Quality doesn’t grow on fees

Friday 06-11-2015 - 16:02

The awaited HE Green Paper has seen the light of day. A number of significant things were announced and you can read our full response here.

The measures announced in the paper are another roll of dice in the marketisation of our education. We ran a word count for the following words in the document and here are the numbers:  mature students: two; part-time students: one; educators: zero, teachers: two, academic: two, while we had 'value for money’: 27; ’what employers want’: 35 - in a 35,000 word paper which is supposedly about improving teaching quality. This exposes the green paper and the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) for what they are: tools to turn the education system into a functioning market, and our education into a product to be damagingly sold and ineptly measured.

We need a robust collective response to this - as the famous quote goes: if we don't stand for something, we fall for anything.

The marketisation of our sector is the root of all the issues we are dealing with as students’ unions to improve the quality of our education. This is why we made it the key theme of our HE Zone Conference. Now is the time to unite as a student movement and fight back and to argue for the higher education system we want to see, with our values underpinning it.

The green paper introduces the biggest changes to HE since 1992 and all funding and regulatory decisions will have a knock on effect on all students’ lived experiences. As a movement, we need to collectively reflect on what we do for the future of our education and members.

We are here to ensure the quality of educational provision. The stark reality is that quality is determined by institutional response to the market. The market creates unhelpful pressures and distortions on university provision and ultimately undermines real educational quality. Quality assurance can only go so far – the only way to ensure institutions have the freedom to innovate and improve is to remove the market forces which produce perverse outcomes.

We believe properly funding our institutions is what drives quality – not raising tuition fees and pitting providers against each other chasing income. We believe in enabling our institutions to collaborate, rather than needlessly compete.

This green paper talks about entry and exit to the system for providers - this is the university Hunger Games and those losing out are students and academics.

When student numbers controls were lifted we saw universities over-recruiting students with nowhere to house them, crowded lecture theatres with people having to stand up, big seminars  where learners are hard to engage, slow feedback return times as staff are increasingly overworked, rise in mental health issues for both academics and students with student counselling services not coping, as well as course and campus closures  - as universities have to do more with less. These are all local consequences of the marketisation of HE we are battling with. It’s time to tackle the root of all of the problems.

This paper talks about putting students ‘at the heart of the system’, but it means a specific kind of student: those who can afford to pay higher fees, study full-time, and who are willing to accept less for more.

Together we need to stand up and say that graduating with over £51k of debt from a three year undergraduate course is unacceptable, when the government’s claim that higher fees and marketisation would lead to higher quality has been proven patently untrue.

That’s why today we are launching the NUS Quality Doesn’t Grow on Fees campaign - making the arguments for why these are not the measures that will improve teaching quality.  In the weeks ahead we need to mobilise and defend education as a public good that is accessible for all. Start today by tweeting your reactions to the green paper using #TEFoff.  

‘The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don't have any.’ - Alice Walker

In unity,

Sorana Vieru
Vice President (Higher Education)

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