House of Lords says “#TEFOff”

Tuesday 07-03-2017 - 10:52

Last night, the House of Lords made a significant amendment to the Higher Education and Research Bill that would remove the link between the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) and tuition fees. But the fight is far from over and we need your help to make this change a reality!

Removing the link between the TEF and fees

Since the government’s plans for the higher education sector were revealed in the Green Paper in November 2015, there has been clear and vocal opposition from students to the proposal to allow universities that score highly in the TEF – a new model to assess teaching quality – to raise their tuition fees.

These concerns have been shared across the education sector – from education unions to institutions to parliamentary committees. Last night, the House of Lords showed that they have massive concerns, too.

In voting for an amendment that will prevent the TEF from being linked to fees by 263 to 211, the House of Lords dealt a significant defeat for the government – and has thrown its plans for the Higher Education and Research Bill into turmoil.

This vote happened in the first session of the Bill’s ‘report stage’, one of the final parliamentary stages left for the Bill in the House of Lords.

The debate in the Lords explored the various reasons why students and others have been consistently opposing this idea. Concerns ranged from the validity of the proposed metrics for the TEF to the flaw in attempting to create an institutional level (rather than subject level) measure of teaching quality – all of which are concerns that NUS has raised in our original Green Paper response, before the BIS Select Committee and in briefings and letters to parliamentarians over the course of the Bill.

Lord Kerslake, the crossbench (independent) peer who led this successful amendment, noted in particular the strength of opposition of students and NUS to the link. He cited this as an express reason for peers to vote in favour of his amendment:

“[A] reason why this is a bad move is that, if the case for the link is being made on behalf of students, we know that the body which represents them, the NUS, is vehemently against the proposal. Its argument is a simple one: there is no evidence of a relationship between increasing fees and increasing quality of teaching.

It seems very hard to argue the case for a shift towards a student voice as a consequence of student loans and then to completely ignore the clear view of student representatives up and down the country.”

Lord Kerslake

This amendment represents a massive victory for students and students’ unions across the country and stands testament to their success in campaigning on campuses, meeting their MPs and making their voices heard.

A night of wins for students

Another important aspect of this amendment is that it not only would prevent a link between TEF and tuition fees for home students, but between TEF and international students. This would directly prohibit any connection between a university’s TEF grade and their ability to recruit international students – which has been a major concern since speculation about this began with the Home Secretary’s Conservative party conference speech last October.

In the same debate, the House of Lords also made another important amendment to the Bill, which will boost student voter registration. The amendment will require universities to put measures in place for voter registration to be integrated at the point of enrolment onto a student’s course. Various universities have already demonstrated how effective this can be and this has been a continual recommendation of NUS to be rolled out nationally.

Next steps: we need you!

The fight on this Bill – and these amendments – is far from over.

Once the Bill finishes its report stage next week and has its ‘third reading’ towards the end of the month, the Bill will return to the House of Commons – where the government has a majority – for MPs to consider any amendments made by the Lords.

It is therefore very likely that the Lords amendment on TEF and fees will be overturned by the government when the Bill returns to the House of Commons in around a month’s time.

However, this amendment had a healthy majority of over 50 and had cross-party support – including from amongst Conservatives – which all means that the government must be considering what concessions can and must be made in order to appease the Lords.

This puts students in a very important position. It is now down to students to contact their MPs to urge them to fight to keep the Lords amendments in the Bill when it returns to the House of Commons. This is likely to happen very soon, so it is vital that students do this now.

We have produced a template letter for students to send to their MPs and a briefing with more information for students' unions.

NUS will continue to offer support to students and students’ unions to effectively lobby their MPs ahead of their chance to vote on the Lords amendments.

You can read all of the debates on the Higher Education and Research Bill from last night here and find another helpful summary here.



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