After the Third Convention – what next?

The Convention for Higher Education met at University College London on 15 October.

This Third Convention was a working meeting discussing the Government’s Higher Education and Research Bill and organising against it.


Delegates agreed that the Convention will call a Lobby of the Third Reading of the Bill in the House of Commons. Convention representatives are already working with the NUS, UCU, CDBU and Gordon Marsden’s office in the Committee Stages.

The Third Reading could be soon – in a matter of two or three weeks.

The Bill will then go to the House of Lords, which will require further lobbying. Baroness Alison Wolf said that we should not be anxious about lobbying the Lords – they relied on people lobbying them to get information.

Important Note: Even when the Bill has passed to the Lords, this does not mean we should not lobby MPs. MPs will get another vote on the Bill when it comes back to the House of Commons at the end of the process.

On 19 November, NUS and UCU have called a National Demonstration for Education. The Third Convention welcomed speakers from the NUS to talk about their campaign and to support the building of it. This unity needed to be carried through on the campuses against the Bill.

The Convention also agreed a strong statement condemning the Home Secretary for suggesting that it was a good idea to limit international student recruitment to UK universities, and even worse – to use the TEF to do so.

What can we all do to try to stop the Bill?

Organise meetings on our campuses and in our communities. Our first task is to bring people together who want to do something. We can all circulate the link to the ‘College, Inc.’ video to colleagues, include a link to the HE Convention website, and ask them if they’d like to help organise a meeting about the HE Bill.

  • If you are a student, contact your student union. The NUS is campaigning against the Bill. What do student officers think? Will they email students to advertise the meeting?
  • If you are a staff member, approach the UCU, EIS and other campus unions. They all have policy against the HE Bill and will email members to advertise the meeting if you ask nicely!

Continue reading

Posted in event, HE BIll | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Third Convention Report


Prof John Holmwood opened the Convention on behalf of the Steering Committee, explaining what had happened since the Second Convention, the Alternative White Paper and the campaign over the summer.

This Convention included representatives of the NUS and colleagues from FE, and the discussion and debate reflected this.

1. Why you should oppose the HE Bill

In the first session, Baroness Alison Wolf, Prof Martin McQuillan (Deputy VC, Kingston) and Malia Bouattia (NUS President) all spoke on the Bill, what was wrong with it, and which arguments were likely to be successful with MPs.

Alison spoke about MPs’ perceptions of universities: high fees meant universities were booming at the expense of the taxpayer, teaching was not always high quality, so needed evaluating by market mechanisms such as the TEF, and that VCs and academics were perceived to be motivated by self-interest. These arguments needed to be countered. There was little recognition in Government that the HE Bill would undermine academic freedom – or what that might mean in practice. She reminded colleagues of the terrible situation in Turkey where Deans were being sacked and academics arrested.

Martin talked about the VCs’ timidity in challenging Government. They were perceived by MPs as operating entirely self-interestedly in arguing for a rise in tuition fees, and they had lost a lot of credibility. With respect to the Referendum debate they had found themselves on the ‘wrong’ side in Government. The student loan system was bad for students, for taxpayers and for universities. He said that there was a fundamental problem of intergenerational injustice, as MPs who had free education were pushing the next generation into a lifetime of debt.

Speaking for the National Union of Students, Malia spoke about the need to build an alliance with students and parents. The NUS has been organising against the Green Paper and the Bill, and the national officers have been speaking up and down the country to Student Unions to try to get them to take it up. The NUS is also consulting with SUs about a boycott of the National Student Survey (which the Government wants to use as a TEF factor). Students are expected to be complicit in awarding universities high marks for satisfaction, and thereby allowing them to raise tuition fees! Continue reading

Posted in event, HE BIll, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Statement on international students – Third Convention for HE 15 October

The Third Convention for Higher Education convened at UCL today.

Delegates united in condemning Home Secretary Amber Rudd’s statements against international students at the Conservative Party Conference as being fundamentally wrong.

In addition, we specifically condemn Rudd’s proposal that the Teaching Excellence Framework be used for limiting universities’ right to recruit overseas students. We believe the TEF is wholly misconceived as it measures neither teaching nor excellence. We defend international students and staff because knowledge knows no borders.

We call on the whole HE sector, our colleagues and VCs, to speak out against any attempt by the government to limit numbers of international students, or to use the TEF to engage in a disgraceful exercise of divide and rule.

London, 15 October 2016

Posted in responses | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

HE Bill Letter-writing Campaign Pack

5034760960_6254b4cd1b_bOur main hope of defeating the disastrous Higher Education and Research Bill lies in persuading sufficient numbers of Conservative MPs to vote against it. There may be resistance in the Lords, thanks to objections from some senior scientist peers – but the Lords are not accountable to any constituents, unlike MPs. And since everyone but the Conservatives voted against the Bill on its second reading, and since the Conservatives have resisted any amendments to the Bill in the committee stage, we can anticipate that only Conservative MPs will back it on its third and final reading. Given the government’s effective majority of 16, this means we must persuade a relatively small number of MPs to oppose the Bill.

To this end, we’ve prepared a campaign pack containing model letters that can be sent to Conservative MPs, plus a variety of interest groups in their constituencies, with the aim of persuading them to lobby MPs, too.

