Scrap England’s subject-level TEF, sector groups urge

The teaching excellence framework “needs urgent fixing” at all levels, review is warned

March 6, 2019
Scrapped bikes
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English sector groups have called on the government to “seriously rethink” implementing the subject-level assessment in the teaching excellence framework, with the Russell Group calling for it to be scrapped outright.

In its submission to the independent review of the TEF, which is being led by Dame Shirley Pearce, the group of research-intensive universities said that the subject-level assessment, which is being piloted for a second year, was likely to mislead students and “should not be taken forward”.

The Russell Group said there were too many “statistical and other weaknesses” to overcome and therefore subject-level ratings would mislead students. The submission pointed to the fact that the numbers of students on individual courses are often too small to enable any meaningful analysis but aggregating subjects into larger groups to build more meaningful data would undermine the point of the exercise.

In its submission, GuildHE said that the subject-level assessment brings an added layer of burden to already stretched institutions, particularly among smaller providers.

Last month, Universities UK also called on ministers to reconsider the subject-level assessment, warning it could push the cost of the exercise to £246,000 per provider.

MillionPlus said that “while it is right that providers are accountable, the more time that is spent on these requirements, the less time is available to support students”, and this also goes for the cost of the TEF.

The Russell Group warned of the risk that certain subjects, despite being popular or of value, could result in low TEF scores and thus institutions would end up closing them. Universities would be discouraged from opening new, innovative courses for fear it could result in an initial low score, it added.

The university groups also took aim at the problems with the wider approach of the TEF and with provider-level assessment. The submissions agreed that the current metrics used do not measure teaching excellence but are proxies that measure satisfaction, perception, facilities within universities and a range of personal trajectories that occur after graduation, which is acknowledged by the consultation itself. The use of employment outcomes and graduate salaries was highlighted as a particularly unhelpful metric in the submissions.

MillionPlus said that the metrics used, while “rich and informative”, were too complex with too many variants that are beyond the control of the institution, which prevent people from engaging with the detail. The group proposed publishing results on a dashboard, rather than a single bronze, silver or gold rating, “enabling users to understand and engage with performance across the entire range of assessment areas”.

The Russell Group also suggested replacing the medal rating system with a “profile approach”, which it said would better recognise the diversity of the sector and provide additional information for prospective applicants.

MillionPlus said that if there had to be single ratings, there were better alternatives to the “somewhat clumsy sporting metaphor” currently used. GuildHE proposed using “good, very good and outstanding”, which would better reflect the fact that all providers have had to reach a high standard in order to be registered.

The University Alliance said in its submission that it felt the TEF is right in principle but wrong in execution and called for "urgent reform" of the exercise. “It has neither confidence nor a consensus behind it right across the sector. The TEF has no clear transparent and clear overall governance, leading to mission creep as ministers chase headlines by putting in new criteria. The award structure is flawed, blurring rather than clarifying how institutions are held accountable for teaching quality,” a spokesman told Times Higher Education.

anna.mckie@timeshighereducation.com

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