New NUS chief inspired by 'rough' schooldays

Gordon Maloney talks to TESS about student activism and his next steps

Julia Belgutay

Gordon Maloney may have been the president of NUS Scotland for only a few weeks - but it is a role for which he has been preparing for many years.

Speaking exclusively to TESS, Mr Maloney said he was first inspired to get involved in student activism while at school, which he describes as a "rough time".

"When I came to university, I was already quite switched on and had a real sense of some of the ways in which educational institutions can let people down, but also some of the ways in which they can pick people up, help people back on the tracks," he said.

"I wanted to be part of stopping the former and making the latter happen."

Mr Maloney has taken over his new role from Robin Parker. While he insists that he is not daunted by the prospect, there is plenty in his in-tray, including an upcoming higher education spending review. "We have submitted evidence for that and have been having meetings," he said. "I am confident, but it is early days."

Born in Edinburgh, he attended schools in England before making the move to Skye to study Gaelic at Sabhal Mor Ostaig College - an interest that will give him a unique perspective on further education and the implementation of the government's language strategy.

From there, he went on to study linguistics at the University of Aberdeen. He said he did not feel at a disadvantage coming into university from college, but acknowledges that other students may have different experiences. "One of the things we are looking at is retention ... and a big part of that is the culture on campus," he said. "We are doing what we can to change that."

For those from the most deprived backgrounds, whether they come from college or straight from school, he says there are still a number of barriers preventing poorer students from going to university. Despite the progress made with the passing of the Post-16 Education (Scotland) Bill, the work on widening access is only beginning, he said.

"Outcome agreements are really powerful and really good, but we have a big role to play in building public pressure on institutions to make outcome agreements as strong as possible," Mr Maloney said.

"The next step is to talk about widening access in a broader sense - for example, for postgraduate study, or issues around attainment for BME (black and minority ethnic) students."

It is possible that students will not be negatively affected by the regionalisation of colleges, he believes. Indeed, there have been some positive effects already. "Student associations in colleges are unrecognisable from what they were a few years ago," he said.

But one of the main issues in further education will be the development of centres for excellence at regional levels and how they will affect access to courses. But NUS can play its part, he said: "Over the past four or five years, NUS has become really professional. People take us really seriously. We are treated as the experts, and we are experts".

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Julia Belgutay

Julia Belgutay

Julia Belgutay is head of FE at Tes

Find me on Twitter @JBelgutay

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