University ‘strongly opposes’ government plans to raise fees

Sherilyn Chew 30 January 2016

The University of Cambridge has rejected many of the British Government’s Higher Education proposals. 

The proposals were initially set out last November in a Green Paper, entitled ‘‘Fulfilling our Potential: Teaching Excellence, Social Mobility and Student Choice’’. It outlined the Government’s vision for higher education in England. 

The University has said that it is “strongly opposed” to a link between teaching quality and the ability to up tuition fees with inflation, as the Green Paper set out. 

The report states that the policy would force students to choose between high quality and affordability, while discouraging students from lower-income families from applying to the best universities. 

Although the University approved of the proposal’s central desire to “recognise teaching excellence” and reaffirmed their shared goals of “encouraging social mobility” and simplifying the “regulatory landscape”, the report argued that the mechanisms to achieve those objectives might be counter-productive. 

The teaching quality would be assessed through an Ofsted-like ranking, known as the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF). Universities would also be ranked on student satisfaction rates, drop-out level and graduate job prospects. 

The University response said that while it welcomed the aim of the TEF to promote excellence in teaching, it did not consider it to be beneficial in decision-making, criticising it as being too “blunt” an instrument to assist students choosing their university. 

Moreover, they did not have the confidence that the suggested metrics would be fit for the purpose of establishing teaching reputation. 

The Independent reported last year that the TEF fee proposal received negative response from the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts, with the group’s James Elliot warning: “It will be a disaster for students and education workers alike.” 

In an interview with Times Higher Education last year, Jo Johnson, Universities and Science Minister, defended the Green Paper, saying it was about “reforming our higher education so that it’s more effective still at delivering value for money for students…and delivering the pipeline of graduates we need.” 

The general secretary of the University and College Union, Sally Hunt, had previously condemned the scheme, saying “simply finding a few measures to rank teaching will do nothing to improve quality.” 

Similarly, Labour’s Gordon Marsden stated that the Government’s plans were a “Trojan Horse for raising fees” and that they risked creating a ‘two-tier’ education system. 

The University’s report also levelled criticism at the proposal for a new Office for Students. 

It said that the lack of a single, overarching, independent, regulatory body for universities amounted to a “basic flaw” in the proposals.