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NUS says plans for student contracts “do not address student concerns”

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The National Union of Students (NUS) has condemned planned policy changes to higher education, which the government says are aimed at “securing value for money for students in higher education”.

In a speech on Thursday, Universities Minister Jo Johnson revealed that the government was considering implementing a legally binding contract between students and universities.

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Such an agreement would establish exactly what students should expect in terms of contact time, the number of lectures and seminars each week and the structure and time frame for assessments and feedback. Students would be able to take legal action against institutions if they did not comply with their obligations under the contract.

Johnson also criticised the “spiralling” salaries of many university Vice-Chancellors. He announced that he would ask the Office for Students (OfS), the new university regulator which is set to be established in January and fully launched three months later, to look into the issue alongside the plans for student contracts.

He suggested that university remuneration committees could be required to “publicly justify” any pay increased above the salary of the Prime Minister (approximately £150,000) to ensure that any pay rises are only granted for “exceptional performance”.

An investigation by the University and Colleges Union in February found that the average salary of a University Vice-Chancellor was £277,834, over six times higher than the average wage of university staff.  

NUS Vice President for Higher Education, Amatey Doku, condemned the new announcements as a “desperate defence of a broken system”.

“We appreciate the government’s recognition that student’s needs must be met by the education system, but we are travelling down a road that students do not want to be on at all.” he said.

“The minister’s vision of higher education is seeing our world-class university system being treated in the same way as the NHS. This is nothing short of hypocritical from a government who can find £1bn to bribe the DUP to prop them up, yet refuse to invest in things that will benefit society.”

Doku also highlighted concerns previously raised by the NUS over student living costs, including the much higher dropout rate among poorer students.

He accused the government of “consistently” failing to recognise the wider benefits of investing in university education, including developing a “highly skilled workforce” and fomenting economic growth.

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