TEF: pull back from link to fees, urges Million+

Government urged to change plans to avoid damage to English universities’ global reputation

October 30, 2015
Driving off a cliff

The government should pull back from its plans to link outcomes from the teaching excellence framework to permission to raise tuition fees in line with inflation, according to Million+.

The group of modern universities says in a paper published today that there are “grave doubts about whether an assessment-driven TEF linked with fees is the best way to improve teaching excellence”.

While ministers are right to seek to give greater recognition to quality teaching, “the reality is that the outcomes of university teaching cannot simply be evaluated by degree outcomes or graduate earnings”, says the paper, written by Million+ chief executive Pam Tatlow and chair Dave Phoenix, vice-chancellor of London South Bank University.  

They also warn that linking the TEF to fee rises brings the “potential for legal challenge…and for institutional game-playing”, as has been seen in research assessment.

They add that “any suggestion” that institutions given a clean bill of health in the quality assurance regime could be judged as falling short in the TEF “would be highly damaging”.

“It would undermine the reputation of universities within the UK and in the international higher education market and it would risk undermining the quality assurance process itself,” the paper says.

Ms Tatlow and Professor Phoenix do say that if no extra government investment in universities is forthcoming, or if November’s spending review “undermines the unit of resource and cuts further into what remains of direct grant”, there should be a rise in the fee cap “to meet the increased costs of provision regardless of any TEF and provided that universities have been successful in quality assurance”.

But they warn that a TEF linked to fees “has the potential to reduce risk-taking and innovation in teaching, learning and assessment”, as well as to undermine “the UK’s global reputation for high-quality higher education – a reputation that has been hard-won and well-earned”.


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