NUS is quids in

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates

Hefce has just pressed £5m into the NUS palm c/o its Catalyst Fund.  Here are the outline details from the funding council ...

The funding will help students to engage with their universities and colleges on sustainable development, and to ensure that sustainability remains a priority with institutions.  NUS will run a single-round bidding competition in summer 2013, to allocate the funding.  The funded projects will then receive the funding over two full academic years (2013-14 and 2014-15).  The Students’ Green Fund will encourage local collaborative sustainability initiatives through students’ unions, putting students in the driving seat for sustainability engagement initiatives, as well as supporting them in their role as agents for change.  NUS is determined to create a social norm of sustainability in institutions.  The groundwork laid by initiatives such as Student Switch Off in university halls of residence, the sustainable growth programme, Student Eats, and Green Impact, will be strengthened by the Students’ Green Fund.  HEFCE recently signed up to NUS’ national environmental accreditation and awards scheme – Green Impact.  Run by trained students, Green Impact uses a series of online workbooks to help staff achieve a range of green targets.  These include increasing recycling of food and drink packaging, reducing energy use, sourcing sustainable products, and promoting the use of public transport.

Steve Egan, Deputy Chief Executive, HEFCE said:

'We are very pleased to be able to support this excellent student-led initiative. It has the full support of the sector and will play an important role in helping meet challenging carbon targets and wider sustainable development goals.'

Engagement is a key theme of the Students’ Green Fund. It aims to engage everyone from students to governors to course representatives and the wider community. A key priority for the fund will be strategic community partnerships that encourage community learning and development in the area of sustainability.  Danielle Grufferty, NUS Vice President Society and Citizenship said:

'We are really excited to build on the sustainability work begun by NUS through Green Impact. HEFCE’s investment in students indicates a firm commitment to producing those who are both qualified and sustainably literate when they graduate.'

Despite this marginal reference to being sustainably literate (sic), this all seems rather behaviour-focused, and very ESD1, but much use of energy, carbon and other stuff will be reduced, no doubt.  It will certainly be instructive to watch how (and the extent to which) academics and institutional leaders are drawn into all this (as NUS promises), and what changes as a result.  I trust that Hefce will insist all this gets a proper evaluation, though I'm not all that hopeful ...

More widely, HEFCE has produced a a strategic statement in relation to its role "in the collective student interest".  This begins ...

1. The 2011 Higher Education White Paper, ‘Students at the Heart of the System’ indicated a new role for HEFCE that was described variously as the ‘student champion’ or ‘consumer champion’ and talked of protecting and promoting student interests.

2. HEFCE has long been engaged in initiatives that relate to the student interest, including providing student-facing information about higher education (HE), widening participation initiatives and the National Student Survey.  Work such as this will continue, but the White Paper signalled a more strategic, explicit and wider approach was expected.

3. Since the White Paper HEFCE has been developing its role, we have actively considered the student interest perspective in all policy matters and also become involved in some initiatives and areas that are new to us.  As a consequence student matters have assumed a higher profile in our considerations than may have previously been the case and new work has commenced.  However, we are now doing this with little expectation of imminent legislation that would change HEFCE’s remit or powers.

4. This document sets out what HEFCE perceives its role to be and how it intends to pursue its role in the collective student interest.  We will publish annually in a suitable place an account of the collective student interest during that period.

Again, all this will be good news to students, collectively at least, and to the NUS, whose influence is evident in the text.  Of course, it is easy to be cynical about such things that lean heavily on QA, and don't actually seem to say very much, but I note that there is no mention of learning in this text; that is being left to institutions, it seems; or even to students, perhaps ...

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