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Local and national student issue round-up

We base our campaigning and representation work on evidence we gather here at Sussex and by following national developments affecting students here.

Our staff team collate a report every two weeks of relevant information including statistics from our support & advocacy team to show which issues are having an impact on our members.

This report is circulated to staff and officers and now we’re sharing it so you can follow things here at Sussex and nationally.

Content note for this edition: sexual harassment, sexual assault, r*pe



1. Local developments and trends

1. Sussex University Freedom of Information (FoI) requests

2. Cases from our Support and Advocacy team

3. 2018 National Student Survey begins going out to finalists at Sussex


2. National developments and trends

1. NUS releases ‘Homes Fit for Study’ report

2. Investigation launched against National Union of Students (NUS) President for bullying

3. Vice-chancellors share concerns about potential cuts in tuition fees

4. NUS and UCU release joint statement on lecturers’ strikes

5. Bank of England consider phasing out RPI measure of inflation

6. Research from Student Minds recognises academics’ role in mental health support

7. Russell Group publishes paper encouraging government to grow international higher education

8. The cost of unpaid internships

9. Russell Group leader warns that poor children will be ‘set up to fail’ by diversity drives

10. Widening Participation data for 2016/17 released

11. Scottish government commits to funding EU students until 2019/20

12. The Guardian wants to hear about your stories of sexual harassment at university

13. Grade inflation metric included in the latest version of the TEF

14. Think tank claims that ‘Students Not Suspects’ campaign has spread misinformation

15. Comment and opinion pieces


1.1. Sussex University Freedom of Information (FoI) requests

We track publicly submitted requests for information from the University as they may reveal information we want to respond to.

FoI requests we are following which have not been responded to yet:

  1. How many EU (not including UK) academic staff have joined and left the University over the past year?


1.2. Cases from our Support and Advocacy team

The following graph shows the case types over the past fortnight (from 24th January to 1st February inclusive).


The majority of cases this fortnight relate to academic misconduct, specifically for conduct with exams, which is expected at this time of the year. A significant proportion of cases are also relating to academic and non-academic complaints and student disciplinaries.

A number of cases also dealt with student disciplinary issues, which had mental health, sexual harassment and drugs related to the cases. Misconduct cases were predominantly for first offences of cheating in exams. Students sought advice on making complaints against a supervisor, the Student Life Centre, course quality, academic facilities, contact hours and regarding a department policy.


1.3. 2018 National Student Survey begins going out to finalists at Sussex

The University has launched its appeal for final year students to fill in the National Student Survey, which will be open from 5th February to 30th April. The University claims that the survey allows students to make their opinions about their student experience count at a national level. However, the NSS has been criticised as a method of collecting student feedback by a number of Unions, with Sussex participating in a boycott of the survey last year and many Union continuing their boycott in 2018.

This year, the University are offering a prize draw incentive for students. The University’s website states that “What’s more, the sooner you respond, the more chances you have to win. For example, if you complete the survey in the first week and win a prize you will still be entered into the prize draw for all of the other weeks – including the £500 travel vouchers.”

We have put together some Frequently Asked Questions about the NSS. This includes information about what the NSS is, why students might want to boycott the survey, and information on how to withdraw your response.

Everything you need to know about the National Student Survey debate, Varsity


2.1. NUS releases ‘Homes Fit for Study’ report

New research released by NUS following a larger research project by the same name in 2014. The representative sample involved in the research was composed of 2,509 survey responses from students in the private rented sector and 41 focus group participants during January and February 2017.

The latest research looks at the following themes:

  • Finding and viewing accommodation

  • Living in and managing accommodation

  • Bills and payments

  • Accommodation conditions, heating systems and other facilities

  • Energy use, heating and staying warm

  • Student experiences in cold homes

Key findings include:

  • The most common method of finding accommodation was through online property searches (38%). Only 12% of respondents found their accommodation through students’ union or institution property services.

  • Only a third (35%) of respondents agreed that they had a lot of choice when it comes to housing.

  • 42% struggled at least from time to time to pay their energy bills, and those who reported feeling uncomfortably cold were more likely to say that paying bills was a struggle. Energy bills and rent payments were the most commonly reported type of payment that respondents had found themselves unable to pay (7%).

  • 38% had experienced damp or mould on walls or ceilings in their current accommodation, and those who lived in cold homes were more likely to report this experience.

