Limits of the TEF

November 17, 2016

Your article rightly notes that the results of the UK Engagement Survey could have implications for the proposed teaching excellence framework, although it doesn’t explicitly state that the survey results undermine the idea that contact hours might be used as a proxy for standards (“Independent study more useful than contact hours, study suggests”, News, 3 November). However, like all measures actually proposed for the TEF, this survey has its own sharp limitations.

To begin with, the old adage about correlation not equating to causation applies. Students are self-selecting as to whether they study more or less. Respondents also reported their perceptions of their own skill development. In essence, students who decided to do more independent study believed – rightly or wrongly – that they developed more skills. The fact that students at post-92 institutions report doing less independent study may well be a result of a greater need to work in order to support themselves. Also worrying is the observation that female students were more likely than men to be working for pay or engaged in caring activities, which were less beneficial in terms of perceived career skills than taking part in sporting activities – an activity more often engaged in by male students.

In short, the survey results do undermine one potential measure in the TEF, but we shouldn’t be looking to improve the TEF. Teaching and learning are such multi-faceted activities that there simply aren’t any measures that are good enough to capture so-called “teaching excellence”. The TEF will not help students and should be scrapped.

David Hardman
Chair, UCU London Region

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