NUS warning to Scottish universities

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The National Union of Students (NUS) in Scotland has warned that plans to reform higher education south of the border, could damage the success of universities in Scotland.

In a Green Paper Report, the UK Government plans to widen participation and drive up teaching quality through a new Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF). This establishes a scheme by which universities will compete over who has the best teaching standards.

In response to the proposal, NUS Scotland said the plans had “too narrow a focus” and should instead concentrate on learning outcomes.

Scotland has “rightly rejected” the “consumerist model of higher education,” says NUS Scotland, warning Scottish universities not to get dragged into fulfilling the necessary metrics to compete.

Furthermore, there are worries that there could be a rush roll out of the TEF. Chris Millward, Director of Policy at Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), commented on the small window of opportunity to run pilots for the TEF before the planned launch in September.

He said: “Normally we’d want the development of new systems to be based on evidence, but that can take a long time to develop…we don’t have the luxury of time here.”

Part of the UK Governments’ plans are to establish a new regulator, Office for Students, in order to promote student interests. It would be formed by merging the HEFCE and the Office for Fair Access (OFFA).

Universities and Science Minister Jo Johnson said: “The new Office for Students would have a clear remit to champion value for money and the student interest in its decision-making.

And by opening up the sector to new universities and colleges, students will have more choice than ever when they come to apply to university.”

However, there has been some controversy regarding the merge. Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, said: “You can imagine the political excitement felt when they [politicians] realised they could name it the Office for Students, meaning no one could say they were not acting in students’ interests, even while cutting maintenance grants.”

These reforms come in the wake of the Scottish Government’s Higher Education (Scotland) Bill introduced in September 2015. A petition condemning the bill was launched by the Students’ Association to ‘save our rector’ after fears that it could dismantle one of the universities’ oldest traditions: the rector.

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