Posted on Thu 04 Jan 2018 at 14:42 by Hope Worsdale
Earlier this week, the members who have been appointed to serve on the Board of the government’s new ‘Office for Students’ (OfS) were announced. The OfS is the newly-established Higher Education (HE) regulator, which will be responsible for overseeing funding, access and the establishment of new providers in the HE sector, as well as the government’s ‘Teaching Excellence Framework’ (TEF) and the Prevent duty.
Considering its far-reaching responsibilities and powers, you would think that the board of the OfS would be packed with sector experts, right? With fair representation of students and academics? And with those who are keen to drive forward the crucial principles of an accessible, inclusive and diverse HE system...?
With the announcement of the membership of this board, the government has made its agenda in Higher Education abundantly clear. Absurdly, their line-up includes a former executive of HSBC and a managing director of Boots, just one (unelected) student representative, and - perhaps most controversially - right-wing journalist Toby Young.
Not only does Young have virtually no experience of the current university sector, but he has also voiced some despicable bigoted views in relation to students and inclusivity, including slating the implementation of wheelchair ramps and insulting the appearance of working class students at Oxford, not to mention an array of horrendously misogynistic tweets. What a delightful human being. (Presumably, though, this is the kind of “free speech” he will be advocating to help prop up Universities Minister Jo Johnson’s newly-minted agenda on the issue.)
It’s now clearer than ever that this government doesn’t care about the student voice, about academic expertise, or about the principle of inclusivity being at the heart of education. Ultimately, all they care about is strengthening the role of business and the “market” within education.
But then, we knew that already - it’s been the centerpiece of their policy ever since they trebled tuition fees back in 2010.
I don’t need to tell you about the knock-on effects of this disastrous agenda - we all live with them every day. Financial pressures and the looming spectre of debt ratchet up the pressure to succeed, in turn pitting student against student in a race to the finish-line. With a price-tag on our every lecture, seminar, essay or academic interaction, education is being transformed into nothing more than a transaction between a customer and a service; disempowering students and pigeonholing us into a rigid agenda of “employability”. It’s no surprise, then, that this environment has acted as an incubator for an unprecedented mental health crisis that’s currently taking hold among students.
Ever since plans for the OfS were first announced, we knew that it was never going to be a body that acted in the best interests of students and academics. In fact, this government (and, indeed, many before it) has spent years attacking and stripping away the powers of those bodies which *do* represent these interests - i.e. trade unions and students’ unions.
Though this widely-slated board membership has further highlighted just how shambolic this government’s attitude to HE is, as long as the OfS has the facilitation of the full marketisation of our education system as its central purpose, it doesn’t really matter who sits on its board. Because they will all be required to play a role in turning universities into businesses, attacking workers’ rights and spying on marginalised students, as their responsibilities dictate.
If we believe that universities should be run democratically by students and staff, that marketisation and the “students-as-consumers” agenda must be opposed, and that education should be free, liberated and accessible to all, then the OfS (along with its hideously misguided board of stooges and cronies) can have no part in the education system we envisage and strive for. It belongs in one place only - and that’s the bin.
If you want to read the SU’s response to the OfS consultation, you can find it online HERE.