Resistance to TEF is based on good reasons

February 23, 2017

In the article “TEF could redefine idea of ‘great’ universities, says vice-chancellor” (News, 16 February), Edward Peck, the vice-chancellor of Nottingham Trent University, expresses bemusement about “hostility” to the teaching excellence framework.

To help overcome this bemusement, let me spell out a few of the reasons why many academics and students are hostile to the TEF:

1. The justification given for the TEF was that teaching in UK universities was “patchy” and in some cases “lamentable”, and that students and employers were dissatisfied. This was based on manipulated data and cherry-picked information from reports that do not stand scrutiny.

2. There were 618 responses to the TEF consultation. Some 75 to 80 per cent of respondents disagreed with or were unsure about some key aspects of the proposals: in particular the use of metrics, and the linking of TEF ratings to the ability to raise tuition fees. Good arguments were put forward to justify these views, but they have been ignored.

3. For the stated aim of the TEF, removing poor teaching, it is not necessary to have league tables rating all institutions. It is simply necessary to identify those where teaching is problematic, as is already done by the Quality Assurance Agency.

4. The validity of the National Student Survey as a measure of teaching quality has been roundly criticised, and these criticisms appear to have been accepted by the chair of the TEF.

5. The statistical properties of NSS data have been described as unsuitable as a measure of teaching quality by the Office for National Statistics, the Royal Statistical Society and, most recently, by Lord Lipsey, chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Statistics.

I agree that we need a diverse sector that caters for students with different backgrounds and needs. I fear that Peck is deceived, however, if he imagines that the TEF will lead to the funnelling of funds to institutions that traditionally have not done well in research-based league tables. The only consequence of linking the TEF to fees is that some institutions will become unviable. It seems that the main purpose of the TEF is to create a gap in the market that “new providers” can fill. The current crop of new providers, however, does not give one confidence that this will be an effective way of achieving teaching excellence.

Anyone who argues against this is accused of being part of a self-interested cabal, because it seems that the government simply cannot comprehend the idea of academics whose main motivation is to keep our universities strong and successful, and to ensure that we do not introduce potentially damaging changes with inadequate evidence.


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