Tuesday 27-09-2016 - 12:40
In response to Reading University’s decision to opt into the government’s Teaching Excellence Framework - despite a lack of student involvement and a lot of student opposition to it - the students’ union have launched a campaign demanding their VC to make a U-turn and to search for a better alternative. For this this guest blog, Reading’s Education Officer Niall Hamilton talks us through his union’s punderfully named ‘TEF OFF’ campaign.
TEF OFF is our campaign launched in response to the university planning on opting into the TEF.
This decision was made without any student membership being present, and made despite very vocal opposition from the SU.
The requests of the campaign are simple, for the Vice Chancellor to opt out of the TEF, to pledge not to increase tuition fees beyond inflation and to work with other intuitions on creating a better TEF, something that actually measures teaching excellence.
This campaign was launched by a statement, signed by all 29 elected representatives of the students’ union, in opposition to the university's plans. We also created an open letter for all students to sign onto calling for the VC to listen to his student body and actually act on behalf of students.
One of the largest struggles we have faced with the campaign is students understanding the language of higher education. For most, the TEF is a new concept, a new acronym and with the mounting pressure of succeeding in their degree, something many students don’t think they have the time to understand.
The largest hurdle we face is making the TEF common knowledge. Students can get behind freezing fees, but that isn’t the only message here.
Yes, the TEF will lead to increased fees, and that is terrible, but it’s evident that it is also just a shockingly bad measure of teaching excellence. In fact, I may go as far to say it measure everything but teaching excellence at university. And students really care about this!
We launched the open letter signing at our freshers fayres. What became quickly clear was that first year students, during freshers week, are not a prime target audience.
Freshers week is an information overload and emotional hurricane. While you may get a few signatures on an open letter, the goal is to get students engaged and having a conversation about it. Chances are freshers will sign something without knowing what it means, and that’s not really the point.
So I targeted societies and sport clubs. Not only are these some of the biggest BNOCs on campus, they are returning students, with a senses of belonging in the university, a first-hand understanding of how teaching works in higher education and access to social media platforms that would make any full-time officer cry.
We started with academic societies, chatting to them about the proposed plans, getting them talking about what they thought made a good quality education and how unfair that the rules of inflation apply to tuition fees but not to maintenance loans.
We spoke to sport clubs about the advantages of having a measure of teaching quality, but how it would have to be something that was different to league tables, something that had real contextual input from students. We spoke about societal collaborations on the campaign from the Cheer Squad, to the Debating Society, even the Baking Society wants to get involved!
Although we got over 500 signatures, what we achieved was a lot more impressive. Students are now aware of the TEF, students are frustrated by the lack of voice they have, and student want to shape the higher education sector.
What happens next is important, we need to sustain the momentum of this campaign. We will be holding focus groups with students, finding out what they want measured in a TEF, we will be putting through a motion at our student voice to boycott the NSS if the university doesn’t pull out of the TEF, and we will be sending coaches down to London to join the National Demo on #Nov19.
We will also be looking beyond Reading and working with other students’ unions on how we collaborate on our campaigns. I think it’s most important to remember that this isn’t just happening on one campus, this is an attack on the whole sector.
You can find more information about Reading University Students’ Union’s TEF OFF campaign online at www.rusu.co.uk/tefoff and get involved with NUS’ campaign activity around the Higher Education & Research Bill by visiting our Quality Doesn’t Grow on Fees campaign hub.