On Saturday 19th November, 20 UWE students and staff joined an estimated 15,000 students and staff from the NUS and the lecturers’ union UCU as they gathered in London to protest against the reforms proposed in the Higher Education Bill currently making its way through parliament.
The main area of concern for those who attended and the continuing campaign is the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) and the increase in tuition fees that this could trigger. Although the 2010 demonstrations against tuition fee increases gained large attendance and media coverage, the current campaign sees yet to break into the mainstream. Possibly the reason for this is that while the 2010 tripling of fees were eye-watering even to the casual observer, these proposed reforms would see an increase of fees of the seemingly small sum of £250 – however, this £250 increase will be repeated year on year, meaning that, ultimately, the increase in fees will be greater than the 2010 increase, unless stopped. This will force future generations of students to sink ever deeper in debt in order to get an education.
What is interesting about this increase is that students will actually be partially responsible for determining whether their university will be allowed to increase its fees through their participation in the National Student Survey (NSS). This will be used to rank ‘teaching quality’. The NSS is one of the three metrics used in the TEF alongside an institution’s facilities and the employment outcomes of students. Currently, it is anticipated that not only will the legislation pass, but that the vast majority of universities will be deemed to be of a standard high enough to warrant a fee increase of £250 in the 2017/18 academic year. Many universities – including UWE – are already advertising fees of £9,250 on their website.
The government’s view on this is that it will deliver choice for students in a competitive marketplace. However, the protestors in London on November the 19th were clearly not keen on the idea of further marketization in education; particularly as one of the ways the bill will create this marketplace is to make it easier for private universities to award degrees. With the recent Trump University scandal in the USA still fresh in the minds of many people, this is a major cause for concerns, especially as such reforms may bring a great degree of instability to higher education.
UWE students and lecturers boarded coaches together – helpfully subsidised by the UCU – from Frenchay, with home-made placards, on the Saturday morning. The peaceful demonstration went off without any incidents and was carried out in good spirits, with even police officers seen to be wearing campaign stickers. The march started at Park Lane, the crowds winding their way through the centre of London, past Trafalgar Square and Downing Street, ending with a rally at Millbank. Speakers including Guardian journalist Owen Jones and NUS president Malia Bouttaia. While the bill looks likely to pass at this stage, it seems that this campaign will continue.
Back at UWE, if you want to have your say on this issue, a Student Idea has appeared on the SU website for students to vote on, entitled ‘Say No To Increased Fees’. The Student Idea aims to have the SU actively encourage students to refuse to fill in the NSS, thus making ranking UWE under the TEF impossible, and therefore rendering UWE unable to increase its fees. More information on this campaign is anticipated in 2017.
By Sasha Lang