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Lords votes to sever HE Bill link between tuition fees and TEF

Blow to government as Lords revolt over plans for tuition fees to be linked to university teaching quality

The House of Lords has passed an amendment to sever the link between tuition fees and the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF), defeating the government on its Higher Education and Research (HE) Bill.

The amendment, which passed by 263 votes to 211, removes the proposed right of universities to set tuition fees based on ranking in the TEF. Top-performing universities would have been allowed to raise fees by up to £250 per student per year.

The amendment states: “The scheme established under Section 26 must not be used to rank English higher education providers as to the regulated course fees they charge to a qualifying person; or the unregulated course fees they charge to an international student; or the number of fee paying students they recruit, whether they are qualifying persons or international students.”

The amendment, proposed by the crossbench peer Lord Kerslake, accepted both the government’s case for a educational quality framework and the need for tuition fees to rise with inflation. However, Lord Kerslake argued that the TEF was “not ready” to calculate teaching quality with sufficient certainty to justify fee increases.

Noting that “the TEF rating will relate to the university, not the subject or course,” he pointed out that the possibility of mediocre courses at top-performing universities could lead to an unfair assessment of fees for individual students.

The former principal of St. Anne’s College, Baroness Deech, also spoke out against the bill, claiming that if the link between the TEF and fees became law, students from poorer backgrounds would be less likely to attend “more established” universities.

The HE Bill has faced substantial opposition in its previous passage through the Lords, and was criticised by Oxford Chancellor Lord Patten as “ham-fisted” and threatening the “true value of an independent university” in an article for The Observer.

In recent months, OUSU and numerous college JCRs have supported an NUS boycott of the National Student Survey (NSS), in an attempt to undermine the TEF. The Universities minister, Jo Johnson, planned to use NSS scores to rank universities as part of the TEF.

Writing on Twitter, Eden Bailey, OUSU’s VP for Access and Academic Affairs, wrote that “ALL THE LETTERS WE WROTE, EMAILS WE SENT, NATIONAL STUDENT SURVEYS WE DIDN’T FILL IN – IT MADE A DIFFERENCE!!!”.

She also thanked OUSU volunteers who lobbied Lords by mail over the Christmas vacation.

Ana Oppenheim, NCAFC National Committee member and candidate for NUS Vice-President Higher Education, said: “This is a huge victory for students, and it could not have happened without pressure from the student movement.  Demonstrations, occupations, and the NSS boycott kept this high on the political agenda.

“We now have a task on our hands to make sure this passes through the Commons, to maintain and extend the boycott, and to escalate the campaign against the wider higher education reforms.”

The bill will now return to the House of Commons, where it is likely that the government will strike down the Lords amendment.


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