The shaky foundations of the TEF: neither logically nor practically defensible

*Opinion piece by Dorothy Bishop

I spent Sunday reading the Green Paper “Fulfilling our Potential: Teaching Excellence, Social Mobility and Student Choice“, a consultation document that outlines radical plans to change how universities are evaluated and funded. The CDBU is preparing a response, but here’s the problem. BIS is not seeking views on whether the new structures they plan to introduce are a good idea. They are telling us that they are a good idea, a necessary idea, and an idea that they will implement. The consultation is to ask for views on details of that implementation.

The government will no doubt be braced for howls of protest from the usual suspects. Academics are notorious for resisting change, so there is an expectation that there will be opposition from many of the rank and file who work in universities, especially from those whose political allegiances are left of centre. CDBU is, however, a broad church, and disquiet with the Green Paper comes from academics covering a wide range of political views.

The idea behind the TEF is that teaching has not been taken seriously enough in our Universities, because they have been fixated on research. As a consequence, students are getting a raw deal and employers are dissatisfied that graduates are not adequately prepared for the workplace. However, the evidence for these assertions is pretty shaky. If you’re going to introduce a whole new administrative machinery, then you have to demonstrate that it will fix a problem. A number of commentators have warned that TEF is a solution to a problem that does not exist.

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Reflections on the Green Paper (2): Opening the Market to New Providers

Opinion piece by Roger Brown

Background

The focus of the Green Paper is not just on students and teaching: it also envisages a situation where there will be more competition among providers of higher education, and new entrants into the system:

We hope providers receiving a lower TEF assessment will choose to raise their teaching standards in order to maintain student numbers. Eventually, we anticipate some lower quality providers withdrawing from the sector, leaving space for new entrants, and raising quality overall. (page 19)

The proposal is for a ‘single route into higher education, through which all providers are equally able to select an operating model which works for them – both at entry and once in the system’ (page 42). This new single route would give:

  • Quicker access to student funding (and no cap on student numbers);
  • The ability to apply earlier for degree awarding powers (DAPs) (with a more flexible approach to track record);
  • A shorter time for DAPs assessment;
  • The ability to secure university title much earlier, if conditions are met.

The proposal is also for providers to have contingency arrangements in place that set out the approach and commitments to students in the event of course or campus closure. This would cover both continuity of provision and financial recompense. In addition, it is suggested that the OfS could support (and if necessary direct) regulated providers to consider whether and how they should exit the sector in an orderly way, where it is in the public interest to do so.

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Reflections on the Green Paper: The Teaching Excellence Framework

Opinion Piece by Roger Brown

Introduction

In Everything for Sale? with Helen Carasso (Routledge, 2013) the writer argued that the main changes in higher education policy over the past thirty or so years could be explained in terms of the progressive marketisation of the system by governments of all political persuasions, a process that began with the Thatcher Government’s abolition of the subsidy for overseas students from 1980. The Green Paper Fulfilling Our Potential: Teaching Excellence, Social Mobility and Student Choice (BIS, 2015) published on 6th November represents the latest stage in this process. This short paper offers an initial assessment of the main proposal: the introduction of a Teaching Excellence Framework.

The Teaching Excellence Framework

The Green Paper implies that both quality of and participation in higher education have increased since the full fee regime came into effect in 2012. However:

More needs to be done to ensure that providers offering the highest quality courses are recognised and that teaching is valued as much as research. Students expect better value for money; employers need access to a pipeline of graduates with the skills they need; and the taxpayer needs to see a broad range of economic and social benefits generated by the public investment in our higher education system (page 18).

The main proposal for achieving these is the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF). We are told that:

The TEF should change providers’ behaviour. Those providers that do well within the TEF will attract more student applications and will be able to raise fees in line with inflation. The additional income can be reinvested in the quality of teaching and allow providers to expand so that they can teach more students. We hope providers receiving a lower TEF assessment will choose to raise their teaching standards in order to maintain student numbers. Eventually, we anticipate some lower quality providers withdrawing from the sector, leaving space for new entrants, and raising quality overall. (page 19)  

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