“Students will understandably be outraged at any suggestion universities could be allowed to put fees up even higher in order to improve teaching quality. It was only four years ago tuition fees were trebled and students now face debts up to £53,000 when they graduate,” states Sorana Vieru, NUS Vice President for Higher Education. Since the reveal of the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF), which was part of the Government’s White Paper on higher education reforms in early 2016, there has been an outcry of protest from many students. The TEF aims to award universities on their teaching quality, based on various factors including graduate salaries six months after graduating, degree classification and National Student Survey (NSS) results. If the TEF assesses the university as an institute of high-level teaching, it then enables that university to raise their fees for both incoming and continuing students in rise with inflation. This means that tuition fees are set to increase by £250 for the 2017/2018 academic year, however this is an option for those universities, not a requirement, which is exactly what QMUL are planning to do.
In April 2016, the National Union of Students (NUS) voted to support widespread industrial action in the form of a boycott of the NSS. As the NSS is being used as a metric within the TEF, it is being utilised as part of the wider campaign to prevent the government’s higher education reforms. Boycotting the NSS isn’t just about attempting to halt the universities plans to increase fees, it is part of a much wider scheme that is united in opposing the government’s HE reforms, including forcing marketisation onto the university sector and allowing private providers further access to education provision. The NSS scores are directly related to the ability that the university has to increase their tuition fees, by being used as a metric for the TEF. By attempting to get students’ unions to endorse an NSS boycott, the movement is showing that people are not happy with the treatment of students.
QMSU attending the National #FreezeOurFees demonstration.
In the second Student Council of the year at QMSU, Monty Shield proposed a motion: ‘Should the Union boycott the National Student Survey?’. The motion was one of the most highly debated for this academic year, but it did not pass. A key argument against was that the uncertainty of a boycott could be detrimental to our students’ welfare. This argument, to me, is not only just wrong, but also insulting. As someone who has struggled constantly throughout my three years at university with finances, the idea that not boycotting the NSS could affect my welfare is baffling. For the last year and half, I have held down two part-time jobs, equalling out about 40 hours a week. Not only is working for such long hours severely detrimental to my mental health, but with the quality of part-time jobs in London not being the best, I have suffered greatly from the brunt of the Tories’ austerity measures.
Other arguments against the motion were that the sabbatical officers are currently campaigning against the rises in fees, as well as the rest of the negative effects of the TEF, with the launch of the ‘‘#FreezeOurFees’ campaign launching today. Two weeks ago, Miranda Black (QMSU President) ran the ‘Scream Mary’ campaign that included a section on the TEF and collectively with Adam Sparkes; we managed to get around 500 signatures on the petition against the TEF bill in just over eight hours on campus. The reaction we received from these students ranged from outrage to bemusement, and the large majority of students were against tuition fees increase, along with the privatisation and ranking of universities spelt out by the TEF. Those speaking in favour of the boycott have had first-hand experience of speaking to these students.
The campaign is growing in QMSU, aided by the attendance of a group at the NUS’ Defend Education demonstration on Saturday. The protest saw almost fifteen thousand students marching in solidarity. QMYG attended, along with all four sabbatical officers, and others, to demand that this government prioritises the demands of students to not increase tuition fees. The march was supported a number of political parties that were all fighting against the marketization of our education systems. This protest comes just days before the third reading of the bill in parliament. The outlook is not looking good, with the likelihood of the government legislating the Higher Education Bill looking extremely probable. Student groups across the country need to keep working together to show their solidarity against these changes. This is not something that we, as students, should take.
‘Theresa Gay’ campaigning with students at the #UnitedForEducation demonstration on Saturday.
QMSU will be launching their ‘#FreezeOurFees’ campaign today, alongside a petition. Whilst the university continue to negotiate whether or not to raise fees for both their current and incoming students, students are encouraged to speak out. With regards to the launch of the campaign, Adam Sparkes (VP Welfare) said “Queen Mary Students Union’s executive officers are committed to ensuring a raise in fees for our students does not go ahead. Signing our petition is just the start of the ‘#FreezeOurFees’ campaign. If our University won’t listen this campaign will continue to build. All options are open to us at the moment, and we will use every tactic we can to show the University we will not tolerate a rise in fees.”.
QMYG wholly endorse this campaign, and we urge students to sign up and voice their anger. QMYG also support the NUS campaign to boycott the NSS. Unless the discussions about raising fees end in a universal agreement against the idea, for both incoming and current students, other measures can be used in place and we will fight QMUL using any means necessary. They cannot expect students to keep forking out thousands of pounds for an education system that is simply not worth the increasing amounts of money. Our advice to you, as QMUL students, is to stand up and join us in this struggle. Sign the QMSU petition linked below* and show your outrage at these proposed increases and let your voice be heard. As Adam said, if this fails we will reorganise and come back stronger. This is something that will affect not just us today, but future generations of students and we need to be unified and strong in fighting yet more austerity measures to our society.
* – https://www.qmsu.org/freezeourfees/ – Sign the petition here if you are a currently enrolled QMUL student.