It’s been quite an eventful time to start as an Education Officer. In the last few weeks, we’ve seen the debate on tuition fees spark back into life. It all started with that snap election, and the proposition from Jeremy Corbyn that, should Labour form a government, he would abolish tuition fees. That promise might not have gone much further but with the Conservatives having such a slender majority, you never quite know what might happen.
More fuel was added to the fire when Andrew Adonis, ‘architect’ of the original £3000 fee increases, wrote an article saying that we need a rethink and that the constant increase in fees isn’t doing students, or the economy, any favours. And then we ended up with an emergency debate on the issue in the House of Commons, which all seemed exciting and important - but in the end, not a lot actually happened.
What was more important was a speech made the following day by Jo Johnson, current Minister for Universities and Science, outlining his plans for the subject level Teaching Excellence Framework. (Don’t worry, he didn’t forget to drop in the usual all talk, no action comments about Vice Chancellor’s pay being too high, either…)
The Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF), a tremendous misnomer as it isn’t really based on teaching, is a new government ratings system that prospective students can supposedly use to help decide which university to attend. You may have heard about it recently, as the first sets of results have just been released. Here at UoB we got gold, though as my predecessor Chris pointed out, it probably won’t mean very much as we’re pretty sure the TEF doesn’t work.
Everything is about to get a lot scarier with the introduction of subject level TEF, or ‘TEF3’. It means that different courses within a university will have a different TEF rating. The government has promised there won’t be a link between TEF ratings and fees until 2020 but after that, I find it incredibly worrying that different courses at universities could cost different amounts of money. To me, the whole idea of university is that you can do whichever course you want if you meet the entry requirements. I don’t think we ever want a situation where students are put off doing a course they love because of the price, and go for something cheaper instead.
While I started by saying that it’s an eventful time in Higher Education, there aren’t many tangible things happening at the moment – but I do think it’s the kind of thing we, as students, need to be aware of. Often Higher Education policy has a habit of being unnecessarily complicated and very easy to lose track of, but it can have a real impact on our lives as students.
I’m looking forward to representing you as your Education Officer this year, and I hope you’ll join me in working towards a quality education, both on our campus and across the country.