Sheffield Central constituency has the highest number of students in the country, by far, so student issues are high on my agenda. As well as our two universities, I keep in touch with students at Sheffield College, the University Technical College and local schools. I’m Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Students, which I set up to provide students with a voice in Parliament, Co-Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for International Students, and Secretary of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Universities. In 2015 I was voted ‘Most inspiring leader in Higher Education’ in the Guardian’s University Awards for my work in Parliament on university issues.
I’ve also been closely involved with scrutinising the Higher Education and Research Bill – you can find out more here.
Opposing tuition fee rises
I spoke (and voted) against the Coalition Government’s tuition fee rise to £9,000 and am opposed to creating a market in higher education. I have called for a complete overhaul of the current unfair and unsustainable student finance system (watch here) – criticising in particular the increase in the interest rate to 6.1%, the previous freeze of the repayment threshold at £21,000, and the scrapping of bursaries for nurses, midwives and other allied health professionals.
Championing student support
I challenged then Education Secretary Michael Gove about the Government’s withdrawal of the Educational Maintenance Allowance (EMA), which supported young people from lower income families to continue in post-16 education. I opposed the Government’s decision to end maintenance grants for poorer students, challenged Government plans to cut the Disabled Student’s Allowance and spoke out against scrapping bursaries for nurses and midwives. I again called for the Government to reverse their decision to cut bursaries for student nurses and midwives after new figures revealed that course applications had dropped by nearly a quarter. I also proposed amendments to the Higher Education Bill to increase access and participation to universities for students from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Better mental health services for students
College and university is an exciting time in people’s lives, but shocking NUS research shows the extent of mental health problems amongst students. In Parliament I have raised the concerns of young people who are waiting too long to receive the mental health support they need. I have also chaired APPG on Students meetings about the provision of mental health support for those in further and higher education and held a meeting for MPs to discuss the issue with the Chief Executive of the Office for Students.
Championing international students
International students enrich university life and our city more broadly, contributing an estimated £120 million to the Sheffield economy each year. But the Government is making the UK less attractive for international students, threatening our city’s prosperity. I am co-chair of the APPG for International Students, which is undertaking an inquiry into a sustainable future for international students, have repeatedly pressed the Government to remove international students from the net migration target and chaired an inquiry into the closure of the post-study work visa route, which helped to attract talented students to our universities from around the world. I have also raised these issues in Parliament on a number of occasions.
Careers guidance and job opportunities are often raised with me by students in Sheffield. I chaired an APPG on Students seminar in Parliament on improving careers advice. I have been a member of the Joint Committee on Education, Skills and the Economy, and supported proposals for our first inquiry to review careers information, advice and guidance. But it’s not just about advice. We need more jobs, and particularly graduate jobs in Sheffield, because many graduates want to stay in Sheffield after their studies. I’ve pushed the Government to spread opportunities across the country, not concentrate them in London. I led a Parliamentary debate arguing for more investment in science and research to support regional economies – fuelling the creation of skilled jobs – and I challenged the Chancellor to move more Government departments out of London, bringing civil service jobs and stimulating local economies.
Students contact me on a wide range of issues, but this is a selection of my work on specific student topics. Please get in touch if you want to find out more.