CDBU’s Response to the Green Paper

The Council for the Defence of British Universities (CDBU) today submitted its response to the Green Paper “Fulfilling our Potential: Teaching Excellence, Social Mobility and Student Choice“.

We undertook this exercise in good faith and with good will since the focus of the Green Paper is on issues close to the heart of our founding values: how to assure the continued high quality of university education in the UK, and how to ensure wide and fair access to higher education. One of our aims as an organization is to provide expert, insider advice on, and responses to, government policy proposals that look to build on the already considerable achievements of UK higher education. What our close analysis of the Green Paper has revealed, regrettably, is that ‘consultation’ is a misnomer, since in its content and wording the document reveals time and again that the recommendations, far from being proposed as possibilities, are assumed by the authors of the Green Paper to be acceptable and to be awaiting implementation.

Equally, if not more worryingly, the quality of the arguments, of the evidence used, and of the presentation of the recommendations, is inadequate. One of the chief policies – the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) – is put forward to address putative problems, without providing any evidence that these problems exist. The proposed TEF would be an expensive and bureaucratic system that would entail increasing complexity and disruption for years to come. The use of proxies, such as the NSS or graduate income, for teaching excellence is at odds with the ethos and values of education and scholarship. Both the content and the methodology behind the Green Paper come across as counter to the academic values that lie at the heart of any university worthy of the name. These values include reliance on reason, argument, and evidence; critical and creative thinking; rigorous analysis of data; and precise and meaningful communication. There is no recognition in the Green Paper that the primary purpose of universities is to foster these values; instead, universities are equated with businesses, value is defined purely in economic terms, and students and staff are set up in opposition as consumer and vendor respectively, working to serve conflicting interests (to pay as little as possible for the product purchased and to charge as much as the ‘customer’ will take). This is to misunderstand how universities work; to ignore the fact that unlike profit-driven organizations, the idea – and subsequent success – of our UK universities is rooted in staff and students working not towards a transaction but towards collaboration in the pursuit of understanding, knowledge, and truth.

Our academic values have made UK higher education a global leader and are fundamental to equipping generations of students with the critical abilities and independence of thought that contribute to society in myriad ways. The proposals of the Green Paper threaten the integrity of our higher-education system. The TEF will divert funds, time, energy, and expertise from the mainstays of academic life, namely, teaching and research.

The Green Paper affects only England, yet promises major changes to the higher-education landscape. As an organization that covers all British Universities, we are concerned at the growing divergence in regulation and funding between England and the rest of Great Britain. This has the potential to make English universities less attractive both to staff and students.

If the government chooses to implement recommendations based on such unsubstantiated premises and so unstable an evidential base, it will not build on the many strengths of UK universities, but will inflict irreversible damage on our successful university system and jeopardize the value of higher education for both the individual and for society as a whole. The financial value of our university system to the UK economy is dependent on maintaining our international reputation for quality: our positional advantage in the global higher-education market is our adherence to the highest academic standards. If academic judgment, integrity, and values are subordinated to an intellectually inadequate bureaucratic exercise then there will be an adverse impact on both reputation and financial benefit. Within such a system the academic community itself will become alienated.

We are aware that most academics working in English universities are unaware of the Green Paper and its contents. They have not been consulted about issues such as the need for and potential implementation of the TEF – even though this promises to have a major impact on their jobs and institutions. We believe that any new proposals should be evidence-based and arrived at after an appropriate period of consultation with experts, including those who conduct teaching and research in our universities. Please join us if you agree, and make your voice heard.

The full CDBU response to the Green Paper can be downloaded here.

2 thoughts on “CDBU’s Response to the Green Paper

  1. ere’s a Collective UCL UCU response to which you can refer: Preamble to UCL Academic and Academic-Related Staff submission, HE Green Paper

    We welcome the opportunity to comment on this document. In the absence of a formal university discussion on the consultation, we are submitting this consultation document on behalf of UCL signed staff. We have decided to endorse the document submitted by the Council for the Defence of British Universities (CDBU) document, as it provides a good summation of concerns. We highlight some of our main concerns below.

    Part A: Teaching Excellence Framework The large administrative and cost burden of the TEF is large, yet the potential harms it is intended to solve remain less clearly justified Efforts to “game” the TEF results in ways we have seen for the REF The TEF is unlikely to be the key behind student choice of study, which tends to be subject-based (rather than just university based) and also relies on location and price Some questions regarding the proposed fit between these metrics and teaching quality, or measurement validity Questioning the logic that a market might be created in higher education via a government regulatory mechanism given a) the ways in which education differs from a product and b) actual market mechanisms involve flexible prices in relation to supply and demand Part B: The Higher Education Sector

    We remain concerned about the notion of lowering standards for entry as a provider of education, and anticipate several serious risks: Lowering the bar of what an education provider is and how quickly it might exit the sector raises high potential costs to students that are not adequately addressed Lowering the bar of what an education provider is and how quickly it might exit the sector can do irreparable damage to the UK’s reputation in the world as a global leader with high quality universities The case for acceleration of the approval of new providers is not convincing in proportional to the high risks that such acceleration entails, including the social costs – providers have access to student loans that are funded by UK taxpayers There should be a very clear discussion regarding categories of charitable versus for-profit legal status for institutions Part C: Higher Education Architecture

    This section appears to lower standards for what constitutes existing universities, in relation to the entry of new providers. We are not convinced that this is in the public interest. A decision-making process that is faster but which omits several perspectives, including those who engage daily with students reduces the quality of student-related decisions Removal of the historic role of the Privy Council is not a decision that should be taken lightly without long-term and careful consideration The elimination of HEFCE raises several potential concerns FOI will be necessary to preserve transparency for students and is in the public interest There is not a specific mechanism outlined here to protect academic freedom Part D: Research Funding

    We note the administrative burden and cost of the REF, and are concerned that the TEF will reflect a similar or greater burden and cost to our institutions.

  2. The proposed TEF is not merely unnecessary – it would make teaching quality worse. This is not only because of the time used up which could otherwise be used for genuine teaching concerns and not only because of the distortion caused by the criteria for assessment of quality (being reduced to that which can be easily quantified and observed). ANY conceivable auditing procedure for this kind of activity inevitably means attention is focused on pleasing the auditors and diverted from where it should be focused – on the needs of the students. This is simple interactional reality. I speak as a socio-pragmatician. In terms of Goffman’s (1981) participation framework, it causes a distortion of communication by which speakers design their talk chiefly for their overhearers (the auditors) instead of their ratified addressees (the students), thereby lessening the impact on these addressees (and potentially even confusing them – is s/he talking to me or not?).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>