Development of the teaching excellence framework (TEF) should be delayed in light of the UK’s vote to leave the European Union, vice-chancellors say.
In its response to the technical consultation on stage two of the TEF, which will pilot assessments of institutions in areas such as student satisfaction, retention and graduate employment, Universities UK says that the result of the EU referendum meant that the higher education sector now faced “a period of significant instability”.
UUK argues that further evolution of the TEF, including the introduction of subject-level assessments, should be put on hold as a result.
“The recruitment of overseas students – particularly from the EU – is potentially at risk, and economic forecasts are increasingly challenging, both of which have implications for the financial sustainability of the sector,” says UUK, which represents the leaders of 133 institutions. “In light of this it is essential that TEF 2, including its implementation and outcomes, is clearly treated and presented as a test exercise.
“Furthermore, future versions of the TEF, including piloting of discipline-level assessments, should not proceed until lessons about the impacts of TEF 2 have been learned.”
The government has already agreed to phase in introduction of the link between TEF scores and tuition fees more slowly than originally planned. Its current proposals would see assessments made on TEF metrics and institutional submissions made on a pilot basis in 2017-18.
The link between fees and results would come in during 2018-19, alongside piloting of assessments at disciplinary level and introduction of potential new metrics. In 2019-20, subject-level results would be linked to fees, and taught postgraduate courses would be added to the exercise.
Sector agencies’ responses to the TEF reveal broader concerns about how results would be perceived by prospective students, particularly the three proposed ratings: “meets expectations”, “excellent” and “outstanding”.
Both UUK and MillionPlus, which represents modern universities, highlight that “meets expectations” could be perceived negatively, and argue that it should be changed to “good”, while the Higher Education Academy and the National Union of Students call for reconsideration of “excellent” and “outstanding”, since they are often used as synonyms.
Sector responses also outline widespread opposition to the government’s proposal to assess universities not just on the proportion of their leavers that enter the labour market, but also on the proportion that get “graduate-level” jobs.
The government proposes to base its judgements on the Office for National Statistics’ standard occupational classification groups, but respondents argue that these have failed to keep pace with the changing graduate careers market: for example, they class shopkeepers and beauty salon managers as being highly skilled, but not university teaching assistants, who are usually PhD candidates, or veterinary nurses. Students in creative careers could also be disadvantaged, argue MillionPlus and GuildHE.
The NUS warns that such a measure could lead to universities focusing only on courses that led to high levels of “professional” employment.
“There is a considerable danger that this metric will have perverse effects on the behaviour of institutions which could lead to course closures and the undersupply of labour in certain key areas of employment,” the union’s response says.