The inability of universities to demonstrate the effectiveness of initiatives aimed at improving participation, retention and student success is “increasingly untenable” as the teaching excellence framework approaches.
That is according to the Higher Education Funding Council for England, which has published a major review of why outcomes vary among different student groups that found that “relatively few” interventions by universities have been evaluated systematically, in part because many are at an early stage.
In its response to the study, Hefce says that a “key priority” will be to develop an “outcomes framework” that can, among other things, “support the provision of indicators that could be used in quality assessment and possibly a TEF”.
The funding council says that a condition of grant for any new initiatives that it funds will be evaluation using “rigorous research methods”.
The report, published on 23 July, explores why students from poorer socio-economic backgrounds, from ethnic minorities and with disabilities are sometimes more likely to drop out and less likely to get a good degree.
Researchers at King’s College London, the University of Manchester and the Arc Network – a consultancy specialising in access issues – detail studies that suggest that many students from non-typical backgrounds feel that their identities are not reflected in their university courses, and that this may affect their performance.
White middle-class students’ prior educational experience and accumulated social capital may better equip them to use support systems and peer networks at university, while poorer students are more likely to have to juggle their studies with part-time work, the report says.
In addition, it is possible that some staff’s “low expectations” of some students may have the effect of “exacerbating previous educational disadvantage such that its impact continues to accumulate” at university.
The report details many attempts by universities to bring more cultural and social sensitivity to learning and teaching but, as the Hefce response says, this work tends “to be patchy and often reliant on individual members of staff”.
Hefce says that there is no “one-size-fits-all” approach to solving differential outcomes, and that institutions need “to develop strategic frameworks within which multiple interventions can be developed, tested and, if effective, embedded in their own context”.