  • 55% said their accommodation was much, or a bit colder, than they would have liked over the winter, and 49% had felt uncomfortably cold in their accommodation. 43% had turned their heating off even though they would have liked it on because of concerns about energy costs.

  • Respondents who identified as living in a cold home were more likely to report that their accommodation was managed by a letting agent on a day to day basis.

  • 15% had changed energy supplier in their current accommodation, however the majority of participants had a perception that they were not allowed to change supplier.

  • Focus group respondents noted considerable stress and worry associated with energy bill payments, translating to difficult social relationships within households and arguments over energy management.

  • 68% used blankets or hot water bottles to stay warm because their accommodation was colder than they would have liked. 50% had worn extra layers to bed because their accommodation was colder than they would have liked. 28% kept curtains closed all day to keep the heat in in the same situation.

  • Focus group participants commonly reported feeling low and miserable, their mental health and wellbeing affected by living in a cold home. Others said that coping with a cold home had knock-on impacts for their relationships with housemates, particularly relating to differing financial capabilities. Participants also reported impacts on their physical health, with increased frequency of colds and flu being common.

Read the full report.


2.2. Investigation launched against National Union of Students (NUS) President for bullying

This week, the Guardian reported the investigation of NUS President Shakira Martin, following allegations of bullying and harassment by a number of NUS liberation officers and members of NUS senior staff. These have included verbal threats and abusive language. Martin called for an investigation herself after reports of inappropriate conduct were alleged by NUS Women’s Officer, Hareem Ghani, on Twitter.

The parents and carers’ representative, Deej Malik-Johnson, who is also a member of the National Executive Committee, claims that Martin had used his daughter “as a knife to my throat to comply with her agenda” after she allegedly refused to write a character reference for him to see his estranged child due to his position on “the wrong side” of the political divide.

Martin has denied all allegations, claiming she has been the victim of ‘racism, classism and shameless electioneering’ by a certain left-wing faction of the NUS. While she defends her work style as ‘real’, ‘authentic’ and ‘straight talking’, complainants have described her as creating a ‘toxic’ environment at work.

Martin sent out a newsletter on Friday which, despite not mentioning the investigation, alluded to her leadership at National President.

She stated:

When I was elected to be your national president, I promised to bring a new kind of leadership to our movement. I pledged to be the president that listens, the president that learns, and the president that leads […] we also must be willing to be honest with ourselves and recognise where we fall short. I, for one, have always tried to be honest about my flaws – it is only through recognising our own faults can we strive to be better.

NUS elected officers were advised to work from home last week while the investigation takes place.

The elections for the new National Executive will take place in March at NUS’ National Conference.

NUS president Shakira Martin accused of bullying at union HQ, The Guardian
Bullying HQ: The NUS Orders Officers To Stay Away After Investigation Launched, Huffington Post
NUS president accused of bullying claims she is the victim of 'racism and classism' because she is a 'strong, outspoken, articulate black woman who likes piercings and tattoos', Daily Mail


2.3. Vice-chancellors share concerns about potential cuts in tuition fees

A recent survey of  59 university and college heads or deputies found that university leaders are concerned about the financial future of their institutions, claiming that ‘even relatively small cuts in fees would cause severe problems for several institutions’.

Four out of five people surveyed disagreed with variable fees based on graduate earnings, while two out of three said they opposed making some universities charge less than others. This is the policy that Theresa May is thought to prefer.

The majority of vice-chancellors named student recruitment as their single biggest area of concern.

The Guardian reported that ‘the survey revealed that many university heads feel that bad publicity over the past year has “bruised” the sector and lost them public support’.

Running a tight ship: can universities plot a course through rough seas?

'A policy change away from collapse': universities' fears for 2018, The Guardian

Vice-chancellors fear for financial outlook of UK higher education, The Guardian


2.4. NUS and UCU release joint statement on lecturers’ strikes

The National Union of Students (NUS) have come out in solidarity with the University and College Union (UCU) strikes against changes to lecturers’ pensions.

The statement claims:

In sending its full solidarity to UCU, NUS asks its members to:

  • continue to call for the university employers to recognise the seriousness of the situation and agree to meaningful negotiations either directly with the union or via ACAS

  • write to their institution head to complain about the impact the strike will have on their learning

  • participate in local demonstrative solidarity action during the strikes in support of UCU members

In response, UCU agrees to:

  • work closely with NUS to explain to students why action is taking place

  • commit to meaningful negotiations in order to settle the dispute if possible

  • continue to support NUS in our wider struggle for a fair and just education system

Strikes, or action short of a strike (i.e. not marking assessment, not responding to emails), are due to begin on Thursday 22nd February.

