‘It’s Time for a National Education Service’, says NUS President

By Zamzam Ibrahim

It’s time to stop running education like a business and create a National Education Service akin to the NHS, says new NUS President Zamzam Ibrahim.

If you’re not familiar with your students’ union have a walk in today and you’ll find some amazing things.  You’ll find student groups doing everything from archery to zoology, you’ll find people who want to give you advice on getting the best from your course, and you’ll always find groups of students who just want to have a good time.  You’ll find friends for life, a home away from home, and a place you’ll feel comfortable.

It wasn’t so long ago that I was a student.  At the University of Salford, I found some of my best friends, I studied a course that I loved, and I also started out on my journey to become NUS President.  It’s funny to think that I started out studying Finance and graduated as President of NUS.

This was only possible because of the profound impact my students’ union had on my life.  We are this corner of civil society where we have collectivism built in, nearly every student is a member of their students’ unions, nearly every students’ union is a member of NUS, and collectively we have millions of people working together to make the world better for students.  

During my time at NUS I’ve met with a lot of students.  I’ve travelled all over the UK and everywhere I go I see examples of how education can transform people’s lives but every time I go away I am left with the feeling that something isn’t right.

For every joyful graduation I hear from a student who is panicked by debt.  For every student who has gone back to College I hear from a student who can’t afford the bus fare in.  For every student who has had the promise of social mobility fulfilled there is another student who asks me whether it was all worth it.

If this story was in one or two places you might put it down to bad luck or coincidence but this is across the UK.  It’s not because of bad people or bad practices, it’s because of a bad approach to education.

The problem is that we’ve bought into the idea that education can only be run like a business.  The dominant idea is that it ‘produces’ students, it has a bottom line, and has to squeeze profits where it can.   The problem with this is that with every market there has to be winners and losers and the costs of losing are just too great.  The cost is bared by the 94% of care leavers don’t into higher education, the black students who face a 26% attainment gap, the 4 million people in work poverty, and the thousands and thousands of people who are shut out of education completely.

My priority for the year ahead it to address these problems.  I’m not interested in tinkering with the system, launching a new initiative, giving out a toolkit, or sharing warm words about how this can be fixed in the current system.  

The market is broken and it’s time for something new.  It’s time for a National Education Service.

Over the next 6 months I’ll be building the case on how we can win a funded, life-long, and accessible education service, in 3 year NUS will win public support for a National Education Service, and in 10 years we will deliver one.  Our ambition is nothing less than to build a system akin to the NHS for education. 

It might be ambitious but every single student I meet deserves an ambitious national union.  We’ve got a big year ahead and I can’t wait to get going.

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