The world of Higher Education is yet again moving quickly. Just before Christmas I published an update on what had happened last term and here we are in the second week of term with a hell of a lot to report already. If you had your head stuck in the bottom of a Quality Street tin for the last 4 weeks, here’s what you may have missed.
26th December – Free Speech
Yep, its back. Just as you and I were sat at home enjoying our Christmas break, Jo Johnson (the then and now former, Universities Minister) was busy telling universities to stop “no-platforming speakers”, and that they would be punished for failing to uphold free speech (I suppose if I had to spend my Christmas with a brother like Boris, I’d do anything to get away). NUS have a no-platform policy, which is mirrored in many Students’ Unions, that prevents members of certain organisations from speaking; a policy that’s often criticised.
Johnson’s announcement, like many of his others including his comments on vice-chancellor’s pay, was very calculated. Feel free to accuse me of burying my head in the sand, but to me this whole issue doesn’t seem to come up that often amongst students, and the number of cases seems very small. What he, and the Office for Students, should really be focusing on (well, actually it’s not him, but more on that later) are the issues that students actually care about, such as teaching, learning resources and feedback. You can read more about this in our submission to the Parliamentary Inquiry here.
1st January – Office for Students Appointments
That brings me swiftly onto the next announcement: appointments to the board of the Office for Students, or OfS. If you’d like to know what the OfS actually is, here’s a beginners guide. In short, it’s a new governmental body (though it’s replacing some old ones) that’ll regulate universities, and will control things such as tuition fees, new universities being established, old ones going, the TEF and so much more that I can’t just put in one sentence – honestly read that article.
If you visited any form of social media over the holiday period, you’ll probably have seen them flooded with pictures of journalist Toby Young, and news of his past misdemeanours. I’m not going to give any more airtime to the disgraceful things he’s said, as I’m sure you’ll have seen quite a lot by now. He, along with 5 others, was appointed to the OfS board, to make a total of 15 members. Only one of those members, Ruth Carlson, is actually a student (for the Office for STUDENTS board).
Quite a lot of people across universities and students’ unions have already made clear that they think the OfS is prioritising the wrong thing. (You can read more about this in our submission to the Government’s consultation about this here and here) It seems to me that Toby Young was given this position (again, actually it’s not him, but more on that later) because of his views on safe spaces and no platforming policies. The managing director of Boots, who has no apparent background in Higher Education, was also appointed which is presumably how the board will “make sure the interests of employers are represented”. Err, why? The NUS President and Vice-President Higher Education, who are both democratically elected representatives of students, applied for the board but were overlooked in favour of a student from Surrey University. I really hope she’ll do a great job, but it’s really disappointing that the national student body was completely ignored.
9th January – Lots of Leaving-dos
Yep, everyone’s gone (which made my choice of tenses throughout this article REALLY difficult). Over breakfast we heard that Toby Young resigned from the OfS board. It still begs the question of why he was appointed in the first place, and why a number of high profile politicians felt the need to come out in his defence.
Over lunch we heard that Jo Johnson was another to swap jobs in the cabinet reshuffle, and Sam Gyimah had become the Minister of State for Universities and Science. Gyimah’s attitude towards education is fairly unknown at the moment, though here’s a summary of his parliamentary voting record. And what this means for the plans for subject level TEF, and the Office for Students remains to be seen.