By Clara Gaspar
Shakira Martin, president of the National Union of Students (NUS), announced yesterday the formation of a Student Poverty Commission aiming to “reach the forgotten corners of our society”.
The commission, spanning a two-year period, will aim to understand the “real life” effects of socio-economic factors on students entering higher education. The results of this investigation are set to be released in February of next year, alongside a series of recommendations to higher education institutions and the government based on the evidence collected.
The second phase of the plan, commencing after February 2018, will involve an NUS campaign to address the issues raised by the commission, with the lobbying of government and universities alike.
Speaking to reporters at the NUS/Amnesty International Student Media Summit in London, Ms Martin emphasised the importance of the commission to look beyond the currently available higher education statistics and assess how many working class students “actually finish university or are getting firsts”.
She promised four “listening and learning events” across the UK as part of the commission, as well as “agencies, experts and students from all areas of further and higher education and apprenticeships”. She further indicated the involvement of government officials who are yet to be named.
Ms Martin has established this commission in response to what she perceives to be vast inequalities in higher education. She cited as an incentive the 2017 UCAS figures, which stated that students from disadvantaged backgrounds are 35% less likely to attend university.
Although she acknowledged that finance is crucial in explaining disparity in entrance to university, Martin predicted that class-related social barriers and financial issues related to childcare will be discovered as the main obstacles to social mobility by the commission. Speaking to the students present at summit, Martin stated that “being born working class is still one of the biggest barriers to education […] the government focuses a lot on poverty, but they don’t talk about class”.
While the commission will have a primary focus on the plight of working-class students, Martin’s aim is to educate and unite students rather than divide them. She stated: “not everybody might get the same thing out of this project, but everybody is going to get something.’
Photograph: National Union of Students