The Students’ Union was recently invited to respond to the government’s QAA consultation on the redevelopment of the UK Quality Code for Higher Education.
Following our attendance at consultation events over the past month, we have now submitted a response, and are also in dialogue with the University to contribute to their response.
We were asked a series of questions which focused on whether we felt that the proposals adequately meet students’ needs, while ensuring “quality” across the sector. Unfortunately, we had to answer ‘No’ to all of these.
Our submission stated that:
- The proposals are incoherent and fail to adequately define what is meant by either ‘quality’ or ‘standards.’ The proposal suggests that quality is about consumerism, whereas we believe quality is about ensuring partnership between students and staff.
- The proposed “Expectations” articulate a transactional relationship (as opposed to partnership) between “providers” and consumers. At Warwick, across the University and Students’ Union, we believe that education is empowering: our system is geared towards student-staff collaboration (as exemplified by our Student-Staff Liaison Committees) and students taking an active role in their educational experience.
- Around 40% of our students are postgraduates, and the Expectations of the QAA consultation fail to address postgraduates or research students – let alone express what such a significant proportion of students should even expect from their university.
- The new core practices for standards appear to allow the private sector easier access to the Higher Education sphere for ideological reasons, thereby undermining the fundamental purpose of Higher Education. We believe that this undermines the quality and standards of what is an extremely diverse sector.
- The core practices are not flexible - for example, they suggest that all students will achieve above the threshold standards (while contradicting themselves only the point before by stating that all students will achieve the threshold). They also ensure none of the standards that safeguard fairness in UK HE at present (i.e. the emphasis on externality and external markers), and they say nothing about assessment feedback.
- The rhetoric employed emphasises courses being delivered and students passively receiving an education from it: spoon-feeding rather than allowing student-staff collaboration and the co-production of knowledge to flourish.
- The proposals lack student representation at all levels. At Warwick, it is core practice for students to be represented in almost all university bodies through Sabbatical Officers, Faculty Representatives, Part Time Officers, and Student-Staff Liaison Committees. Student engagement is core to the enhancement of quality and standards, and that key relationship should be supported by the QAA. Student Union and NUS representation should also be included as standard.
- The QAA fails to take account of the student lifecycle(s), from admission to post-graduation and beyond.
- The privileging of graduate employers throughout the QAA consultation suggests that education is simply a means to employment, rather than a fundamental good in its own right.
The proposed changes to the QAA Quality Code reflect a concerning shift in the Higher Education landscape. We believe that education is a public good, and that students should be active participants in shaping their own education; these changes undermine that principle in favour of a consumerist approach.
This change presents an ideological attack on education, which cultivates a narrative of marketisation. This will produce a race to the bottom to the detriment of students’ education, wellbeing, and the future of the public university. Ever since the trebling of tuition fees, universities have seen an overwhelming increase in demand for mental health support services, together with a significant decrease in participation in extra-curricular activities designed to enhance the student experience. These proposals will embed those effects still further.
The Sabbatical Officer Team