OUSU blacklists White Paper

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Oxford University Student Union is finalising its highly critical response to the government’s Higher Education White Paper, “Students at the Heart of the System”, which was published for consultation in June.

The document, to be brought before the OUSU council, slams the government for suggesting that students should be consumers rather than partners in their education and for ignoring issues in postgraduate funding and student experience. 
The White Paper set out the government’s strategy concerning funding, student experience and social mobility.  OUSU however claims the government’s suggestions are “not a sustainable way to drive up quality or protect existing high standards.” They conclude that “the White Paper offers a very incoherent approach to social mobility at both the undergraduate and graduate level.”
Hannah Cusworth, OUSU’s Vice President for Access and Academic Affairs, outlined one concern, stating, “The university should be getting the brightest students who have the potential to benefit most from an Oxford education and to be tomorrow’s researchers.” 
Similarly, OUSU President Martha Mackenzie said that “the headline figure of £9,000 may seem insurmountable” to those applying from non-traditional backgrounds. OUSU have argued that the government need to take this more seriously, as “This radical change is unprecedented, and polling has shown that parents do not understand the new fees regime.”
Mackenzie commented, “In the new fee climate students will expect a high quality of education but this will not be achieved through a simple financial transaction. Far more important is that students are seen as genuine partners and are given real influence to share their education.” The response recognises that demand for places will always exceed supply, so consumerist motivation cannot incentivise improvement in educational standards. 
Oscar Lee, New College JCR President, supported Mackenzie’s stance, arguing, “It could be dangerous to turn students into de facto consumers who are only able to ameliorate the quality of their education by complaining until something is improved.” 
OUSU stated that positive change “has come through representation, the relationship (between student and tutor) and trust”, rather than value-for-money complaints, citing continuing postgraduate dissatisfaction despite paying fees up to £30,000 per year. 
OUSU officer Jacob Diggle suggests this “special relationship between students and academics” can lead to positive action, such as the no-confidence motion against David Willetts last term. He fears this relationship could be lost if fees push students to view their tutors merely as service-providers. 
Second year Regent’s student Ben Hudson was more critical of OUSU, suggesting the idea of a partnership is preferable to a marketised system, but that this “fails to address the problem of unfair access to this partnership.” He suggested that OUSU’s response “lacks the combative edge,” accusing them of attempting to “conciliate the government by agreeing with certain parts of the White Paper”, meaning that “the main point behind the debate is lost.”
Diggle denied that OUSU was moderate but suggested that the gentler tone they were forced to use was due to the lack of an effective mandate from the student community pushing for real change.
Colin Jackson, co-chair of Oxford University Labour Club, agreed, arguing, “Making a case against the current policy is only the start – now the student body must come together to reach a clear consensus on how we would rather see our degrees funded.”
There was no response to requests for a government defence.

Oxford University Student Union is finalising its highly critical response to the government’s Higher Education White Paper, “Students at the Heart of the System”, which was published for consultation in June.

The document, to be brought before the OUSU council, slams the government for suggesting that students should be consumers rather than partners in their education and for ignoring issues in postgraduate funding and student experience. 

The White Paper set out the government’s strategy concerning funding, student experience and social mobility.  OUSU however claims the government’s suggestions are “not a sustainable way to drive up quality or protect existing high standards.”

They conclude that “the White Paper offers a very incoherent approach to social mobility at both the undergraduate and graduate level.”

Hannah Cusworth, OUSU’s Vice President for Access and Academic Affairs, outlined one concern, stating, “The university should be getting the brightest students who have the potential to benefit most from an Oxford education and to be tomorrow’s researchers.” 

Similarly, OUSU President Martha Mackenzie said that “the headline figure of £9,000 may seem insurmountable” to those applying from non-traditional backgrounds.

OUSU have argued that the government need to take this more seriously, as “This radical change is unprecedented, and polling has shown that parents do not understand the new fees regime.”

Mackenzie commented, “In the new fee climate students will expect a high quality of education but this will not be achieved through a simple financial transaction. Far more important is that students are seen as genuine partners and are given real influence to share their education.”

The response recognises that demand for places will always exceed supply, so consumerist motivation cannot incentivise improvement in educational standards. 

Oscar Lee, New College JCR President, supported Mackenzie’s stance, arguing, “It could be dangerous to turn students into de facto consumers who are only able to ameliorate the quality of their education by complaining until something is improved.” 

OUSU stated that positive change “has come through representation, the relationship (between student and tutor) and trust”, rather than value-for-money complaints, citing continuing postgraduate dissatisfaction despite paying fees up to £30,000 per year. 

OUSU officer Jacob Diggle suggests this “special relationship between students and academics” can lead to positive action, such as the no-confidence motion against David Willetts last term. He fears this relationship could be lost if fees push students to view their tutors merely as service-providers. 

Second year Regent’s student Ben Hudson was more critical of OUSU, suggesting the idea of a partnership is preferable to a marketised system, but that this “fails to address the problem of unfair access to this partnership.”

He suggested that OUSU’s response “lacks the combative edge,” accusing them of attempting to “conciliate the government by agreeing with certain parts of the White Paper”, meaning that “the main point behind the debate is lost.”

Diggle denied that OUSU was moderate but suggested that the gentler tone they were forced to use was due to the lack of an effective mandate from the student community pushing for real change.

Colin Jackson, co-chair of Oxford University Labour Club, agreed, arguing, “Making a case against the current policy is only the start – now the student body must come together to reach a clear consensus on how we would rather see our degrees funded.”

There was no response to requests for a government defence.

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