TEF ahead: universities give way

February 2, 2017

On 26 January, the University of Warwick, like other English universities, put in its teaching excellence framework 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 innovative 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 in the TEF. 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
Vice-chancellor
University of Warwick

 

The news that virtually all English universities will take part in the teaching excellence framework (“TEF boycott fears evaporate”, News, 26 January) comes as no surprise to those who have watched the vice-chancellors oppose, criticise and then comply with government proposals over many years. Indeed, the phrase “lily-livered” is much too kind.

What is really noteworthy about the latest capitulation – before, it must be said, a particularly nasty, ideological and authoritarian government – is the way in which it undermines what is in essence higher education’s rationale: the discovery, testing and protection of ideas and knowledge for their own sake and on the basis of theories and evidence.

There simply is no scientific basis for the TEF, and none has been seriously proposed. Yet the leaders of the sector are prepared to go along with it for the sake of a few more pounds per student and for the safeguarding of their “reputations”. Some might see this as simply sad; others might see it as tragic.

Roger Brown
Former vice-chancellor
Southampton Solent University


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