National Union of Students: Challenges of 2020

Case study

NUS Scotland represents the interests of over 500,000 students, that’s 10 per cent of the population of Scotland! We work to promote, defend and extend the rights of students in colleges and universities, along with apprentices. NUS Scotland was set up in 1971, making 2021 our 50th anniversary as a Scottish student movement. We are part of the wider organisation NUS UK which was founded in 1922, as part of a general desire for peace after the First World War. Since then our campaigning work has resulted in many positive changes within higher and further education, improving the lives of thousands of students.

  • We champion students to shape the future of education – and create a better world. Education is the defining factor in creating a fairer, more prosperous society, and students are the hope for the future of education.
  • We look to see students driving change and promote, defend and extend student rights. We fight discrimination, isolation and injustice through campaigning and targeted action. We harness the collective power of students through collective and democratic representation.
  • We commit to making sure students can thrive by heading up a prosperous and sustainable student movement that means we can give practical information on all the issues that matter to students.
  • We also represent the realities of students’ lives by bringing together evidence-based campaigns and student-led democracy. We represent students’ interests nationally and develop research that influences national policy. We take on all the issues that affect students’ lives now and in future.

2020 and the Impact on Students

There is no doubt that students had a rough year in 2020 as the impact of the pandemic took its toll. Like much of the population students have faced uncertainty and it’s fair to say last year wasn’t what any student signed up for- adapting to learning from bedrooms, kitchens, halls, wherever they could find space. The return to campus in the summer was unlike anything we had ever seen before, with uncertainty around the winter break, online learning and students at the centre of the media.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, we have been working with student representatives across the country to make the case for emergency support for students. Students have told us that money is one of their biggest concerns. That’s why our priority in 2021 is making the case for more student support. We want to see students in colleges and universities getting the financial and digital support they need to succeed. For too long students have had to get by on cost-of-living support that doesn’t keep up with the cost of learning. In Scotland, the reality is that students need to work alongside their studies just to make ends meet and for part-time students in college even basic student support is unavailable. Meanwhile, apprentices are expected to get by on poverty wages and many students face digital poverty without access to laptops and devices to learn online. The pandemic has only exposed and heightened many of the challenges which already existed in our student support system. We believe students deserve better.

The economic disruption caused by Covid-19 threatens to push learners in Scotland into crisis in the year ahead as we recognise that the impact of Covid-19 on students this year may be even greater than last. That’s why NUS Scotland’s priority in the year ahead is calling for additional financial support to be offered for students.

While action taken by the Scottish Government to date is welcome we need a longer-term plan. Without one, students face a cost-of-learning crisis. In the short term, we will campaign for increased discretionary funding to support further and higher education students facing financial hardship. We will also campaign for emergency changes to the cost-of-living support system in Scotland to meet the challenges presented by Covid-19. You can find out more here:

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