NUS President Shakira Martin announced on Tuesday the launch of a new commission that will tackle the concerns of working class students across the country.
Over a two year period, the Student Poverty Commission will survey students to unearth the financial barriers they face when from a disadvantaged background, then lobby the government to act on what they find.
The results of the research — thought to be published in February 2018 — will produce recommendations that the NUS will pose to government. Ms Martin hopes these results will trigger a review of practices within the education sector.
Throughout the course of the study, Ms Martin will also create testimonial films of the subjects of the survey, to “show the government what it’s really like to be working class, as facts and figures just aren’t cutting it.”
She added “long reports with inaccessible terminology and endless numbers have their place, and we will produce a written report, but it is important that people feel that they are talking with us, rather than being talked about. Our findings need to be articulated in a way that can be understood by everyone.”
The figures Shakira was referring to were part of a UCAS report released after A-Level results day. They found that students from disadvantaged backgrounds are 35% less likely to attend university, as well as being the most likely to drop out amongst their peers.
The commission also coincides with NUS Extra research that found 46% of students are worried about not being able to afford essential food and household items such as bread and milk. Additionally, a quarter of students apparently feel concerned about returning to college or university because of financial worries.
When asked what the aim of the research would be, Shakira remained vague, but did say that it is “all part of the parcel” of the campaign for free education.
The University of Manchester’s Students’ Union’s General Secretary, Alex Tayler, told The Mancunion that he thinks the launch is “a good idea”, and added that “it’s important that more research is done in this area as many of our students have expressed concern at the cost of living.”
However, he said that the commission potentially wasn’t reaching far enough: “I think that it is a good start although I would personally like to see the scope widened to more than working class as students from all backgrounds can end up in financial difficulty whilst at University.
“As a Union we are currently working on cost of living issues such as the the cost of food on campus and halls rent as well as the provision of more bursaries to help lower income students study for a masters.”
Finally, he mentioned that he plans to create a work experience programme within the Students’ Union for local schools to take advantage of, in the hope that the people who are affected by financial difficulties are encouraged to apply to university regardless.