The move to a fully implemented teaching excellence framework in England should only happen once the government can show that “its metrics have the confidence of students and universities”, MPs have warned.
The Business, Innovation and Skills Committee says in a report on assessing quality in higher education published today that the government should consult carefully on next steps in the TEF.
“A poorly designed or rushed TEF will not serve students, HEIs, government or the taxpayer and could negatively affect reputations,” says the report of the committee, on which Conservative MPs have a majority.
“Equally, a well-designed and implemented TEF could provide a model for other nations and enhance the UK’s already strong position.”
The government has proposed that TEF1, a single level award based on recent Quality Assurance Agency review, will be introduced for 2017-18, allowing successful institutions to raise tuition fees in line with inflation.
TEF2 would follow for 2018-19, with a range of metrics and up to four different award levels, each linked to a different fee cap up to a maximum of inflation.
The TEF would be refined in subsequent years, notably with the introduction of metrics on learning gain.
The BIS Committee report says that the government should consult “suitable metrics on widening participation” within the TEF.
It urges that the sector and the government alike should see it as a priority to ensure “speedy establishment of potentially viable metrics to learning gain”, currently the subject of pilot studies commissioned by the Higher Education Funding Council for England.
And it says that the government should “set out in detail its response to the concerns that have been raised about the suitability of the proposed metrics”.
The report also says: “A multi-tiered TEF should only be introduced once government can demonstrate its metrics have the confidence of students and universities. Achieving the necessary degree of confidence is in part dependent on the timetable for full introduction.”
And it recommends that the government “continues to work with the devolved administrations in order to monitor the consequences of increasing divergence within the UK arising from the TEF, both for the UK brand as a whole and for prospective students at home and abroad”.
One Labour member of the committee, Paul Blomfield, said in his own statement that “the government must not link teaching excellence to fee increases”, adding that “all the evidence” the committee received “led to that conclusion”.
Maddalaine Ansell, the University Alliance chief executive, said: “The BIS Committee is right to focus on the need for the TEF to deliver genuine improvements and preserve the strong reputation of UK higher education. To succeed it must build on – not undermine – the best practice, innovative teaching and research-informed learning which we see across the sector.
“Today’s report also reflects University Alliance’s call for the TEF to be delivered in stages to guard against unintended consequences. We hope ministers will pay heed to this message.”
Dave Phoenix, chair of Million+ and vice-chancellor of London South Bank University, said: “MPs are right to recognise that it is timely to review how we continue to enhance teaching excellence.
“Importantly they have fully appreciated that imposing a teaching excellence framework on universities without a period of development and evaluation would divert from current efforts to enhance the quality of teaching, restrict innovation and risk damaging rather than enhancing the reputation of UK higher education overseas.”
On changes to sector regulation, the BIS Committee report notes that witnesses “cited the vital importance of the role of the independent QAA in providing the kitemark of quality that underpins the sector’s international competitiveness”.
Douglas Blackstock, the QAA chief executive, said: “I agree with the select committee that the quality assurance of UK higher education must remain independent from government and the new regulator, continuing the UK system of co-regulation.
He added: “The QAA is regarded internationally as a leader in its field, and we are committed to working with the new Office for Students in our role as the independent protector of quality and standards in UK higher education.”
A BIS spokesman said: “We welcome the committee's recognition of the steps we are taking to drive up the quality of teaching in universities. We want to ensure students get real value for money and graduate with the skills employers need.
“As the committee states in their report, our approach could help to ensure that higher education institutions meet student expectations and improve on their leading international position.
“We will carefully consider the committee’s findings and will set out further detail in our response to the Green Paper and consultation.”