By Anna Tatham
An extraordinary Assembly held by Durham Students’ Union has passed a motion to tackle the Higher Education and Research Bill proposed by the government.
The motion resolves “to mandate the SU Officers to continue pursuing the goal of widening access to Durham University and campaigning on the cost of living for current students.”
The Higher Education and Research Bill proposes major reforms to the HE sector, including the controversial introduction of a Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) which will utilise the National Student Survey (NSS), Destination of Leavers from Higher Education (DLHE) and data to assess teaching quality. Performance in the TEF would then denote universities’ ability to increase fees in line with inflation.
Academic Affairs Officer Lisa Whiting applauded the elements of the HE Bill such as furthering student protection, yet expressed concerns about the “detrimental impact” the rise in fees could have for Durham students, as well as the accuracy of the TEF.
She vowed to “continue lobbying the University” over the issue yet stated “we must recognise the University is under a significant financial incentive to engage in the TEF.”
She also stressed the importance of officer involvement in working alongside the University, and the need to “commit to having student representatives in all future conversations.”
There was a resounding majority at the assembly in the vote for adopting the motion.
President of Durham’s Students’ Union Alice Dee commented on the result, and stated: “There’s definitely a feeling that [the HE Bill] is probably going to happen, [so] we need to work with our universities, our institutions, to try and mitigate as many issues that could arise”.
Alice Dee stated that content of the HE Bill “wasn’t all negative”. She claimed that if the Bill were to be passed, she would lobby for more grants, “so that we don’t have this ‘elitist’ feel to Durham”, as she recognised that the University “would probably do quite well” in the TEF.
The Assembly also voted in favour of a proposed National Ballot, which would configure an impact assessment on the tactic of a proposed boycott of the National Student Survey (NSS).
Over 30 other universities across the UK have provided evidence of their support for the request for a National Ballot.
The National Ballot question would be “Should NUS conduct and publish a risk assessment and equality impact assessment before finalising the NSS boycott/sabotage action?”
A motion which called for the sabotage of the NSS was passed at the National Union of Students’ National Conference 2016, however the University of West London suggested a comprehensive assessment of the possible risks of the boycott, including how it would impact vulnerable Students’ Unions and the NUS as a whole.
Harry Cross contested the vote for a National Ballot, stating that it would consist of “very specific demands” which were “above and beyond” NUS funds and capabilities.
He also described the Ballot “a deliberate attempt to put the NUS in a difficult position”.
Alice Dee, however, stood in favour of the ballot, stating that “it can’t do any harm” to obtain more information about the implications of a possible sabotage of the NSS.
She also noted Durham’s “relatively safe position” in that “the NSS doesn’t necessarily affect our lot grant from the university”, but also highlighted that we have a duty to “speak for [those] universities that the NSS results are really important for.”
There was a majority vote in favour for the National Ballot to take place.
Photograph: Durham Student’s Union