H.E White Paper: To TEF or not to TEF?

Hannah Mason, Editor-in-Chief

Students’ Unions across the country have told the Government to ‘TEF off’ regarding a crucial part of the ‘White Paper.’

Back in November 2015 the ‘Green Paper’ report was published. The aim of this paper was to start a discussion about government proposals to changes in Higher Education (HE) for England and Wales.    The proposals include a range of measures to focus on the quality of teaching and encourage more students from widening participation backgrounds into going to University. These proposals came just weeks after another consultation assuring the standards of Higher Education in the UK.

May 2016 saw the creation of the Government’s ‘White Paper’ titled, ‘Success as a Knowledge Economy: Teaching Excellence, Social Mobility and Student Choice.’ The document is an updated version of green paper which can then become government policy providing members of parliament (PM’s) agree on the content. The final stage of Higher education reform will be the production of a Higher Education Bill.

The ‘White Paper’ includes a range of suggestions, but one of the key supporting documents driving changes within Higher Education is the TEF (Teaching Excellence Framework).  The framework aims to do the following:
– Make it easier and quicker for new high quality providers to start-up, achieve degree awarding powers and secure university status.
– Raise teaching standards so students and employers get the skills they need.
– To encourage widening participation and social mobility by require universities to publish detailed information about application, offer and progression rates, broken down by ethnicity, gender and socio-economic background.

Over the past 9 months; Universities, Students’ Unions and other organisations concerned with Higher Education across the UK responded to both the Green and White paper. With some supporting the document others criticising it as; education providers will have to go through tough and rigorous tests to receive funding and poor quality or financially unsustainable providers would not be allowed to enter.
One measure proposed to asses teaching excellence is the NSS (National Student Survey). Meaning those that score highly on the survey will be considered to be delivering excellent teaching, despite the fact that the questions are assessing student’s satisfaction. Additionally, there are concerns that NSS isn’t appropriately representative of the student population, as only final year students are required to complete the survey.

The National Union of Students are sceptical about the TEF and in an article on their website, NUS President Malia Bouattia, expressed concern over the metrics of the TEF, “worryingly, high student satisfaction can be used as a rationale to raise tuition fees.”

“A key mechanism through which this new market regime (of the Higher Education Bill) will be implemented is Teaching Excellence Framework. TEF is allegedly designed to improve teaching quality. Its actual purpose is to provide the government with data that will allow it to financially discipline institutions that fail to ‘perform’ according to very limited criteria.”

“It will trap students and staff in a lose-lose situation; either your university does well and it gets to raise fees or it does badly, receives less funding and risks being closed.”

Delegates at NUS National Conference 2016 mandated NUS to find the most effective strategy for challenging the government’s higher education reforms, by either boycotting or sabotaging the National Student Survey.

nus conf

Three options are set to be presented for consultation for NUS and Students’ Union’s coordinated response to the NSS: a full boycott, a sabotage, and an abstention on the specific TEF-related questions. (NSS Q1-12)
Last week an open letter was written in collaboration with NUS and a number of Students’ Unions across the UK to directly call on Vice Chancellors to join the debate and take an opposing stance to the Government’s proposed Teach Excellence Framework. The letter, which was published on the Guardian, entitled “TEF is an unreliable test for university teaching”, is a rallying cry and has the backing of hundreds of students and NUS delegates.

The Student Affairs Committee at UCLan Students’ Union decided against signing the open letter. Students’ Union President, Sana Iqbal, spoke to The Pulse on why that decision was made.
“We strongly believe that the TEF will not measure teaching excellence with metrics that are founded from surveys such as the NSS.

We do not believe that teaching quality will improve in correlation with increasing tuition fees.
We as a team decided not to sign the open letter calling out Vice Chancellors because we believe that the Students’ Union has an excellent partnership with UCLan’s Vice Chancellor, Professor Mike Thomas, and this tactic would not be necessary for a response.

We understand that this is a difficult position that the Government has put Higher Education institutions in, however we believe that a collective decision among a majority of Vice Chancellors to reject the TEF will have huge repercussions. The sum is always greater than the parts, and together we can all work together to improve the university experience for generations to come.”

The Pulse reached out to the university for UCLan’s view point on the TEF.

“The University of Central Lancashire will always approve of and support initiatives designed to improve the quality of teaching and learning, especially those which require collaborative partnership working between our staff and students. Bringing in the TEF should result in an improved student experience across the sector and this is welcome.”

If you have any concerns or questions in regards to the Teaching and Excellence Framework the Students’ Union encourages students to get in touch or speak to the Student Affairs Committee. Alternatively, information can be found here.

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