Over the summer we’ve set out our views on the Higher Education Bill and the Teaching Excellence Framework. Having met MPs in Parliament to discuss the Bill our view hasn’t changed – these fundamental changes to Higher Education are the wrong changes at the wrong time and will further marketization.
However, as well as opposition, the Parliamentary process offers us an opportunity to respond to the Bill by showing what’s missing and setting out our alternative vision for Higher Education and what a Labour Higher Education system would look like. This is especially true as it passes through the Bill Committee and MPs have the chance to put forward amendments, for constructive change. Proper scrutiny of the Bill will also be vital. To that end, we are calling on Labour MPs to focus on the following areas in their response and propose a series of amendments.
1. Widening access and participation
Whilst this government talks a lot about widening access and participation, we’ll take no lectures from the party that scrapped the grants Labour reintroduced in government. The gap between their rhetoric and actions grows ever wide on this issue. We believe widening participation and access should be a true priority going forward with actions to back up words.
2. Student rights and protections
Throughout this Bill students get a raw deal and nowhere more so than when it comes to student rights. Universities are already responding to Competition Markets Authority work simply by promising students less to ensure they don’t break promises, rather than giving students enough information and sticking to it. We believe students deserve more information, better rights and clear opportunities to hold institutions to account for their promises.
3. Student representation
The idea of students as partners and that students deserve representation at all levels has gained a lot of traction in recent decades and is now a mainstream principle in Higher Education that Universities are expected to meet. It’s right that students have scrutiny and power over their education. This Bill goes someway to undermine that agenda when in fact it could work to extend it. We believe that students are partners in their education and that students deserve representation at all levels of the education system.
4. Financial support for students
We know students are already under a huge burden when it comes to financial pressures and concerns about debt. We believe the last thing students should be worrying about is getting into a contract only for the government to move the goalposts part way through.
When it comes to the HE Bill and the Parliamentary process, we want to work with the National Union of Students in promoting an alternative vision. The National Executive’s Committee policy, for ‘principled disengagement’ at all costs, lets down students when the opportunity exists to oppose the Bill but also to put an alternative vision, with a different set of values, on the agenda. It also seems rather at odds with the congratulatory messages to Student Unions and Officers completing the technical consultation! We are glad that so many SUs and Officers have completed that consultation and wonder, when it comes to NUS, if they are thinking the same as us and recalling Jess Phillips’ recent phrase – ‘I can see that you prefer people to make a stand. I, on the other hand, like to make a change.’
Please write to your Labour MP in support of these amendments – use our template letter here
Appendix - Our Proposed Amendments:
Widening access and participation
- The Director for Fair Access to report directly to the Secretary of State and that the annual report is laid before Parliament and to give the Director the power to set targets for providers that are failing to make clear progress. The Office for Students should have the power to refuse access agreements and actual clout
- Retention, success and graduate destinations should be included in the list of transparency conditions and data should be published at subject level to stop strong averages in some areas hiding poor pockets
- The Office for Students should be required to actively target and focus its efforts on parts of the UK where few people go on to study in Higher Education
Student rights and protections
- Higher Education Institutions should be required to publish to students what they can expect in a range of categories, such as course content, so they can then use CMA and official channels if it doesn’t get delivered
- At the very least providers should be required to publish an institution-wide student charter, if not a charter at course level. A new Code of Practise on Student Information could be a mechanism to achieve change
- There is a clear and pressing need for all students to have access to independent advice
- Nursing courses and other vocational degrees must fall under such legislation, and Higher Education courses in Further Education must be covered by the Office of the Independent Adjudicator, to ensure all students have proper protections
- The Bill should ensure student representation on the Board of the Office for Students and on the board of the designated quality body too, to ensure student oversight at all levels
- Student representation on the governing bodies of Higher Education institutions should be required and this should also include material on what is confidential at meetings and what isn’t – student representation and what our representatives can and cannot say shouldn’t be tied up by burdensome interpretations of commercial interest
- Students should be represented on remuneration committees of University employees and this could compliment publication of pay ratios between the highest paid and lowest paid members of staff
- Universities should have a duty to encourage students to register to vote, to increase political engagement and help #AMillionMoreVoices become involved in our democratic processes
Financial support for students
- A new clause to prohibit changes to repayment terms and conditions for existing students and graduates