News in brief - 22 January 2015

January 22, 2015

REF 2014
Data go digital

The 1,911 submissions made to the 2014 research excellence framework have been published on the REF website. The submissions, from 154 universities, include 191,150 research outputs and 6,975 impact case studies. A second, searchable database of case studies will be made available in the spring. The four UK funding bodies are currently running a number of projects to evaluate the REF, which will report in the next few months.

Comparing degree standards
Trio to ‘re-test assumptions’

Three of the UK’s funding bodies want to “re-test assumptions” about the importance of comparability of standards across the sector’s institutions. The question of whether there is still a role for external examining to provide judgements on standards is also posed in a “discussion document” that is part of a review of the UK’s quality assessment system. The document – published on 15 January by the Higher Education Funding Council for England, the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales and the Department for Employment and Learning of Northern Ireland – also notes that “the lifting of the student numbers cap in England has caused the Westminster government to worry about the quality of the students’ experience – in part at least an academic quality issue”. In October, Hefce cast the future of the Quality Assurance Agency into doubt by announcing that it would invite external bodies to bid for work undertaken by the UK-wide higher education watchdog and setting in motion a review of quality assessment.

National Student Survey
Volte-face on teachers’ feedback

A government agency has confirmed that it will now fund teacher training students’ participation in the 2015 National Student Survey despite having previously announced that it no longer wished to do so. The decision follows the Higher Education Funding Council for England’s announcement that it would take the “exceptional” step to “underwrite the inclusion of ITT students in the NSS 2015”. The latest volte-face was revealed by David Laws, the schools minister, on 13 January in a written response to a parliamentary question from Kevin Brennan, a Labour MP, who asked what were the reasons for the National College for Teaching and Leadership – the Department for Education agency that funds teacher training – withdrawing its funding of teacher training students in the NSS. “[The] NCTL has agreed to continue funding for a further year, to ensure time for a smooth transition to alternative arrangements, should the sector wish to continue receiving feedback through the National Student Survey,” Mr Laws responded. Hefce said that were there to be another change of heart, its commitment to funding ITT students’ participation would still stand.

Scottish governance
UCU warning on ‘vetting’ chairs

Candidates hoping to chair Scottish university governing bodies should not have to be “vetted”, a union says. The Scottish government’s proposed higher education governance bill would require elections to be held for the posts, but a consultation document indicated that polls would be preceded by an interview and shortlisting process. In its response, the University and College Union says that this would put too much power in the hands of those doing the shortlisting, warning that it would be wrong if only a single candidate was allowed to go forward for what would be in essence an affirmative ballot. The union says that fully open elections would better reflect the “traditional nature of the Scottish university system”.

Follow Times Higher Education on Twitter

A story last week that asked whether staff had been the victims of “hierarchical microaggression” in their university provoked a flurry of responses on Twitter. “I think ‘hierarchical microagression’ may just be another name for rudeness and social incompetence,” was @VictorianLondon’s take. @LHamiltonSmith said that the article reminded her of one of the reasons she enjoyed working at the London College of Fashion: “As far as I know, this sort of thing just doesn’t happen.” Meanwhile @ianjwarren wrote that the piece was an “interesting contribution to the perpetual debate on the admin/academic divide”.

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