On Wednesday 15th February, students from the University of Sheffield and Sheffield Hallam gathered for a rally against the proposed rise in tuition fees for both universities. This is the latest in a series of collective student expressions of discontent with fee rises under the Teaching for Excellence Framework (TEF).
The rally was organised by the Free University of Sheffield in partnership with Hallam Union, and was attended by the former leader of the Green Party, and candidate for Sheffield Central seat, Natalie Bennett. Speaking to Forge Press, she said:
“I think the rally was an important step in building awareness of the potential damage being done by the Teaching Excellence Framework, which students have recognised is chiefly a mechanism for further raising our already sky-high tuition fees that are leaving students with three decades of debt that most will never pay back.
The government justification for introducing it claimed that students were dissatisfied with their courses, which significant numbers are, but dissatisfied with the value for money of them – something of course decided by the government.
The National Union of Students has recognised the trap, and rightly called for a boycott of the National Student Survey.”
In a statement on Bennett’s personal site, she said members and supporters of Free University of Sheffield ‘agreed that students across Sheffield should be encouraged to sign the pledge to boycott the NSS.’
This decision was made in line with calls from the NUS, as well as the University of Sheffield Student Union’s ‘Shef Better Than TEF’ campaign, to boycott the National Student Survey. The explicit aim of the boycott is to express students’ disagreement with the government’s TEF legislation, and prevent it from gaining the data it needs to be implemented.
Students and staff alike have expressed doubts over the TEF’s reductive categorisation and the ability for participating universities to raise fees for new students by a further £250. The Teaching Survey 2017 revealed that ‘UK staff strongly oppose the National Student Survey and the teaching excellence framework, claiming that the latter will do nothing to improve the status or quality of teaching’.
Luke Renwick, SHSU Student Officer, told Forge that there were some issues raised at the rally about how the boycott may be harmful. The issues of how students may give feedback on their courses if they boycott the survey, how the boycott may damage Hallam’s Student Union’s relationship with the university, and the fact that £3 goes to the student mental health charity “Student Minds” for every person that fills out the survey, were all raised.
In response, Renwick said that students can give feedback via the course rep system and module evaluations, and that the Hallam Union will pay £1 for everyone who signs the pledge to boycott the survey. In regards to the issue of the Union’s relationship with the university, Renwick said that:
“The university not listening to students’ concerns about the TEF in the first place shows that the relationship is not a true partnership. By taking boycott action, we are showing the university that we can still maintain relative autonomy, not be pushed over, and still represent the views of students at the same time.”
While increases to tuition fees may now seem inevitable, students continue to fight TEF. As Natalie Bennett said:
“The rally was of course only one step in an on-going campaign to make students aware of the issues with the NSS and TEF. I’m sure we’ll be seeing many more actions to make students aware of the further debt trap being laid for them.”