I attended an excellent workshop run by the University Alliance last week, officials from BIS and HEFCE addressed an audience about progress developing the Teaching Excellence Framework and the ‘Quality Assessment’ regime. My impression that BIS are genuinely determined to build a framework that the sector can live with (I’m not sure we’ll ever reach a situation where we’re happy with it!) was reinforced.

The event organisers challenged us to think hard about the purpose of the TEF, what we want to measure and what metrics we might want to use. Unsurprisingly, at this early stage, there was a wide range of views and opinions. I’ve already laid my cards on the table in an earlier blog post about what should be measured and I’m not sure I’ve heard anything to convince me otherwise yet.

A few reflections:

  • I was surprised by the level of support for including research excellence in the TEF (not surprised because I think it’s not a good measure, I very much think it is and should be included in the TEF) because I thought some universities would think this would favour one type of university over another. On the whole I think there was recognition that a balanced set of metrics will include datasets that are good for one type of university and other data that are good for an alternate set. This is a good sign.
  • BIS have not made their minds up yet. This is not an exercise in battering the sector into thinking it supports something that is not in its interest (imagine a sector body trying to do that!). The TEF is going to happen, but what it looks like, how it operates and what incentives are attached are very much open to discussion.
  • What do we mean by ’employer input’? A number of contributors expressed a desire to have employers directly involved in defining and measuring teaching excellence. I am not convinced by this. Those subjects where graduates require professional accreditation (e.g engineering, architecture, pharmacy), already have employers heavily involved in shaping the curriculum, other subjects (mostly but not exclusively social sciences and humanities) it is very unclear what an employer could effectively contribute to a judgement on excellence. In terms of graduate skills etc. employers already make their contribution by giving (or not giving as the case may be) students a graduate job as measured by DLHE.
  • All will have prizes. The TEF lite that will be introduced next year will be light touch, probably making use of a small number of metrics and may have a low threshold because the ‘reward’ is needed by most universities and will not cost a phenomenal amount. We might find that the TEF lite rewards the vast majority of universities. This is sensible I think when trying to introduce something in such a short space of time; to introduce something that rewarded only a small number of universities before it had properly matured would kill it at inception.
  • Fee increases may not be the only reward. Of course students will say that fee increases are not a reward at all, but I think it was also clear that as the TEF matures and the economic climate improves there may be additional funding released for higher education that could by funnelled towards excellence identified by the TEF.

My former colleague and Comrade Professor Andrew McRae, Head of the Department of English at the University of Exeter, also posted his thoughts about the TEF on his blog on Monday. Characteristically sensible and challenging it is great to read an academic arguing that this is an opportunity not to be missed.

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2 responses »

  1. Michael Flack says:

    My initial response to your last bullet point is scepticism about more money being available…I would think BIS would be more interested in how to target/concentrate existing funding. But that would presumably require the TEF to identify excellence at subject level rather than just institutional level, which seems unlikely at the moment. Just musings, really, but given all that I would expect the rewards to still be about fees for the foreseeable future. (Except for those of us who are striving to keep fees down – and rather than incentivizing via this route you might expect BIS to ask why that isn’t all of us!)

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