The strike dates are as follows:

Week one - Thursday 22nd and Friday 23rd February (two days)

Week two - Monday 26th, Tuesday 27th and Wednesday 28th February (three days)

Week three - Monday 5th, Tuesday 6th, Wednesday 7th and Thursday 8th March (four days)

Week four - Monday 12th, Tuesday 13th, Wednesday 14th, Thursday 15th and Friday 16th March (five days)

Joint NUS/UCU statement on USS action, UCU

University staff to go ahead with strike over pensions, Financial Times


2.5. Bank of England consider phasing out RPI measure of inflation

Mark Carney of the Bank of England has spoken about potentially phasing out the Retail Price Index (RPI) measure of inflation from the calculation of government contracts. This would include student loans. If the decision were made to move to the Consumer Price Index (CPI), which is used for most other calculations, this would have the effect of lowering the rate of interest paid by graduates on their student loans.

Mark Carney calls for ‘meritless’ RPI measure to be axed, The Telegraph


2.6. Research from Student Minds recognises academics’ role in mental health support

New research based on the interviews of 52 academic across five universities finds that academics now have a large role to play in supporting student mental health, often as the first point of contact. Participants claimed that they often feel unprepared for this aspect of their role, having not received adequate training and having to draw from personal experience.

The report highlights twelve key recommendations. These include, comprehensive support and training for academics to signpost effectively to services, and consideration of the role of curriculum in supporting the development of good student wellbeing and learning.

The Association of Managers of Student Services in Higher Education (AMOSSHE) have also released a resilience toolkit aimed at helping staff to ‘develop student resilience to stress, anxiety and similar barriers to achievement and success’.


2.7. Russell Group publishes paper encouraging government to grow international higher education

The Russell Group has published a paper for the government’s Migration Advisory Committee, which calls on the government to ‘develop a clear strategy for international students and to expand the post-study work offer to help grow higher education as a major export’. The paper highlights that this is necessary for the UK to achieve its trade objectives.

The groups calls on the Home Office to ‘ensure a proportionate, streamlined system for student visas and to expand the range of post-study work opportunities available to encourage more prospective students to apply to UK institutions’.

These include:

  • Extending the Tier 4 visa for all international masters students to stay for 12 months after their course ends

  • Add an additional 12 months for students who have taken a masters in STEM subjects


2.8. The cost of unpaid internships

New research from social mobility charity, the Sutton Trust, has found that unpaid internships for recent graduates cost around £1,019 per month in London and £827 per month in Manchester. Around 10,000 graduates are working as unpaid interns six months after graduation, and that over 40% of young people who have completed internships have done at least one of them unpaid. They claim that the high cost of living in London, where many of these internships take place, are ‘pricing out’ young people from lower income families.

This research comes alongside a bill from MP Chris Holmes which aims to tighten up the current legislation by banning unpaid internships of longer than four weeks. The Conservative MP claims that the legislation allows companies to ‘exploit’ young people.

Rising living costs for unpaid interns shutting out less-advantaged youngsters, Daily Mail


2.9. Russell Group leader warns that poor children will be ‘set up to fail’ by diversity drives

The Chief Executive of the Russell Group, a group of 24 ‘prestigious’ universities including Oxford and Cambridge, has warned that poor students accepted to universities with lower entry requirements might not be able to cope if these are set too low.

Lots of universities now use ‘contextual’ data to make admissions offers. This means a student’s socioeconomic background may be considered when making an offer in order to increase diversity and account for disadvantage early on in life. This might mean that a disadvantaged student is guaranteed an interview, or could result in giving them a lower A-level offer to their better-off peers.

The Telegraph reported that:

Dr Tim Bradshaw said that if top universities lowered entry requirements for disadvantaged children “too far”, it could lead to an increase in students struggling to keep up with their peers, and ultimately dropping out of courses

Poorest children risk being 'set up to fail' by university diversity drive, Russell Group leader warns, Telegraph


2.10. Widening participation data for 2016/17 released

Widening participation data for 2016/17 has shown that attempts to ‘widen access’ to students from state schools and disadvantaged areas has slowed overall, and that there remains wide variation in performance between providers.

