The failure of universities to supply sufficiently robust data on staff teaching qualifications is another obstacle to the government’s bid to introduce a teaching excellence framework, according to sector observers.
The Higher Education Funding Council for England has asked universities to say how many of their staff hold an accredited teaching qualification, with the information viewed as a potential metric for inclusion in the teaching excellence framework planned by the government.
Universities able to show that they offer “high-quality teaching” will be allowed to increase tuition fees in line with inflation from 2017-18, the chancellor, George Osborne, has said.
Teaching qualifications are regarded by many experts as a key indicator of commitment to teaching.
But universities in England were unable to submit data for 59,408, or 40.8 per cent, of their 145,773 academic staff in 2013-14, according to information published by Hefce on 5 August.
Of the 86,365 staff on whom data are held, some 55,542 academics held a recognised teaching qualification, representing 38 per cent of the academic workforce. Twenty-one per cent of staff – 30,823 in total – are known not to hold a teaching qualification.
While the rate of “unknowns” is lower than in 2012-13, when it was more than 50 per cent, the lack of data has prevented the publication of rates of teaching qualifications by institution, Hefce says.
The funding body has instead privately written to institutions asking them to verify their own data, as well as providing them with comparisons with similar institutions.
The sector’s failure to publish institution-level comparisons on teaching qualifications raises further questions about the tight timetable for the TEF’s implementation, particularly given the strong student demand for the release of such information, said Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute.
“This is another piece of evidence that shows getting even a ‘TEF lite’ into place by 2017 will be very hard,” said Mr Hillman.
He also asked why universities had failed to collect the required information from their staff.
“If teaching is considered as much as it should be, universities would be pressing their staff quite hard on this,” Mr Hillman said.
“It’s hard to think of any other profession where you are unable to get hold of the data on the qualifications held by staff doing the job.”
The 2015 Student Academic Experience Survey, published in June by Hepi and the Higher Education Academy, pointed to strong student demand for these data, with 39 per cent of students rating teaching qualifications as the most important indicator of a lecturer’s competence, Mr Hillman said.
He believed that there was a strong case for Hefce to publish the available data on teaching qualifications with attached warnings about their robustness.
“One of the ways to make bad data better is to publish it and have a debate about it,” Mr Hillman said.
“The raw material of academia is interpreting and analysing data thoughtfully, so if anyone is able to provide the necessary caveats and warnings to make it available, then it should be higher education,” he added.