Posted on Fri 28 Oct 2016 at 13:34 by Luke Pilot
As I write this blog, the Higher Education sector is being gradually dismantled piece-by-piece. Though a restructuring or re-imagining of the sector may not sound so bad in theory, in practice this isn't just a jolt to the system - it represents the destruction of Higher Education as we know it.
The Government has its own agenda to contribute to this destruction in the form of the HE and Research Bill currently making its way through Parliament. Needless to say, that agenda does not have students' best interests at heart.
It's often easy for current students to brush off proposed reforms as something that “won't matter” or “won’t affect me”. But of course, this isn’t true. Tuition fees are already on the rise across the country - students starting next year will be paying the first increase of £9250, and then paying even more the next year as fees increase in line with inflation. For those of you with younger siblings or who intend to have families of your own, these proposals will have a direct impact on your future.
The audacity that any UK government must have to dare increase tuition fees YET AGAIN after the opposition each raise has faced thus far is staggering. Deeper debt in no way helps students - it changes the way they value their education and directly impacts upon their wellbeing.
But it doesn't just stop there. As Universities prepare themselves for the next stage of the so-called ‘Teaching Excellence Framework’, the priorities of our HE institutions also change. The TEF is the inherently flawed mechanism by which the Government will use tragically unsuitable and invalid metrics to rank HEIs according to the ‘quality’ of their teaching. It is essentially a new means of gaming the system so that fees can steadily increase, and relies on absurd measures such as the graduate salaries of leavers from participating institutions. While anyone can see that this is a ludicrous way to measure teaching 'excellence', institutions are all-too-happy to comply with the rhetoric that you come to university solely to gain a better-paid job, and anyone who doesn't achieve this has essentially wasted their time. It is entirely in universities’ own fiscal interests to do so. And in turning their focus to preparing students for jobs in sectors and industries they may not care for, students will be bombarded with a stifling ‘employability’ agenda which completely misses the point of education as a tool for learning and growth.
Once these measures are implemented, the Government will have successfully marketised Higher Education - in turn entrenching its status as a privilege rather than a right. Lower-income students will effectively become ‘priced out’ of education, and this formerly public good will once again become a preserve of a wealthy elite. What kind of ‘aspirational’ agenda is that?
The Government is also intent on further marginalising international students by threatening that universities won’t be able to recruit them if they are unable to obtain a certain ranking in the TEF. What message does this send out to the world? It is certainly not one of welcome - rather, it constitutes the removal of opportunities for non-UK students based solely on their nationality. That is an absolute disgrace.
Issues affecting Higher Education can no longer be met with apathy by students. I understand why so many of us are feeling beaten down or fatigued - we have been hounded relentlessly by government after government seeking to penalise us for staying in education. However, we cannot afford to meet these changes with indifference. It is no longer good enough to sit back and hope that these latest proposals represent anything other than the thin end of the wedge. These proposals are an attack on students, on communities and on our fundamental rights.
So far, talking hasn’t got us anywhere - not with our individual universities, and certainly not with the Government. The ‘consultations’ they publish are little more than smokescreens to waste our time while they continue to implement a plan to embed market powers into Higher Education. Our reasonable calls for some form of student representation in the Government’s new sector-monitoring body, the absurdly-named ‘Office for Students’, have been denied. Our impassioned lobbying against the TEF has been fruitless. All the while, our colleagues, peers, relatives and friends in Further Education colleges nationwide continue to have their funding slashed, forcing the future of hundreds of thousands of students into jeopardy.
We have paid the price for the indifference and fiscal irresponsibility of previous generations for far too long. We cannot go on any longer without having our voices heard. It’s time to finally say “enough is enough”.
What’s more, it CAN be done - direct action by students in Germany recently led to the abolition of tuition fees. Education is not fit-for-purpose if it isn’t accessible for everyone. I for one refuse to stand by and witness the destruction of our Higher Education system any longer.
Education is our right. Let’s fight for it.
Warwick SU has organised subsidised coach travel to London for the ‘United for Education’ march called by NUS and UCU on November 19th. Tickets are just £5 for members and can be purchased here.