TEF boycott fears allayed as elite universities opt in

Higher education minister says ‘almost all’ English institutions will take part 

January 23, 2017
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Go with the flow: most of the Russell Group is set to participate in the TEF

Fears of a boycott of the UK government’s policy for measuring teaching quality by some of England’s universities have been allayed after the higher education minister said that “almost all” the country’s institutions will take part.

With the deadline for applications to year two of the teaching excellence framework (TEF) closing at noon on 26 January, concerns remained that some of England’s elite institutions would decide to opt out of the policy because vice-chancellors were doubtful that the financial benefits of inflationary fee increases would outweigh the reputational damage caused by not being rated outstanding.

In year two, universities will be assessed on their performance in student satisfaction, retention and graduate employment, as well as through their institutional submissions. They will then be given a rating of gold, silver or bronze.

A survey of the 20 English Russell Group universities by Times Higher Education found that three-quarters of them said that they would definitely be participating in year two of the TEF, with at least a further two strongly anticipated to follow.

At the time of THE's print edition going to press, only five of the universities would not publicly state whether they would be participating: the universities of Exeter, Manchester, Oxford, Sheffield and Southampton. The University of Exeter has since confirmed its participation and THE understands that Oxford was also likely to opt in.

Asked to comment on the Russell Group survey, Jo Johnson, the universities minister, told THE that it was “good news that almost all English universities, including those in the Russell Group, have confirmed that they intend to take part in the second year of the teaching excellence framework”. The Department for Education later confirmed to THE that the minister’s comment was based on what England’s universities had indicated would be their intention on the TEF.

Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, said that although it has been “helpful” for the sector to talk up a boycott of the TEF, it was “never likely to happen”.

“First, universities want the extra fee income on offer from the TEF,” he told THE. “Second, people working in higher education tend to prefer new knowledge, however imperfect, over ignorance. And third, senior leaders see the information from the TEF as a useful new management tool.”

There is still likely to be continued opposition to the TEF, with student unions throughout the country threatening to boycott the National Student Survey (NSS) – which will feed into TEF scores – in protest at universities being allowed to raise tuition fees.

Last week, the student unions of Bath Spa University and the London School of Economics became the latest to confirm their boycott of the NSS.

john.elmes@tesglobal.com

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