Imperial vice-provost: TEF a ‘godsend’ for university teaching

Simone Buitendijk says exercise forced leaders of research-intensive institutions to focus on education ‘for the first time’

July 1, 2017
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Government attempts to measure the quality of university teaching are a “godsend” for higher education as they force leaders of research-intensive institutions to focus on educational standards “for the first time”, a vice-provost of Imperial College London has claimed.

Simone Buitendijk, vice-provost for education at Imperial, which was awarded gold in the UK’s teaching excellence framework, said that universities must “participate” in the TEF and “develop it into something as good as the REF [research excellence framework]” rather than “just be critical”.

Speaking at the conference Connecting Higher Education: International Perspectives on Research-Based Education, organised by University College London, McMaster University and the University of Adelaide, Professor Buitendijk said that she had been “very critical” of assessments aimed at measuring teaching in her previous job as vice-rector magnificus at Leiden University in the Netherlands.

The Netherlands and Flemish Accreditation Organisation, established by the Dutch and Flemish governments, assesses the learning environment, learning outcomes and teaching staff at universities in the region.

But Professor Buitendijk admitted that such exercises were, ultimately, a force for good in the sector.

“For people like me, a vice-provost, TEF exercises are actually a godsend because what happens is, for the first time, the president and the provost start paying close attention to the quality of teaching and there’s real money involved so it’s a really wonderful way of putting teaching at the centre, where it should be,” she said. “It’s not a bad thing if there is very close attention being paid to teaching at research-intensive universities.”

However, while chairing a panel on the challenges and opportunities for higher education in the 21st century, Professor Buitendijk said that the “next step” for the TEF should be improving the metrics to ensure that the exercise “actually means something and that it indeed does improve the quality of education instead of becoming just a political instrument”.

Michael Arthur, provost and president of University College London, who spoke on the panel, also suggested that the TEF would bring benefits to universities in the long run.

While he claimed that the government has “missed the target a bit” with the TEF, he said that universities must “put in the effort” to improve the exercise.

“I think it’s best if the sector grabs hold of that set of issues, not leaving it to the politicians,” he said.

He added that the REF has “lifted the [quality of] research in the UK into second place in the world”, but only after 25 years of efforts to bring the exercise to its current “level of sophistication”.

Simon Marginson, director of the Centre for Global Higher Education at the UCL Institute of Education, added that the “problem of proper measures for teaching and learning will be overcome in the end, but it’s going to take some time”.

“In the interim it’s important that we don’t tolerate inadequate measures,” he said.

ellie.bothwell@timeshighereducation.com

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