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A manifesto for the future

  • 13 February 2024
  • By Chloe Field
  • This HEPI blog was kindly authored by Chloe Field, Vice President for Higher Education at the National Union of Students (NUS).

On 30 January, the National Union of Students launched our Manifesto for our Future which represents the aspirations of the millions of students across the UK. We developed these ideas based on consultation with over 10,000 students. Regular polling has afforded us a clear picture of the big issues for today’s students. At our annual democratic conference, one of the largest gatherings of elected students in Europe, we come together and deliberate on the world we want to see. Specifically for the Manifesto, we launched ‘What Students Think’: an interactive polling platform which asked students to rank their election priorities. We got a clear signal from 7,459 students on their priorities, giving us a total of 97,472 answers.

So, what do all of these students think? Honestly, the future is looking bleak. The cost-of-living crisis, the crisis in the NHS, the mental health crisis, the housing crisis, the climate crisis. We’re becoming the Crisis Generation.

To change the future, we have to act now. We need a radical, new vision for our future that disrupts the crisis cycle and prioritises quality of life and protecting our planet. As an absolute bare minimum, we need a government willing to alleviate the impacts of the crisis cycle on people’s lives here and now.

Our vision is of a future where we as a society can thrive, not just survive. One where radical, bold change is needed. While students and young people are consistently told that anything better isn’t possible, our Manifesto brings together pragmatic and concrete suggestions broken down into 5 key areas that can make a radical difference to students’ lives with the visionary hope that we all need for the future.

Students are struggling right now, so we need urgent change in the first 100 days of any new government.  People can’t study if they are being threatened with poverty consistently. Unipol & HEPI research has found that the average student has just 50p left per week after they’ve paid rent and ONS has shown that 65% of students are cutting back on food.

The next government must lift all students out of immediate poverty with a student cost-of-living crisis package including an uprating of maintenance loans, the introduction of a living wage or stipend for apprentices and postgraduates, appropriate rent caps and ending the shocking wait lists to access mental health treatment.

Looking beyond the first 100 days, education is the only thing that will equip us to tackle the failures of consecutive governments and to fully invest in our future. But the funding model is at breaking point. No more sticking plasters: we need huge funding and curriculum reform to provide a publicly funded model where post-16 education is free at the point of use with tuition fees a thing of the past and one which invests in the skills we need for our future.

That the average student has 50p to live off per week after rent is unsurprising when you consider that student accommodation prices have increased by 61% since 2012. Housing affects every aspect of our education and our choices. That is why the next government must take action to ensure that every student has access to high-quality housing by removing the need for rental guarantors, committing to affordable bed spaces and controlling rents, giving students and renters parity of protections and investing in green, social housing.

The ‘hostile environment’ and the ‘culture wars’ fueled by those in Westminster have increased racism, antisemitism, and islamophobia and are a shameful stain on the history of the UK. Students who come to the UK to study and build their lives face huge legal and financial barriers, with no recourse to public funds, a hostile environment, and state-sponsored harassment. Despite what the headlines suggest, UUK research shows 64% of the UK public believe the UK should host as many or more international students as we do now.

To make the UK an amazing place for international students to work and study, the government needs to break down those barriers by scrapping the NHS Surcharge and the working hours cap for international students; simplifying the graduate route, uprooting the hostile environment and devolving power to governments across the four nations on international student issues..

In 1937, 11 years before the invention of the NHS, students worked together to secure free healthcare on campus for each other.  Yet after years of systemic underfunding and privatisation, the NHS is on its knees. As students, we are both users of the NHS and trainee nurses, doctors, paramedics, surgeons, anaesthetists, midwives, psychiatrists, and radiologists.

It is time to make the UK a health superpower again by delivering a revolution in research, funding high-level facilities, students, and NHS staff. Students are crying out for significant investment to meet growing mental health service needs in the NHS long term, and 77% believe this should be a priority for the new government. However, it’s not just about providing care for those who have reached crisis point, it’s about a revolution in preventative mental health care – ensuring the root causes are tackled before reaching breaking point. Alongside this is accessible gender-affirming healthcare, ensuring that trans people are not suffering as a result of consistent blockages and discrimination in the healthcare system.

We’ve been honoured to listen to students’ groundbreaking ideas for the future over the past few months, but now it is time for politicians to listen. With over 4.5 million students and apprentices in the UK, they can’t afford to ignore us.  The only thing worth our votes at the next General Election is a vision for a decent future for people and the planet with a credible plan to deliver it.

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