other institutions”.


Read more: Student number cap axed: DfE maintains policy was ‘not a waste of time’

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