TEF – is it our fault?

The higher education Green Paper was published on 6 November 2015. According to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, the proposals are designed to:

  • introduce a Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) that will deliver better value for money for students, employers and taxpayer
  • increase access and success in higher education participation for those from disadvantaged and under-represented group
  • create a new single gateway for entry and create a create common system for all provider
  • establish a new Office for Students to promote the student interest and ensure value for money, and to reduce the regulatory burden on the sector

What does TEF mean for academics in the higher education sector. Is this another mechanism for the government to interfere with universities and introduce costly, bureaucratic processes that sends a message that our teaching is excellent across the board. Or are we saying to the world that the quality of teaching at British universities is variable and we need to impose teaching metrics so that institutions can justify tution fees that will increase with inflation.

The higher education Green Paper has already stirred considerable controversy. Excellent teaching and learning do not happen automatically. It takes decades to learn how to teach and develop professionally. Academics are appointed as leaders of research with extensive training as scientists, that contribute to metrics in the Research Excellence Framework (REF). However, there is little teacher training, mentoring, self-appraisal and continuous professional development to improve the teaching and learning portfolio, so is it our fault that the government is imposing TEF? With the sector already overworked, how could we accomodate any more hours into the working day. There is debate on whether academics should work 80 hours a week just to survive at university (https://www.timeshighereducation.com/blog/you-do-not-need-work-80-hours-week-succeed-academia).

If TEF is going to work, then every university should have a leader appointed expressly to oversee the quality of teaching and learning, and the Directors of Institutes, Heads of Schools and Deans must see themselves as leaders of education and not just as leaders of research. Student feedback should be at the heart of the evaluation process. Afterall, undergraduates know better than anyone, and certainly better than the academics themesleves, who are the good lecturers and teachers.

Teaching and learning must focus on three key areas. The students should be engaged, they should make progress and the academic should evaluate and give constructive feedback on their work. All academics can learn how to improve at these, but to do so requires a certain level of open mindness to want to learn and change from the norm. But if this is going to work, the leaders in teaching need to give academics the time to develop professionally and integrate innovative teaching mechanisms into their every day activity. The lack of leadership on education and teaching by some universities should not be an excuse for their inactivity in the future.