The National Union of Students has launched a campaign to force the government to recognise the impact that post-16 area reviews are having on learners.
The launch of #FEunplugged was officially announced on Wednesday.
An NUS spokesperson said the aim was to “raise the profile of [post-16 education and training] area reviews and make sure the student voice is not ignored during the process”.
As part of the campaign, the union will be asking students across the country what is most important for keeping them in college. The spokesperson explained this would help decide the issues that the union wants the government to address through the area review process.
Shakira Martin, NUS vice president for FE, told FE Week in an exclusive expert piece introducing #FEunplugged (see page 15) that “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, [Skills Minister] Nick Boles, is cutting up the sector [through the area reviews] and trying to sew it back together – badly”.
“He’s completely disregarded the heart of FE by leaving students out of any decision-making,” she added. “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.”
The spokesperson said the NUS was “deeply concerned” about the lack of student consultation through the planned rationalisation of the sector.
It will try to redress this by holding roundtable discussions with students in each area up for review.
Reports on these will then be sent to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) area review boards and circulated to the providers involved, the spokesperson added.
“We’re finding out what students care about when it comes to quality education, access to education, learner voice and what students want to get out of their time in college.
“Whether it’s decent and affordable transport, plenty of contact time with tutors or tailored support to help them with their disability, we’ll be listening to what students need.”
She warned students could have to travel further for their courses if colleges merge or are closed, meaning they “will be sacrificing more time and more money to access education”.
So far 15 area reviews have been launched, covering 102 general FE colleges and 54 sixth form colleges.
A Department for Business Innovation and Skills spokesperson said: “We welcome the input of students to our area reviews. These are not about cuts, but making sure that students have access to high quality education and training.
“With local partners, we are ensuring a high quality and financially sustainable college base across England which meets the economic and educational needs of learners and employers.”