Overall, 11.4% of young entrants (under 21) were from ‘low participation neighbourhoods’, which is up only slightly from 10% in 2010/11.

Damian Hinds, the Secretary of State for Education spoke positively about the statistics, highlighting that 90% of young entrants (under 21) in 2016/17 came from state schools, which  is the highest level recorded. However, others saw these results as less promising.

Peter Horrocks, Vice Chancellor of the Open University, highlighted the 14% fall in part-time student numbers, noting that part-time students are more likely to be from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Attempts to widen UK university student participation have stalled, The Guardian

Number of state pupils attending university rises only marginally, figures show, The Independent


2.11. Scottish government commits to funding EU students until 2019/20

The Scottish government has announced that it will continue to fund EU students who start courses at Scottish universities up until the academic year 2019/20, which is an additional year from a previous commitment until 2018/19.

Scotland’s minister for further education, higher education and science Shirley-Anne Somerville said that the move would “provide confidence” for prospective EU students and send a “strong message” that EU students are welcome at Scottish providers.

Scotland announces free tuition for EU students starting university in 2019-20, Daily Mail

Scotland announces free university tuition for EU students after Brexit date, The Independent


2.12. The Guardian wants to hear about your stories of sexual harassment at university

The Guardian want to find out about the scale of the issue at UK universities, following an investigation last year that found inconsistencies in the support and services offered to victims:

Are you a student or former student who has been affected by sexual harassment or other sexual misconduct by another student or former student or by a member of university staff? If you made a complaint, what was your experience of the support and services you accessed?

Fill in the online form to submit your complaint.

A Guardian comment piece written by a student at about their experience of sexual assault and in setting up the Revolt Sexual Assault campaign. This campaign is also running a survey for students to take part in to find out more about the prevalence of sexual assault on campus.

2.13. Grade inflation metric included in the latest version of the TEF

126 universities have opted in to the third year of the Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework (TEF). Around a third of those applying for a full award are entering TEF for the first time, while the others will be hoping to improve on the award that they received in year two. These universities will be reapplying based on the belief that the halving of the National Student Survey results this year will improve their score.

TEF 3 has also now got an additional metric, which measures grade inflation. This is the idea that universities are making it easier to get a higher grade so that their student outcomes look better, and has been reported on widely in the national media (see the Telegraph and Times Higher Education). However, some people argue instead that students are working harder (or are smarter) and so are achieving more.

Results from TEF3 will be published in June.


2.14. Think tank claims that ‘Students Not Suspects’ campaign has spread misinformation

A report published by the Henry Jackson Society, a counter-extremism think tank, claims that the NUS’ Students Not Suspects (SNS) campaign has led to the NUS partnering with a number of questionable organisations.

A Telegraph article quotes the report’s author, who states that:
Under the pretence of wanting to abolish Prevent, leading ‘Students Not Suspects’ activists have hosted extremist speakers at a series of unbalanced events [...] many of them belong to organisations that have Islamist links and troubling histories of intolerance and sympathy for terrorism.

The report also claims that the campaign ‘threatens to undermine the work of Prevent Coordinators’ on campuses, with many students’ unions passing motions of noncompliance with the policy.

The NUS have stood by the campaign, claiming that Prevent (the government’s counter terrorism legislation which SNS fights against) continues to be ‘fundamentally flawed, repressive and racist’, relying on the racial profiling of Muslim students. The campaign, they argue, is necessary to protect the students from the ‘stifling of academic freedom’ and to fight the ‘climate of fear and suspicion’ that it creates.

National Union of Students’ campaign has become a 'vehicle for extremist interests', report warns, The Telegraph


2.15. Comment and opinion pieces

Nagging university students for feedback is like pestering for TripAdvisor reviews, The Guardian

Can we rank social mobility?, WonkHE

Scrap tuition fees. Graduate tax is a win-win for students – and everyone, The Guardian

University staff are right to be striking, The Guardian

2VCs on ... what does 2018 look like for universities?, The Guardian

What if we were serious about students at the heart of the system?, WonkHE

Commuter students: locked out, left out and growing in number, The Guardian

The university of the future will be interdisciplinary, The Guardian

Too many graduates are mismatched to their jobs. What's going wrong?, The Guardian


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