The National Union of Students (NUS) have launched a campaign aimed at raising awareness about the government’s proposed area reviews of various post-16 educational institutions across the UK.
The campaign, which commenced on Wednesday, is called #FEunplugged and seeks to provide a voice for students, as well as at “getting students, staff, MPs and local communities talking about area reviews”.
Area reviews are government-led investigations of schools, colleges and universities which, according to www.gov.uk, “aims to establish a set of institutions that are: financially resilient [and] able to offer high quality education and training based on the needs of learners and employers within the local area”.
The government have announced that a total of 101 general further education institutions and 54 sixth form colleges will be assessed in the first two waves of area reviews, which will take place across 15 regions of the UK.
The first set of reviews are currently taking place in Greater Manchester, Birmingham and Solihull, and the Sheffield City region, and are reportedly already behind schedule, with proceedings predicted to overrun into mid-February.
The #FEunplugged campaign is the result of the NUS opposing the government’s decision to conduct the area reviews.
NUS Vice President for Further Education, Shakira Martin, said: “Further education has reached crisis point and is now facing the biggest reform in its history. The #FEunplugged campaign will make sure students’ needs are not ignored during area reviews”.
It is thought that the reviews could result in the merging of post-16 educational institutions in a similar way to that of many primary and secondary schools under the coalition and Conservative governments.
This resulted in the creation of ‘academies’ throughout the country, the likes of which have been heavily criticised by education commentators.
Ofsted have highlighted “unacceptably low” attendance levels in some of the schools that belong to the UK’s largest academy chain, as well as dubbing particular schools “mediocre”.
The merging of institutions is one of the concerns held by the NUS, who stated: “If colleges are merged, students may have to travel further for their courses, meaning they will be sacrificing more time and more money to access their education.
“In some places local transport infrastructure is not good enough to get students across an area”.
The NUS also expressed concerns over the quality of education that students could receive: “students’ learning could suffer if class sizes grow and resources have to be shared”.
The NUS has pledged to work with students’ unions to gather information from students about “what keeps them in college”. They will then use this information to “lobby MPs, local authorities and local service providers, such as bus companies, to make sure students aren’t losing out when and if their colleges merge or close”.