In this article, Ellie Clarke fills us in on the fightback against the government’s Higher Education reforms. Ellie is a member of Young Labour originally from Charfield in Gloucestershire. She graduated from the University of Manchester in 2016 and now lives in Stockport, and works as a trainee teacher. She was very proud to contribute to the successful #KeepTheCaterers campaign run by Free Education MCR in conjunction with Unison. She is a member of the NUT, the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts, Unite Community, the Socialist Educational Association and Momentum.
Every sector of education, from early years to university, is currently under attack. Severe underfunding, ridiculous levels of testing and increasing segregation are all problems our students and educational establishments face on a daily basis.
In the higher education sector, the main threat is currently coming from the TEF or the “Teaching Excellence Framework”. It sounds innocuous enough, who wouldn’t want excellent teaching? However its aim is clear: the marketisation of higher education.
The way the TEF works is that each university is given a numerical score, based on metrics such as the National Student Survey (NSS) and research output. Not only do these tell you little about the experience a student has at the university, the NSS has been proven to be biased against female and BAME lecturers. The TEF score then determines how much that university is able to charge in fees, with the maximum being set to rise to £12,000. Alongside this increase in fees, maintenance grants and NHS bursaries are being scrapped, meaning it will be more expensive than ever to attend university.
This government want the education sector to function like a market. The “better” universities will be able to charge more because of increased demand. Under-performing universities will be allowed to fail, won’t get any support from the government, and will close down. To hell with the students who go there. That’s just the way the market works. They seem hellbent on pushing this marketisation without consideration that basic economics will tell us that, because no university wants to be seen as not being a ‘better’ university, prices are likely to stabilise at the same rate anyway. This rate will undoubtedly be much higher than the current rate of £9,000.
But regardless of the economics behind the government’s argument, it is worth saying again that Education should not be run like a business. The purpose of education should not be to make money. Our young people should not only have opportunities if they have the ability to pay.
So what should young Labour activists be doing about all this?
Firstly, we need to organise within our labour clubs and students’ unions. We can pass motions on things like boycotting the NSS. If you get enough people to not fill it out, a lack of useful data means the whole system falls apart. But we need to do this on a large scale if it is going to have any impact.
Secondly, we should get involved in the National Campaign against Fees and Cuts. They are a fantastic group of activists who fight for free education, offer excellent training and support, and facilitate practical actions against the TEF (such as trying to co-ordinate a national NSS boycott).
And finally, as many people as possible need to turn out for the “United for Education” demo in London on November the 19th. This has been organised in conjunction with the NUS, who are putting on coaches up and down the country. Together, we will show the government that we will not stand for this. They can’t ignore us forever.