The Hot Seat: Ali Day (Sheffield Students’ Union)

Monday 19-09-2016 - 15:47

Sheffield Students’ Union is campaigning against the government’s Teaching and Excellence Framework and is lobbying their Vice Chancellor to opt out from participating with it. We caught up with Ali Day, Sheffield’s Education Officer, to find out more about the union’s ‘Sheff Better Than TEF’ campaign.  

What is Shef Better Than TEF?

Shef Better Than TEF is our campaign against the government’s proposed Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF).

As a Students’ Union we are committed to opposing the framework and want Sheffield to lead the way in opposing its implementation. We want to be the place where students stand alongside their university, showing a united force against the damaging plans.

The campaign aims to convey a positive message about the University of Sheffield, showing that we are better than the flawed framework and will not subject our students to it.

What are your main campaign asks?

Firstly, that the University of Sheffield does not participate in the TEF, in particular the inflationary fee rises associated with it. Secondly, we want the University of Sheffield, especially the Vice-Chancellor Sir Professor Keith Burnett, to stand alongside us and send out a national message encouraging others not to participate.

We want to lead the way in fighting the TEF, showing that will not allow our students’ and future students’ education to be damaged.

How have students received and engaged with the campaign so far?

The discussions we’ve been having with students so far have been overwhelmingly supportive of the campaign. One element of the campaign is an open letter addressed to the Vice Chancellor, seeking to encourage him to take a stand.

Nearly 300 people have signed the letter so far, before Intro Week has even started. Whilst we are also seeking signatures from staff and local residents, the majority of the signatures are from students.

What are your biggest concerns around the Teaching Excellence Framework and how could it impact on students at the University of Sheffield?

There is still considerable uncertainty regarding how the TEF will be implemented and how it will affect students, staff and the sector. We believe that participation in a flawed framework surrounded by such risk is too big a gamble to take. Our main concerns for students in Sheffield are:

  • The TEF confirms the HE sector in a system of marketization which inherently treats students as consumers.
  • The metrics used are inappropriate and inaccurate measures of teaching quality.
  • Teaching will be further monitored and restricted, stifling innovative practice.
  • Many students will be priced out of education as they are unwilling to subject themselves to such high debt.
  • The TEF assumes all universities and course are directly comparable, ignoring the unique qualities that define us.

Is there a sentiment amongst your students that your VC will listen to these concerns?

Our Vice Chancellor has previously spoken out in the national press against the marketisation of Higher Education and firmly believes in the public value of education.

This initially led many students to believe that our Vice Chancellor could in fact lead the way and convince the sector not to participate in the framework. However, whilst we strongly believe that he is sympathetic with our concerns, the decision is still very unclear.

Is your students’ union campaigning around any other aspects of the government’s HE Bill?

As part of the Shef Better Than TEF campaign, we have been lobbying local MPs Nick Clegg and Paul Blomfield in person about the HE Bill. Whilst these conversations have had a significant focus upon the TEF, we also used it as an opportunity to discuss our concerns regarding private providers, credit transfer and the Office for Students.

We will also be mobilising support from Sheffield students for the NUS National Demonstration on Saturday 19 November.

What advice would you give to fellow SUs campaigning against the TEF?

Most importantly, don’t give up. Whilst many SUs may feel like they are fighting a losing battle, they need to keep in mind the bigger, national problem.

If we continue to campaign against the TEF and show the government that this is not what students want or need we have a real chance in getting in dropped.

SUs should use this as an opportunity to get students talking about what Higher Education means to them and its public value.

You can find more information about Sheffield Students’ Union’s Shef Better Than TEF campaign online at and get involved with NUS’ campaign activity around the Higher Education & Research Bill by visiting our Quality Doesn’t Grow on Fees campaign hub.


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