TEF and tuition-fee rises are not in the Higher Education and Research Bill. Why?

No.  2 in a series of guest posts by G.R. Evans

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The Secretary of State, introducing the Higher Education and Research Bill at the Second Reading, urged that ‘the teaching excellence framework is such an important part of the Bill’. But the Bill does not mention it. The new legislation will not directly affect the plans to introduce a Teaching Excellence Framework, or decisions about raising tuition fees, both of which are being taken forward down separate tracks.

The Teaching Excellence Framework began as an announcement by Jo Johnson as the new Minister for Higher Education in a speech in July 2015, to Universities UK. It had a prominent place in the Green Paper published in November 2015 and again in the White Paper published on May 16 2016, which explained how it was to be ‘designed’ and ‘implemented’ in straightforward ‘it’s going to happen’ language of ‘will’ and ‘shall’ and a timetable making it clear that it did not depend on the coming into force of new legislation.

The TEF does not form part of the Bill because it requires no legislative change except possibly ensuring that the new Office for Students (OfS) will have powers to ‘rate’ English higher education providers ‘regarding the quality of, and the standards applied to, the higher education they provide’ (Bill s.25), with provision for ensuing adjustment of fees under Bill Schedule 2 (The Fee Limit).

Gordon Marsden pointed out in the Second Reading debate that Parliament will have no opportunity to debate the plans to introduce a Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF). He added that ‘the University and College Union and others are deeply concerned by the lack of parliamentary scrutiny built into the TEF’.

Nor does the Bill involve further consideration or review of the operation of the student loan system, which Liam Byrne described in the debate of 19 July as underpinned by a ‘Ponzi scheme’. It does not need to do so in order to achieve its purposes.

The press was quick to remark on the Ministerial Announcement days after the debate that an inflation-related increase above the previous maximum of £9,000 was to be allowed. Universities, including Manchester and Durham, were quick to advertise the new higher fees. Continue reading

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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Part-time students in decline

Opinion piece by Dorothy Bishop

My mother came to England after the war, having met my father when working as a translator for the British Forces in allied-occupied Germany. She’d come from an academic family in Gottingen, and it’s hard to imagine her state of mind in finding herself in Ilford with a husband, a small child and no recognised qualifications. My father was a shopkeeper and money was tight. A few years later there were three children. By the time I, the youngest, was at secondary school, she was determined to do more with her life, and she embarked on a process of gaining first O- and A-levels, through a correspondence course, and then a degree through part-time evening study at Birkbeck College, while working as a secretary in London. Subsequently she gained a job as a lecturer in a local College of Further Education, where she flourished. At the time, like most children, I just took her student activities for granted, though I was aware this was not the kind of thing other mothers did. With hindsight, I’m incredibly proud of her, and immensely grateful for the much easier route through higher education that I was able to navigate.

This personal history made me particularly interested in a talk by Claire Callender at a seminar organised by the Knowledge Economy Campaign on 25 November. Callender is Professor of Higher Education Policy at Birkbeck and the Institution of Education, and she focused particularly on the topic of how changes in higher education funding affected part-time students. The news was pretty depressing.

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