Warwick vice-chancellor: universities ‘backed into a corner’ by TEF

Warwick vice-chancellor Stuart Croft on why his university reluctantly joined the ‘flawed’ teaching excellence framework

January 31, 2017
Warwick vice-chancellor Stuart Croft

On 26 January, the University of Warwick, like other English universities, put in its teaching excellence framework (TEF) submission. It was with mixed feelings – mixed because, although we agree with the fundamental proposition that universities should provide high-quality teaching, we don’t believe that the TEF will measure that.

We feel that we have been backed into a corner.

This is very frustrating because we have good reason to be proud of our teaching. We attract very bright students: our teaching helps them to transform their thinking through in-depth engagement and challenge within their discipline, as well as offering opportunities to learn beyond boundaries. We put our money where our mouth is: we have just opened the Oculus, a new £18.5 million learning and teaching building, which complements our Teaching and Learning Grids (£2.87 million); we have ploughed £3.19 million into our Institute for Advanced Teaching and Learning to develop and embed innovative pedagogies; and we have invested more than £5 million to run Warwick International Higher Education Academy to support our teachers.

It is hardly surprising that we attract many international as well as domestic students, nor that our students are the most sought-after by employers, and that our alumni exceed the average sustained employment outcomes five years after graduating.

But very little of this will be captured. This is because the metrics are flawed. This is not renegade opinion, but rather the overwhelming view of those actually involved in higher education. It is why many of our staff and students campaigned for us to stay out of the TEF, setting out justified fears about the continued marketisation of our sector.

Yet the government has us over a barrel. It has linked the TEF to tuition fees and, potentially, our ability to recruit international students. The risks are too high. We submitted in both senses of the word.

And it is not only the TEF that is of concern: some of the measures in the Higher Education and Research Bill threaten the very nature of the autonomy in universities that has made UK education the global success it is. The proposed measures treat education as if it is a commodity, just like any other.

This is frustrating and it is puzzling. My message to the government is this: “Our sector, while not perfect, is the envy of the world…Let’s make sure it stays that way.”

Stuart Croft is vice-chancellor of the University of Warwick.

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Reader's comments (4)

Thus article says nothing. Not worth the time yo read it.
Very interesting to see a Russell Group VC break ranks to voice this opinion. Disquiet with the metrics to be used by TEF is widespread, yet people are cowed: as noted here, any institution that does not comply is put at risk. This is made obvious by the government's ludicrous 'cost-benefit' analysis of TEF, which basically says that there are enormous benefits that outweigh the costs, because if you don't take part you will suffer financially: http://deevybee.blogspot.co.uk/2016/07/cost-benefit-analysis-of-teaching.html. What is perhaps most serious is the lack of responsiveness to concerns about TEF: the government seems determined to blast this through, regardless. Yet even Conservatives have doubts. David Willetts commented in the House of Lords that the measures are far from perfect. At the annual meeting of the Council for Defence of British Universities last week, Lord Melvyn Bragg noted that he had never before experienced anything like this lack of responsiveness to serious issues raised by critics. We asked what the solution would be: the general view was there was no hope of changing Jo Johnson's views on anything, and that the only way to resist this would be for a number of leading Universities to opt out of TEF. If they had taken co-ordinated action, this could have been effective. Alas, most VCs are still in the competitive mode engendered by REF and so co-operative action has not occurred. One can only hope that by next year they might have seen sense.
The TEF is a ridiculous exercise creating yet more unnecessay bureaucracy and expensive compliance for UK universities. A complete waste if time and money. As usual it will be third rate mindless bureacrats wasting academics valuable time to fill in mindless forms destroying valuable research and teaching preparation time. This is madness of the highest degree the TEF will actually reduce the possbility of teaching exercise.
This is madness of the highest degree the TEF will actually reduce the possbility of teaching excellence.

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