Sheffield Central constituency has the largest 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 and local schools.
I’m Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Students, which I set up to provide students with a voice in Parliament, and Co-Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for International Students. I’m also Secretary of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Universities, and in 2015 I was voted ‘Most inspiring leader in Higher Education’ in the Guardian’s University Awards for my work in Parliament on student and university issues.
I was closely involved with challenging and scrutinising the Higher Education and Research Act – you can read more here. Recently, my work has included speaking at Sheffield Hallam SU’s ‘Perspectives on Higher Education’ conference and launching a joint NUS-UUK report about the BAME attainment gap.
Fees and funding
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 previous freeze of the repayment threshold at £21,000, and the scrapping of bursaries for nurses, midwives and other allied health professionals.
I convened meetings in Parliament for students and MPs to talk with Philip Augar, who was appointed by the Prime Minister to review post-18 education funding; with an initial meeting as he was preparing his inquiry and a further event after his report was published. I have welcomed parts of his report, particularly on further education, but I oppose the way it shifts costs to graduates. I wrote to the previous Government to press them to implement the recommendations on increasing funding for Further Education colleges and reforming student support, and have challenged the Government to protect universities’ funding if there is a change to the fees cap. I’ve also pressed the Government on providing Sharia-compliant student loans, which they have been promising for some years.
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 subsequently 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.
You can read more about my work on Education and Skills, including challenging the Government to properly fund schools and Further Education, here.
Mental health services
College and university is an exciting time in people’s lives, but worrying NUS research shows the extent of mental health problems amongst students. I have raised this in Parliament, pressing the Health Secretary on the waiting times and mental health crisis and challenging the Universities Minister on the need for greater focus on student wellbeing. I have also chaired APPG for Students meetings about the provision of mental health support for those in further and higher education, including one earlier this year about the University Mental Health Charter, and held meetings with both Universities UK and the Office for Students on the issue.
International students enrich university life and our city more broadly. It makes no sense that our universities have been losing out because of immigration policies affecting student recruitment, whilst other countries benefit from the boost to their economies that international students bring. I set up and Co-Chair the All-Party Parliamentary Group on International Students with Lord Karan Bilimoria, partly to press these issues, and our report on ‘A sustainable future for international students in the UK’ set out a series of recommendations for action, including an ambitious target for growth which the Government have adopted. I have long campaigned for one of our other recommendations, a two-year post-study work visa, and secured that commitment from the previous Government, working with former Universities Minister Jo Johnson MP. I was pleased to see it pledged in the current Government’s election manifesto and will monitor their proposals.
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, and campaigned for regional economic funding. 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.