On Tuesday 4th October, Goldsmiths students made the London snapchat story for protesting outside of Deptford Town Hall during a meeting of the Finance Resources Committee. In this meeting, it was decided that Goldsmiths University would increase its fees for new students. This has upset students and staff alike, but before we start planning what our next move will be, let’s remind ourselves why this increase has happened and how poorly the Conservatives understand real people.
At about 1am on 5th November 2015, Jo Johnson, the Minister of Universities and Science and brother of Boris Johnson, announced the Tory government's Green Paper on Newsnight. Johnson claimed that these reforms would have the students' voice at the heart of them and that they would work to further improve access to HE. Following consultations and second readings, a white paper, and an HE Bill, these reforms remain relatively unchanged, and are sadly still working to accelerate the marketisation of University, something made possible through the introduction of the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF).
We can all agree that teaching excellence is something that universities should be striving towards, and it's also something that students can help work towards. The Student Led Teaching Awards proved to us that students respond best to teaching when it's collaborative - the free for all market that Johnson wants to promote in our education system does the opposite. Goldsmiths has even released research that shows that students underachieve when they are treated as consumers, a sentiment that has been growing since the tripling of fees in 2012.
The TEF uses arbitrary metrics, such as the National Student Survey (NSS) and the Destination of Leavers of Higher Education (DLHE) survey. The former is being used to present the thoughts and feelings of all undergraduates and postgraduates, despite needing only 65% of final year students to fill it in to make it valid. The latter is being used to show which universities churn out the ‘most employable' students, something that places specialist and arts institutions at an unfair disadvantage compared to Russell Group universities.
The cherry on this TEF flavoured cake? Institutions that comply with it and do well can increase their tuition fees in line with inflation including our own oh-so-radical Goldsmiths. We recently saw them follow the example set by London unis such as Royal Holloway and UCL and increase fees to £9,250 for prospective students. Pending the passing of the HE Bill, fees could increase every year, and out of 225 universities that could increase fees, 223 have done so. These changes, paired with the scrapping of maintenance grants and cuts to DSA, are only making university less accessible to students from non-traditional and low-income backgrounds, for instance for the first time since the academic year 2005/06, the number of students who received free school meals attending university has dropped.
These changes are just the ones associated with the TEF however. The HE Bill reveals a whole host of new changes and challenges. Funding and regulations would be dealt with by an Office for Students, without any kind of student representation to help guide them in the right way, an amendment that was submitted by Labour and subsequently voted down by the Tories a couple of weeks ago. It aims to make it easier for new private providers to enter and exit the ‘market’, meaning that many companies could soon have degree awarding powers, and universities or courses that do not succeed in this new environment would lose their funding and then be closed. The HE Bill will lead to heightened competition in an attempt to get universities to ‘drive up quality’, but all this will do is drive down our lecturers’ mental health, and drive up our debt.
We call on students from all years and degrees to oppose these changes. For those who can boycott or sabotage the NSS, let’s do it. For those who can join us for the #Nov19 Demo, let’s do it. For those who want to want to work with our lecturers and ensure their jobs are secure and they are supported, let’s do it. We will not let our universities go down without a fight.