The NUS has launched a new #FEunplugged campaign to battle against provider closures through the government’s programme of post-16 area reviews. Shakira Martin explains how collecting views from FE students on their needs and concerns for the future can help boost their case.

Area reviews are a secret our sector seems to be really good at keeping to itself.

It’s not news to say area reviews are the product of funding cuts, but there’s definitely a story in the way the FE sector’s very own Dr Frankenstein, Nick Boles, is cutting up the sector and trying to sew it back together — badly.

Students are worried about whether they’ll get tailored support to help them make choices about their futures

He’s completely disregarded the heart of FE by leaving students out of any decision-making, all the way from Solent to Tees Valley.

If this was happening in schools or universities, it would be on the front page of every national newspaper.

The NUS fought hard to get a seat at the table where these decisions are being made and we’re bringing students’ needs right to the heart of the discussion.

We’re hosting a roundtable for all students’ union officers and student governors in each area, asking them to come together and talk about what matters to them.

The roundtables cover a range of topics, from what quality education is to the very fundamental things students need to access their education.

After these discussions, NUS is writing a report for the area and delivering it to BIS, so each area review board knows exactly what students need.

It’s a really big job. We’re asking students to give up their time, but it’s all so we can make sure the education received by the next generation of students is just as good as what current students are getting.

But this isn’t enough.

There are major concerns coming up at every roundtable.

Over and over again, students are saying the local transport infrastructure is so poor they can’t get to college in a timely and affordable way.

Other students are worried about whether they’ll get tailored support to help them make choices about their futures.

This is why NUS is launching the #FEunplugged campaign. We don’t think it’s right for the government to pull the plug on FE.

Colleges have been backed into a position where mergers are now essential for survival, instead of arising through a desire to collaborate and coexist.

We want students’ unions to speak to their students and find out what keeps them in education.

It could be specialist support for their disability, a campus on their doorstep so they can balance studying and childcare, a classroom with enough workstations and equipment for everyone to use or simply a bus journey they can afford.

Then we want students and their communities to fight to keep these things.

It could be by making local MPs finally understand and care about the sector and the vital role college plays in their constituency.

Or they might ask a bus company to change its timetabling and routes so students aren’t missing out simply because they can’t get to college.

NUS wants students to have a powerful voice when it comes to the decisions that shape their education and ultimately the lives this education allows them to lead.

And let’s be fair, it’s about showing Nick Boles that FE is already a resilient sector. We’ve put up with a lot and colleges are still delivering for students who, like me, need these courses and these opportunities so much.

This campaign won’t be successful unless the sector gets behind it.

We’re calling on principals and clerks to support students, so they can attend our roundtables.

We need tutors to make space for students’ unions and course reps to find out what students need.

All of us need to make sure our voices are heard loud and clear when we fight to stop the plug being pulled on our bright futures.