National Union of Students president Megan Dunn has hit out at the organisation’s decision to oppose the forthcoming teaching excellence framework, saying it is a missed opportunity to improve it.
Shortly after the NUS’ national executive committee voted on 10 September for “principled disengagement” from the TEF, Ms Dunn took to Twitter to brand the meeting a “disgrace”.
“I have never before tweeted about the outcomes of our #nusnec but I think this meeting was a disgrace,” said Dunn, who was elected NUS president in April.
“Principled disengagement when there’s opportunity to make change is not principled,” she added.
I have never before tweeted about the outcomes of our #nusnec but I think this meeting was a disgrace— Megan Dunn (@megandunn116) September 10, 2015
#nusnec voted for principled disengagement to the TEF. Principled disengagement when there's opportunity to make change is not principled— Megan Dunn (@megandunn116) September 10, 2015
It is the latest clash between Ms Dunn and the executive, which is perceived as being more left-wing than previously.
According to the motion passed by the executive, the NUS has now resolved that the “TEF is not just superficially flawed but wrong to the core, and we can’t just tinker with it, we have to stop it.”
Plans for the framework are currently under discussion, with universities minister Jo Johnson set to announce details of the framework this autumn.
It will allow universities to raise their tuition fees from 2017-18 if they are deemed to offer high quality teaching.
But the NUS motion says the TEF will only entrench the marketisation of higher education, which it has consistently opposed.
“The TEF claims to be about driving up teaching standards, but in reality it is not about empowering students – it is about marketising education and subjecting it to the interests of business,” the motion says.
“To improve teaching, we stand for an alternative to markets, competition and metrics,” it adds.
An amendment put forward by Sorana Vieru, vice president (higher education), to delay opposition until the proposals for the TEF are known, was narrowly defeated.
In the wake of the vote, two former presidents waded into the NUS row by offering support for Ms Dunn.
Toni Pearce called the meeting a “farce” and Rachel Wenstone branded the NEC a “shambles”.
I'm so glad #nusnec was live streamed today - I wasn’t watching but it seems like people have finally seen what a farce it is.— Toni Pearce (@toni_pearce) September 10, 2015
Callum Cant, a member of the National Campaign against Fees and Cuts' national committee, said the executive was right to condemn the TEF.
“We think it is just a way to increase marketisation of higher education and increase tuition fees,” he said.
“What we know about the TEF so far shows it is a bad thing – it will be based on nothing more than graduates’ earnings when they leave university,” he added.
He said the executive had a “duty” to act swiftly because the tight timeframe for the TEF’s introduction meant student unions needed to mobilise quickly against it.
The NUS president was wrong to publicly criticise the executive, he said, given its democratic mandate from conference – an authority that supersedes that handed to the executive’s elected officers.
“When you have the NUS president coming out on Twitter just because there are decisions she doesn’t like, it is an abuse of the democratic process,” he added.
In another controversial decision taken on 10 September, the executive voted to support the first student strike since 1971 over the recent decision to scrap maintenance grants and replace with loans.
Student unions will be urged to hold ballots on the issue when undergraduates return to campus, which would then go to a national ballot if the move is backed by 30 unions.