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Teaching Excellent Framework: A great idea heading in the wrong direction

It's TEF day.  A day that few people have really been looking forward to, mainly because there are unlikely to be many winner - but there sure as hell will be a lot of losers.

When the whole TEF idea was announced, there were many aspects of it that I wholeheartedly supported.  The idea that Universities should be at least as concerned about their teaching quality as their research output was something that I cheered along with merrily.  Very quickly though, the whole plan became infected with compromises designed to over-simply a complex process by relying on just the data that already exists - rather than data actually designed to measure the very thing you are interested in.

So. In just the same way that Ofsted can downgrade a school where pupils have a less than 100% attendance (thereby penalising schools that accept sick children), the TEF measures teaching excellence on the basis of:

  • Dropout rates (penalising Universities committed to widening participation, where students are more likely to experience conflicting responsibilities of financial burdens, work and family);
  • Post-graduate employment (penalising Universities is areas of economic deprivation, where jobs are harder to come by);
  • Post-graduate earnings (both of the above)

The consequences of a poor TEF rating then, will only serve to encourage such Universities to recruit more exclusively from a traditional pool (goodbye widening participation), and to focus their delivery more exclusively on those courses with a higher statistical likelihood of returning high income and employability stats (goodbye the Arts).

Now don't get me wrong here.  I desperately want our students to succeed.  They have every bit as much right to decent jobs and decent salaries as any pasty-faced aristocrat graduating with a PPE degree from Oxford - in fact probably a great deal more (although as I said in my last post, I think this should be about more than just earnings).

The idea of the TEF is not bad in itself.  In terms of going about it the right way though, sad to say it doesn't get gold, silver, or bronze - because it started the race by running in the wrong direction.

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