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Win! Students will be at the heart of new university reforms

Students throwing hats in air

We’ve been campaigning to get students access to more information from universities before they sign up to a course. In a win for us and students alike, the Government has announced reforms to do just that.

A couple of weeks ago Heidi Allen MP’s Private Members’ Bill on higher education was debated in Parliament. With our support, the Bill called for more information on university courses to be released.

And now the Government has said it intends to do just that in a number of proposals announced today. The proposals aim to provide more information to students so that they can make well-informed choices on the course they want to study. Services like Which? University will also be able to provide even more and clearer information on the quality of the teaching and student experience.

The Office for Students

One significant reform is the sweeping away of the outdated system of regulation and replacing it with a new system that puts the interests’ of students first. A new regulator, called the Office for Students, is being set up to represent and protect the interests of students.

Students and graduates have told us of the many problems they’ve found with their degrees, such as inconsistent quality, too few contact hours with tutors and not enough support. The new regulator will be tasked with resolving these problems so that future students get better value from their education.

Are unis complying with the law?

We’ve also consistently raised concerns with universities about their lack of compliance with consumer protection law. The Competition and Markets Authority published advice to universities earlier this year after we found many failing to comply with their legal obligations. The Government now plans to make compliance with consumer protection law a precondition for unis to be recognised as ‘good quality’, which should help sort this out.

It’s about time that there was a strong body that stands up for students, and the Government’s right to recognise that students’ interests should be central to any higher education reform.

A consultation on the proposals will now run until 15 January next year. What do you think about the proposals? Do you agree that students should have more information about uni courses before they sign on the dotted line?

Comments
Member

What is the role of the National Union of Students?

Member

I have tried to find information about the new regulator. I’m not sure ‘Office for Students’ was a good choice since that name is used for discounted Microsoft software. 🙁

Member
Member

Thanks very much, Darren. There is plenty that will be found controversial, though I expect that most will support greater opportunity for students to make an input to their education.

Member

I have read the announcement. It seems adequate and satisfactory but I hope prospective students will not be tempted to do even less preparatory investigation themselves into the most suitable course and university for their aspirations.

I don’t like the phrase Teaching Excellence Framework. It sounds like something to do with junior schools. I thought higher education was about learning, not being taught. Merging the HEFCE and OFFA into the OfS will make an unwieldy body but it ticks another box on the ‘cut the quangoes’ checklist. Millions of people are ‘students’, but not all of them are ‘undergraduates’; I should have thought that might have been a better word for the new regulatory body.

I know . . . I’m a little grumpy.

Member

The Teaching Excellence Framework will become well known if the possibility of tuition fees being linked to performance is realised. We have certainly had centres for teaching excellence identified in the past.

I am surprised about your concern about the term ‘students’. It’s not a term that I’ve heard criticised and I’ve had dealings with a lot of postgraduates. I cannot think of an alternative.

Member

I thought university students were generally described as undergraduates since pupils at every level of compulsory education are called students these days as well as people who embark on courses at all sorts of grades of commercial tuition. The Office for Students is not going to look after their interests as well surely.

It could have been worse. Despite the introduction of American usage like ‘academy’ and ‘high school’ into primary and secondary education, tertiary education in the UK has eschewed the term ‘sophomore’ for its second-years.

My concern over the TEF was only around the word ‘teaching’ which to my mind implies a purely didactic process, whereas the concept of learning at a university is more about an educative process where people are enabled to explore and discover. Just nit-picking really. Overall a good development.

Students are now also customers of course and I think the way in which the quality of the education will affect the rankings of the universities is likely to be controversial. Disputes over assessments will presumably arise.

Member

The debasing of the term student and the proliferation of “universities” cannot be welcomed. I note in the Ministers introduction to the Green Paper he boasts of quality. With nearly 1000 uni’s in the UK to draw comfort from the fact we have 4 in the top ten in the world is rather like congratulating a country for having four of the wealthiest billionaires without mentioning the number of poor.

Undergraduates is certainly a more precise description than students – if unlikely to be used by the media. Good language should aim for conveying the most information in the fewest words and “student” is so widely [ab]used as to be require extra words to define what is now meant.

Incidentally I understand now there as many people in University as people who got 5 “O” Levels in the 1980’s. I await the time when we reach 100% at Universities as we enroll primary schools into the category. : )