the Alternative HE White Paper

Via a listserv email, and specifically in my role as a National Teaching Fellow, I was asked earlier today to consider applying to be a member of a Teaching Excellence Framework panel. As an act of solidarity with precariously employed or casualised staff, alongside staff who are under threat of increased performance management, or those who are concerned about our collective pay and conditions, and with those staff who see the Government’s HE agenda as threatening the idea of public higher education, I lay out my refusal below. It is also referenced in posts here and here and here and here.

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It feels important for me as an NTF neither to consider nor to do this work.

In part this is because I refuse to have my work as an NTF, and my professional practice, co-opted by a Government that is seeking to damage further the idea of public higher education. The TEF is a means to further the twin agendas of marketisation and privatisation in the sector, which emerging through the White Paper fundamentally damage social mobility and social justice. I simply cannot lend my intellectual and social capital to it. Some of this rationale is set out in the Alternative White paper: https://heconvention2.wordpress.com/2016/05/31/awp-introduction/

My second reason issue is that UCU is currently in dispute over pay, including working to contract. This dispute is focusing our attention on issues of overwork and anxiety/mental health problems amongst staff, increasing casualisation and precarious employment, and gender disparities in remuneration. Many of us resigned as external examiners in support of this campaign (http://www.theguardian.com/education/2016/may/26/why-we-are-resigning-as-external-examiners). Out of solidarity with colleagues on the HE single pay spine fighting for better pay and conditions I cannot justify doing this work.

The TEF is likely: to increase casualisation; differentiate between teaching and research staff; generate further performance management; damage academic autonomy and freedom; enhance the risks of market exit, reinforce the link between employment/future earnings and league table metrics for subjects; and so on. Each of these issues damages not only the quality of teaching and learning, but also the relationships between teachers and students.

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One space for action/refusal is the Alternative White Paper, In Defence of Public Higher Education: Knowledge for a Successful Society, which will be launched at the Houses of Parliament on Monday 13th June, 4.30-6.00. This Alternative White Paper has been produced though the Second Convention for Higher Education.

It argues that the Government’s White Paper presents a major challenge to the idea of a university and its essential role in the public sphere in the creation and dissemination of knowledge and debate about common objectives. It narrowly views higher education as an investment in human capital and as a contributor to economic growth. It acknowledges that UK universities are world-leading in teaching and research, while destroying the framework of regulation and support that produced that success.

The Government’s plans propose to open the sector to private for-profit teaching providers, notwithstanding the history of for-profit higher education littered with poor student outcomes, and with spending concentrated on marketing and profit-sharing. It calls this the creation of a level playing field, while private providers will be relieved (by impending legislation on degree-awarding powers and the title of university) of the wider functions of a university. These moves will undermine the role that universities play in their local communities by opening them to competition for revenue from providers that have no such role.

The government’s proposed “Office for Students” is not about supporting students. It is structured to ensure market competition, to give private providers access to high tuition fees. Its board members will have “the experience of fostering choice and competition, and of robust financial control”. Supposedly “at the heart of the system”, students will instead be short-changed. The Teaching Excellence Framework includes no direct measures of teaching quality. It is designed to facilitate fee increases, with the possibility of abolishing the fee cap in the future.

In contrast, the Alternative White Paper makes the case for higher education as a public good and explains in detail why the present proposals are so damaging and dangerous. You might usefully lobby your MP, to ask her/him to engage with this debate and to challenge the proposals as they begin their legislative journey.


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