On the 31 January, Professor Neil Ward, Pro-Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs at UEA, put out a statement about student’s tuition fees and the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF).
‘…both students and universities have suffered’
A large part of the statement emphasised that ‘in their own way both students and universities have suffered’ after tuition fees went up to £9000 per year. We have some thoughts on this.
When tuition fees increased to £9,000, the government radically cut funding to universities. This meant that though universities were receiving more money from students, they usually ended up with less funding than they did before the tuition fee hike.
It’s important that we acknowledge what a difficult situation this placed universities in. Students’ expectations were going up while funding was coming down. And, all the while, the government was placing more pressure on universities, which in turn placed more pressures on resources and staff.
However, while we acknowledge what an all-round shit situation the university is in, we would argue that it is even shittier for students. In the scrap between the government and universities, students are losing out. The government should not cut funding to universities and ask students to cover the deficit. That is something that students and the university should agree on.
So, while we agree that students should be supportive of the University where it argues against cuts to governmental funding, we demand that the University supports us when we argue that students should not be expected to make up for these cuts.
But yes, we’re all suffering.
From 2012 to 2016, the government has been stern with its £9000 cap on tuition fees, despite the fact that inflation is creeping up every year.
Though this has been a small mercy for students, this has put a squeeze on universities. The costs of purchases and utilities were creeping up, staff needed to be paid in accordance with inflation, and students were still expecting more because they were paying £9000 per year. Universities couldn’t charge any more to students, and they certainly weren’t getting any more funding from the government.
In 2015 the new government came up with a way to let universities raise their fees, and make sure they worked for it: the TEF.
The Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) is supposed to be a good thing. It’s supposed to be a government measure the quality of teaching in universities, and make sure students are getting what they’ve paid for. Universities will then be ranked ‘Gold’, ‘Silver’ or ‘Bronze’, to give some indication of how good the teaching is at the institution.
Universities that score highly in the TEF will then be allowed to raise their fees in line with inflation. This is supposed to lessen the financial squeeze on universities.
However, both NUS and UCU have publicly stated that they believe the metrics that the government will use to calculate the TEF are unfair (check out Theo’s blog on it here).
UEA seemed to agree with this. In the planning stages of the TEF, our Pro-Vice Chancellors and academics spoke out against it, arguing that TEF was a flawed system and that the government should not tie it to tuition fees.
However, now the government has pressed ahead with the TEF anyway, UEA have stopped arguing. This is what Professor Ward means by the statement ‘[w]e would rather the TEF was not linked to inflationary fee increased, but we have lost that argument and now we are where we are.’
Other universities have been much more vocal. The Vice Chancellor of Warwick, Stuart Croft, has openly stated that the ‘metrics are flawed’, and that though he ‘agree[s] with the fundamental proposition that universities should provide high-quality teaching’, Warwick staff ‘don’t think the TEF will measure that’.
The most powerful thing we could have done in the face of the TEF was stand together – students and universities alike – and we’re disappointed that our Pro-Vice Chancellor has already wavered in his conviction. We’re asking UEA students to send a clear message to Professor Ward by continuing to stand against the TEF, and tuition fee rises.