Students at the heart of the system (when it suits)

A key plank of the government’s radical reforms to the higher education system was that students should be at the heart of the system.

We would create a market based economy and student choice would be paramount. Not only would student choice be key but it would be ‘informed’ choice and prospective students would have all the information they needed to choose what course and which institution. This is what government wanted and it is what the sector has been delivering.

Whilst there are many different perspectives on these changes, these key principles have always been clear. However, it would appear that this clarity of principle has been lost on the Department for Education.

Literally days before the National Student Survey (NSS) goes live, the National College for Teaching and Learning, responsible for overseeing Initial Teacher Training has pulled the plug on universities and future students receiving and learning from effective student feedback. They have decided not to fund ‘their’ students to participate in this nationally recognised, and government-driven survey, and consequently have gagged thousands of students. And their reasoning – ‘we already do a survey after they have been teaching for a while so why do another one?’

The NSS, introduced 10 years ago as a benchmark of determining a student view of their experience, was developed to provide comparative data for students to choose a university and course. Its growth in importance within the sector has followed the push from government for greater access to empirical data, and is now a fundamental part of the Key Information Sets which are used by thousands of students every year to inform their choice of course and university. And yet, the NCTL, a government body, has decided that it is not good enough for ‘its’ students, and that prospective students do not deserve to access this empirical data.

Let us remember that these teacher training students are full fee paying students – they are accruing the £9,000 per year fee debt through the SLC and will complete three years like any other Bachelor student. And yet, the NCTL have decided to silence their voice. To disenfranchise them, separating them from the HE system that they are so much a part of is a clear sign of the lack of value the government has for university-based initial teacher training. Let us not forget that university ITT is the largest and most popular part of the ITT sector.

Once again, a government body has made a policy change during a process already underway, leaving it up to universities to inform students and deal with the consequences.

Here in Wolverhampton we told all our teacher training students last term that we valued their views, and government valued their views because they are committed to ‘Putting Students at the Heart of the System’. Now we have to tell them that they cannot express a view about their experience.

And what about all the prospective students? Those that are currently trying to decide if university is for them, if teacher training is the right route, and what course is best suited to their needs. The very people that the NSS was designed to aid in the first place. They will now have a gap in information that the government says is vital for decision making.

But please excuse me, I now have to go and tell 100 of our students that the government says they can’t have a voice.

Update: HEFCE have now decided to fund ITT students in the NSS in light of NCTL’s decision. 

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