RUSU white paper response

The Government undertook a consultation on the white paper about the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF). After consultation with students I have written the response to specific questions that directly relate to students.

Here is the full response to the White Paper sent to the government, but I have also written a shorter summary.

What is the white paper?

The white paper are government plans to have reforms in Higher Education. This entails the changes in tuition fees, degrees and universities themselves. The white paper is a research bill which includes the recommendations of the parliament.  Such recommendations could result in increased marketization of the higher education sector.

Our response:

Like we outlined in the responses to the green paper back in January, we identified and welcomed a look at teaching excellence in our institutions. It is important students have to ability to monitor the teaching standards of their institutions and how that maps out onto the larger picture in the sector, however the focus of this white paper was worryingly on the how employers would engage with the TEF rather than Students. Due to this focus a lot of the metrics of teaching looked at economic benefits. This is concerning as we believe that a good education has cultural and social benefits. Without these being measured and contextualised, we don’t see how teaching can be benchmarked.

The responses also scrutinised the need for a ‘highly-skilled employment’ metric for its vagueness on what highly skilled means, and how robust such a metric could be. Being in highly skilled employment could mean anything from being a nurse, hairdresser, civil engineer or mechanic. Some of these vocations require degree qualifications while others do not. The responses also addressed the bias such metrics would have on vocational degrees such as Pharmacy, Education and Law over more generic employment degrees such as Biology, Politics, Geography and Maths. We addressed fears that such a metric may cause universities to focus less on certain degrees causing a shortage in graduates of a particular subject, schools closing down and other negative effects.

We highlighted the need for metrics measuring student characteristics to be robust enough to take into account small cohorts with statistical significance while applauding the focus from the government on collecting data for students in protected characteristic groups.

We were clear that student input in the contextual statement is of vital importance. The white paper stated that universities would not be negatively affected if the students did not contribute, but we fear this would allow universities to block out student opinion. At the heart of monitoring teaching excellence should be the views of the students, they are after all the ones that are getting the education. We suggested a mandatory element of the contextual statement to be given to students, in the same way period reviews and Quality assurance reviews have.

Finally we highlighted the need in a change of language when awarding the TEF in differentiated layers. Currently meets expectations is followed by excellent then outstanding. We believed that excellent and outstanding were too similar words, and for international students of which English is not their first language, these terms could be used interchangeably. We suggested Excellent should be the highest award in a teaching excellence framework and that the middle ranking of TEF to be ‘exceeds expectations’. Without this change, institutions could inadvertently miss sell their education to students as being the top level ‘excellent’ when in fact it has not reached the highest level of TEF.

Niall Hamilton
Education Officer

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