TEF ‘others’ international students, claims scholar

Keele University academic argues that the TEF ‘legitimises’ and ‘amplifies subordination’ of overseas students

February 9, 2017
Man looking the other way at horse race
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Academics have not shied away from criticising the UK government’s teaching excellence framework (TEF), with many griping that the metrics will not adequately measure teaching excellence and that allowing universities to raise fees based on the results would be “daft and stupid”.

Now a scholar at Keele University has highlighted what she sees as another shortfall of the assessment: that the absence of metrics and discussions regarding the situation of international students in the TEF and higher education Green Paper reveal signs of the “othering” of overseas students.

In the paper “Why international students have been ‘TEF-ed out’?”, published in the Educational Review, Aneta Hayes, lecturer in education, draws on coverage of the TEF in Times Higher Education to argue that the exercise “legitimises” and “amplifies subordination” of international students and positions them as “beneficiaries of the prestigious English education”.

For instance, she said that the Green Paper only mentions international students in relation to the fact that improving the quality of teaching in the UK will guarantee the highest monetary returns for the sector, citing its claim that the TEF will offer “significant reputational advantage and help recruit students from both home and internationally”.

She added that while the government claims to “incorporate and reflect the diversity of the sector” and take into account that “perceptions of excellence vary between students, institutions and employers”, it only focuses on groups that are “nationally relevant”, such as “disadvantaged and under-represented groups that enter HE through widening participating routes”.

Meanwhile, although the acknowledgement that “all students receive effective support in order to achieve their educational goals and potential” might be “well-meaning”, it seems to “bear implications for one-directional change that burdens international students with the responsibility to adapt, not vice versa”, she said.

She admitted that the “othering” may not be intentional but instead linked to “nationally entrenched constructions of international students that have traditionally positioned this group as inferior and unequal”.    

One solution, she said, would be to add an “internationalisation at home” metric, which could measure internationalisation of curricula and the adoption of culturally sensitive pedagogies.

She said this metric “could capture real teaching excellence” and has the potential to create “more equal conditions for cultural plurality in the TEF and therefore give greater status to international students before other groups in higher education”.

In a second paper titled "Teaching Excellence Framework in the UK: an opportunity to include international students as 'equals'?", which has not yet been published, she said that despite proposals to "split" TEF indicators based on the National Student Survey between home and international students, "equal and respectful engagement with their unique views and perspectives in the classroom is still not considered".


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