For many the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) is yet another initiative from Government, I often hear this view and I do understand it, however, the TEF also offers the sector an opportunity and as a leader I think it is important to respond and work with BIS and others to use it to help enhance teaching quality.
As both as a national incentive and for Huddersfield I hope that ideally the TEF will produce a stronger, more strategic focus on teaching enhancement. It may draw attention to pockets of underachievement and student dissatisfaction, both nationally and within individual institutions. It could provide support for staff leading teaching and learning and for those who wish to develop their careers in that direction.
Some aspects of the TEF stand out as having particular importance, both for institutions and the sector as a whole. At the risk of sounding managerialist, I believe getting the best metrics is going to be crucial, if the TEF really is going to enhance teaching quality. While this may sound a rather esoteric area, metrics have an overriding importance, as they have the potential to encourage institutions’ strategy and behaviour.
I would like to see the metrics recognise that there are external factors which impact on student performance. Benchmarks should be adjusted to take account of POLAR data, ethnicity and home domiciled students in particular. We know from HEFCE’s own sponsored research that these factors impact significantly on retention, achievement and graduate outcomes.
The Green Paper recognised underachievement by certain groups, and it is right TEF metrics interrogate this. Like other modern institutions we are concerned that this could simply be used as a mechanism for downgrading institutions which take large proportions of students from such backgrounds – deeming those institutions to have failed in their teaching. Benchmarking has to acknowledge that poverty, culture and home life have a significant impact on students’ achievements in ways that are outside the control of the HEI. For example, certain minority ethnic groups are far more likely to live at home, and to be under pressure from parents and extended family to undertake other chores and responsibilities and to spend little time on campus. There are positive signs in the White Paper that these views have been heard, and that the TEF will allow for judgements to reflect excellence in these important contexts through proper benchmarking. It is now important that the technical consultation turns these aspirations into processes that work for institutions doing the heavy lifting in bringing real access to professional careers to the widest audience based on talent not privilege.
We will act to support students from a wide range of backgrounds as effectively as possible, but cannot compensate for major social and financial inequalities. There is a danger that provision where benchmarks do not sufficiently reflect social context will close: as the most socially-inclusive provision in any subject will become very vulnerable. Institutions must not be pushed to group round socially-segmented portfolios to protect themselves from facing measures characteristic of more socially-elite institutions.
I think it is important to focus on graduate outcomes and to have no focus whatsoever on graduate salaries. This may seem to be contrary to some of the discussion around the TEF, however, if the TEF is to measure and therefor encourage high quality teaching it is important that it does so without being skewed by unrelated external factors.
It should make clear that there is no correlation between what you earn and the quality of the teaching you receive. External factors and personal factors impact significantly on employment choices and opportunities. A lawyer who goes into community law has not been less well taught that one who has a very high salary in corporate law. Social capital –an individual’s contacts and the acknowledged tendency of prestigious employers to deploy self-image recruiting and only recruit from a limited number of institutions all contribute to ensuring that graduates do not have equal chances to access highly paid positions, regardless of their success and the quality of the teaching they have received.
If we are focusing on improving teaching quality it is worth including some metrics that relate to process and to investment in teaching, such as numbers of staff who are qualified to teach, numbers who are HEA fellows and appropriate use of the UKPSF. While in a sense these are output measures rather than ones which identify improvements in outcomes, they complement and support other metrics and as a result they could make an important contribution to help the sector focus on improving teaching.
I am convinced that the TEF has the potential to enhance the status of teaching, if well designed an effectively implemented. However, while I believe it is possible to enhance the status of teaching there are real challenges in moving towards parity of standing with research.
I think it is unlikely that research and teaching could ever achieve equal status in the sector, given the deeply embedded cultures across the academy as a whole, but specific strategies could be adopted, particularly with regard to reward and promotion opportunities. Currently it is possible in most institutions to make minimal or no contribution to teaching and receive the highest rewards and status.
Our own experience indicates some of what is possible and we are in the process of enhancing the status of teaching among our staff.
We have been able to generate not only better understanding but also a new willingness to talk about teaching excellence. This has been encouraged both by comparing data to highlight achievement and set expectations, by showcasing teaching achievements through events, conferences and awards, through KPIs linked to the University’s Teaching and Learning Strategy, and by encouraging student engagement and input into teaching events and celebrations.
While experience like ours and across the sector demonstrates both challenges and opportunities, I believe we need to focus on the opportunities which face us and work together to bring about the best possible outcomes for the sector.
Professor Bob Cryan CBE DL FREng
Professor Bob Cryan CBE was appointed to his first Professorial Chair at the age of 30 and at the time he was the youngest Professor of Engineering in the UK. He then went on to become the youngest Vice-Chancellor in the UK when he took up his post at his hometown University, the University of Huddersfield, in January 2007, a University that now has over 22,000 students from over 120 countries. Bob is proud to be a graduate of the University and to have had first-hand experience of the life-changing potential and the tremendous support that Huddersfield offers its students.
Bob is delighted that the hard work of the University’s staff and students is being recognised through many awards including a Queen's Anniversary Prize (2015) recognising the University's role in expanding the global boundaries of new music, The Daily Telegraph Educate North New University of the Year 2015/16, the Times Higher University of the Year 2013/14, the Queen’s Award for Enterprise 2013 and the Times Higher Entrepreneurial University of the Year 2012/13.