Top UK universities are considering a boycott of new quality tests. A number of universities have indicated they will not participate in the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF), which the government plans to make universities’ ability to increase tuition fees dependent on passing.
Russell Group universities, including Oxford and Cambridge, have refused to confirm whether they will be participating in these quality assessments. If these top universities refuse to comply with the scheme it would threaten the policy’s credibility and the government’s plans for higher education reform. From autumn 2017 universities will be able to charge a maximum of £9,250 a year, allowing many modern UK universities to demand costlier fees than those universities which have historically higher performance rankings.
If the TEF deems a university to be underperforming, they would not only lose the right to raise fees but have to lower them back to £9,000. Universities that meet higher quality standards will be able to raise fees by the rate of inflation, at present £250 per student a year.
Aldwyn Cooper, Vice Chancellor of the private institution, Regents University London, said: “I think there will be institutions that decide not to take part in year two because they fear the metrics that are selected will not be ones that are friendly towards them, and also there are not enormous benefits to them to participate. There is a danger for better institutions whereby, if they get a low TEF score, it could be used against them internationally.”
Some university vice-chancellors have questioned the new regulatory requirements. They believe this system would not justify the marginal rise in fees. The TEF would firstly put universities under the inspection of the Quality Assurance Agency to monitor the standards of teaching. Then universities will be ranked on university’s student surveys, drop-out rates and their graduates’ success in finding jobs, along with assessments by expert panels of teaching standards. The universities would then be divided into categories of: “meeting expectations, excellent or outstanding” and only those in the latter two categories will be allowed to raise fees. Additionally, a failure to achieve the highest grade could affect the status of a top university.
A survey by Times Higher Education (THE) magazine found University College London, Bristol and York were the only three Russell Group universities of the 20 in England who had confirmed they would enter this second stage of the TEF. A spokesman at the Department for Education said: “The Teaching Excellence Framework will give students clear, understandable information about where the best teaching is on offer and for the first time, place teaching quality on a par with research at our universities.”
Comment: Jessica Frank-Keyes says university is about more than just satisfaction scores
The Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) makes it more explicit than ever that British universities are becoming educational bargain basements. In this new world order, the student is now the customer: only permitted to experience the highest possible level of satisfaction. Academia is now a business: forever justifying their chase towards higher and higher fees.
The creeping governmental commercialisation of the Higher Education sector threatens the intellectual fabric of our institutions, and puts the needs of students and academics behind those of budgetary and ideological constraints. But worse than the marketisation of education is the fact that awarding funding to universities based on a metric of scores and ‘satisfaction’ results destroys the idea that higher education exists in order to challenge, unsettle and provoke. Coming to university can open your mind to ideas you’ve never before encountered; it can smash prejudices you’ve never so much as questioned; and reveal sides of yourself you never knew existed. This cannot – and should not – always be a comfortable process.
Questioning yourself and learning that your ideas about the world were misinformed, judgmental or wrong is hard, and replacing this uphill slog towards a better version of yourself with the mundane complacency of satisfaction scores is an exercise in pointlessness. While the cynical among us may say this soul-searching I’m describing is simply the process of evolving into adulthood, there is something special about having this experience alongside other people doing the exact same thing every day. A university education is a huge privilege to receive. We aren’t entitled to consumer satisfaction in the same vein as Topshop’s 14 day returns policy, despite our NUS discount cards.
We can’t allow students to be treated as customers and putting a higher premium on financial than on educational value does just that. Universities ñ and education itself ñ are about so much more than value for money.