The pack contains full instructions of how to customise and send the letters. Please download it, use it, and circulate it widely, so that it reaches as many Tory constituencies as possible.

Posted in HE BIll | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Defending HE: academic integrity and access, and defending overseas colleagues and students

Dear Colleagues,

The Third Convention for the Defence of Higher Education

This Saturday 15th October UCL, London, 10.00-17.00

Speakers: Professor Alison Wolf (KCL), Professor Martin McQuillan (Kingston and CDBU), Malia Bouattia (NUS President), Professor John Holmwood (Nottingham and CPU), Mark Campbell (London Met), Gordon Marsden (LP Shadow Minister for HE), representatives of the SNP, and Green Party, and others.
Supported by the CPU, CDBU, UCU and NUS

More information

This is not a Convention to analyse, bemoan and urge opposition to the attacks on the quality and intellectual independence of HE teaching and scholarship. That has been done extensively already. This gathering is designed to organise Parliamentary, sectoral, institutional and community opposition to the Government’s HE Bill, and to prepare for resistance to its consequences should the Bill be passed into law.

We have lately been brought abruptly to an understanding of what the impending changes in Higher Education will mean for course provision, for respect for and the valuation of staff, and for a genuine concern for students’ education that is beyond a counter-productive obsession with NSS scores. We have also seen how the academic governance of HE institutions has slipped away from the collegial oversight of the academic scholars associated with them, and is now entirely exercised as top-down managerial processes. We have seen how the influence of all staff over institutional policy has been systematically undermined. Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Guardian letter

Tuition fee ‘gold rush’ behind Coventry crisis

(The Guardian, 29 September 2016)

Add your name
Sign the UCU petition

The decision by the Government in 2014 to remove caps on student numbers created a gold rush in the English university sector.

Unscrupulous university managers are adopting some of the worst private sector tactics to chase £9,000 tuition fees and pay staff as little as they can.

Aditya Chakrabortty reports on the abuse of outsourcing, zero-hour contracts and agency worker tricks at Coventry University to deny staff basic employment rights – never mind the academic freedom that the University was established to defend.

Coventry University management must be exposed and stopped. But it is not alone. London Metropolitan University is sacking a third of its lecturers and hiring staff to replace them on zero-hour contracts. Meanwhile Leicester and Hull are engaging in targeted redundancies. In the case of Hull FE College one of the targets is the UCU National President, Rob Goodfellow. In the Russell Group, research-active professors are ‘encouraged’ to retire early – scientific research brings in a fifth of the return on investment that a low-paid teacher can. Continue reading

Posted in HE BIll, solidarity | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Parliamentary Submission – HE Bill Third Reading briefing – Lee Jones et al.


This briefing was prepared by the Convention for Higher Education (CHE), a non-partisan group of academics drawn from across the university sector. The CHE is deeply concerned by the damage that this bill would do to Higher Education across the UK. We appeal to all members of the Committee actively to seek, and forcefully to support, appropriate amendments to the Bill for the reasons laid out below.

1. The ‘Teaching Excellence Framework’ (TEF) Will Reduce, not Improve, the Quality of Education and Graduates

The Bill says little about TEF, but one of its central purposes is to create the enabling institutions for it. Given its centrality, it is alarming that the TEF is not being subjected to properly parliamentary scrutiny or ongoing oversight, but is instead being developed via a separate technical consultation. The TEF would involve measuring and grading university teaching in a similar way to university research (the Research Excellence Framework, REF), with higher TEF scores driving higher fees, though capped at inflation. Since decades of educational research has failed to develop any reliable measurement of teaching quality, there will be a heavy reliance on crude metrics.

Whatever metrics are eventually used, TEF will inevitably incentivise not excellent higher learning but rather ‘teaching to the test’. For example, the government is currently trialling examinations to measure students’ overall ‘learning gain’. If this becomes the metric for teaching excellence, universities will inevitably start coaching students on how to ace ‘learning gain’ tests. The metric will cease to measure real learning outcomes and existing subject curricula will be hollowed out, as academics are forced to turn over class time for this purpose. Students will thus learn less, not more.

Other proposed TEF metrics – notably student satisfaction – have similar pitfalls. Student ‘satisfaction’ is affected as much by the quality of student accommodation, sports clubs and bars as by teaching. Incentivising universities to boost ‘satisfaction’ will likely compel the redirection of resources away from teaching to these peripheral facilities. Moreover, academics will be discouraged from designing difficult, challenging courses or grading fairly, for fear of making students ‘dissatisfied’. Course content will be dumbed down and grade inflation – already endemic – will escalate sharply, devaluing degrees. Again, introducing TEF will mean students learn less at university.

Moreover, as academics are increasingly held accountable for students’ learning outcomes, students’ sense of responsibility for their own learning – historically a core aspect of higher education – will diminish. We are already seeing students dissatisfied with their grades suing their universities. If the TEF is introduced, an ancient system of independent student, guided by subject experts, will be supplanted by spoon-feeding – as seen in our secondary schools thanks to the rise of metrics and league tables. The result will be less independent, less resilient and less responsible graduates who are less useful employees and less capable of assuming the responsibilities of citizenship. Continue reading

Posted in HE BIll, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment