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Labour Students’ Reaction to the Government’s HE White Paper

The HE White Paper is the clearest sign yet that this government is failing students and young people. This Paper, at its heart, represents yet another attack on our education system from a right-wing government determined to unleash the full force of the market in Higher Education. As such, we have several key concerns:

Students’ Unions and Student Representation: Whilst the Government looks to have dropped its attack on Students’ Union “accountability and transparency”, the almost total absence of student voice from the White Paper’s proposals on quality or the TEF are a scandal. Students are framed as passive consumers (with none of the consumer rights that would apply in other settings) rather than active partners. We’ll be working with NUS and opposition MPs to address the student representation deficit in the Bill process.

Fees: To propose that fees should rise whilst simultaneously refusing to inflation uprate the loan repayment threshold is a scandal - it’s the poorest that will pay for that gap. We’ll be campaigning for the fee rise to be halted and for an across the board look at fees and costs to be developed, taking in accommodation costs, hidden course costs and loan repayment terms as a whole. Having already trebled tuition fees, the Tories wanting to saddle our members and students with even more debt is the clearest sign yet that they are failing young people.

New universities/ challenger institutions: The government’s new HE White Paper says it wants to give “students more choice over the type of education they receive”. But instead of funding investment in good Universities to achieve this, it want to do it by giving new “providers” degree awarding powers immediately. Students would be taking a gamble on probationary degrees from probationary providers. Who picks up the pieces if it all goes wrong? We’ll be calling for much better protection for students at these new institutions.

The teaching excellence framework: Labour Students have long argued for the teaching quality to be central to Higher Education and it was a Labour Government that last invested in real improvement in teaching quality through the establishment of the HE teaching academy. This Government’s solution is to measure teaching “quality” through proxy measures that aren’t really about teaching quality and to cut funding to Universities that need investment. We’ll be calling for a proper strategy to improve teaching, not a strange framework that ignores it.

Access and Equality: The Government has announced that Universities will be measured not just on equality of access but also on things like progression, achievement and graduate destinations. This is great news, but given the huge disparity within institutions between subjects we’ll be building on Social Mobility Tsar Alan Millburn’s recommendations and calling for access agreements at the subject and faculty level so that all the subjects and all the professions have proper strategies for equality of opportunity. Whilst the government talks a lot about ‘social mobility’ it is actions that count and scrapping maintenance grants show where their instincts really lie.

Raising tuition fees and saddling students with even more debt is a disgraceful decision – sign our petition against it here http://www.labour.org.uk/content/tuition-fees-petition #ToryPriceTag

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