Universities & Science Minister Jo Johnson’s speech to the Universities UK Annual Conference this week (9th September 2015) draws attention to the role that the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) will play in the forthcoming green paper and the ongoing transformation of the Higher Education landscape.
In summary, Johnson’s speech announced:
- The introduction of the Teaching Excellence Framework will allow those with “high quality teaching” to increase fees with inflation and that “high quality” will most likely be linked to graduate employment figures (especially in graduate-level jobs). This will somehow be used to give teaching in higher education the same “professional recognition and career and pay progression” as research, although how it proposes to do this is unclear
- Widening participation: targets to double 2009 entry rate from disadvantaged backgrounds by 2020 and to increase entry, completion and progression to work rates of BME students by 20% through better analysis of data.
- Re-opening applications for Degree Award Powers and University Title to alternative providers, with aim to speed up process, in order to increase competition.
- Simplification and rationalization of regulatory regime, including REF process.
The backdrop to the TEF is the government’s quandary over the economics of HE funding: the high number of graduates expected not to cross the earnings threshold at which they begin repaying loans and so, with the trebling of tuition fees, the continued high levels of debt associated with HE funding despite the attempt to make cuts in direct funding and the failure to create a market in HE because of the decision of most institutes to set fees near to the maximum level. The government is therefore reluctant to introduce a genuine market (since the increase in fees will have to matched by higher loans) but wants to have a greater variation in fees to increase competition within the sector, and the primary mechanisms at its disposal for doing so are the cap on tuition fees and student number controls. In 2015, the cap on student numbers was lifted for HEFCE-funded institutions but it will be retained for alternative providers without degree-awarding powers as a way of managing budgets and improving quality. The TEF will be used to allow some institutions to increase fees in line with inflation (since as inflation begins to increase the value of the capped £9k fees begins to diminish for institutions). Linking these fee increases to teaching quality will allow reassurances to be made about the improved regulation and quality of HE for consumers. A recent HEFCE consultation document note that “initial views from the Government are that a cyclical, external, independent, peer review will form a key part of the coming TEF” (i.e. OSTED-like inspections for HE). Severing the link between teaching and research will presumably help increase the number of academic staff on teaching-only contracts and so either reduce costs or – if professional recognition and pay for teaching is to be made equal – increase teaching workloads.
The TEF will be primarily linked to graduate employment figures because, according to theories of human capital, investment in education and training should lead to increased earnings and the ongoing expansion of higher education should therefore lead to economic growth. The increased amount of debt related to student loans that accompanies this expansion is a problem, however, so the government wants to encourage courses that lead to graduate employment because this should increase economic growth and reduce the student loan debt by improving repayment figures. Permitting a partial relaxation of the cap will also introduce greater variation in course fees and so open up more of a market between kinds of providers; linking this to employment figures justifies the return on investment for the student.
A few recent posts giving more detail about the speech and the TEF: