A New Vision for Post-16 Education in Northern Ireland

A New Vision for Post-16 Education in Northern Ireland

Passed at NUS-USI National Conference 2023.

What’s the issue and how does it affect students?

We are constantly being told to “budget better”, but we can’t budget our way out of a broken system. Government policy has always been student poverty. We need to overhaul how education works. In how we support students/apprentices, but also how we view and value different post-16 education pathways.

We’re being priced out of learning. We need a NI where everyone comes to education when it’s right for them, where their course is valued, and where they can access continual financial support to learn. This is not our reality. Our education is a massive casualty in government games.

What changes would we like to see in society to change this? 

Post-16 education in Northern Ireland needs to be funded, supportive and accessible. No matter the course or apprenticeship, we should be able to access the financial support we need to succeed. We need to change society’s vision for education in NI.

We need to get rid of course costs, and put more money into student pockets so we don’t have to work long hours alongside studying. To begin, we need a Universal Basic Income trial for students/apprentices in NI.

We need to fundamentally change what society values: not the highest paid jobs, but how happy and fulfilled everybody is.

What action could NUS, students and SUs take to work on this?

NUS-USI should co-create a new NI post-16 education system with its membership, looking to influence party manifestos at the local, national and UK-wide stages.

Together we can build cultural conversations around what student and apprentice financial support could look like.

Collectively lobby the Department of the Economy to begin the review into all student finance support given to students across Northern Ireland

NUS-USI should educate students, members and other players across society on what a Universal Basic Income is, and lobby for a NI trial.

Some of the principles we believe in for our vision of education are:

  • Reform starts at a foundational level
  • Ending commodification of education
  • Democratically owned education, representative national unions and student voice throughout education
  • Equity
  • Publicly funded education with a universal student income and equitable financial support. There should be more money directly in students’ pockets.
  • Free public transport and student renter protection. No more household means testing
  • Ending commodification of education

Impact Assessment 

How does it impact FE students / Apprentices?   

NI FE and apprentice student finance is minimal- it is crucial they are properly funded and valued. The minimum apprentice wage is currently £4.81ph and there’s been no increase to EMA since 2010. We must engage the power of the FE and Apprentice Voice- liveable income would be life-changing.

How does it impact on International Students, Postgraduate Students, Part-Time and Mature Students?

Adequately funded and accessible education means choice for everyone- whether that is being able to come to education when you are ready, supported to come from abroad, or receiving significant maintenance support to support you alongside your study. International students are often seen as cash cows, paying often 3-4 times as much as home students.

How does it impact on black, disabled, LGBT+, trans and women students? 

We are seeing society become more and more hostile to students and the free expression of our identities: funding education is at the heart of a progressive and welcoming society. The current policies in NI exacerbates power structures that restrict students to openly and comfortably embrace their true selves.

Better financial support for LGBTQ+ students would improve visibility of the community and would help with career progression.

For disabled students there should be equitable access to education. EMA is not accessible for those with disabilities – also students with disabilities may have to go to hospital appointments on a regular basis, which could be disruptive to their studies.

  • There shouldn’t be a means-tested loans-based system – the solution to this would be a universal wage-based system, where students receive the same amount of money to live.

Does this apply across the UK or specifically in England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland? 

Education is taught differently across the UK. NI has an opportunity to learn from other nations, but also lead the way to an education model which values support, fair pay and funding, and good mental health. The upcoming elections create space for a reset on what we accept about education.