‘No link’ be­tween class size and TEF out­comes

THE (Times Higher Education) - - NEWS - jack.grove@timeshigh­ere­d­u­ca­tion.com

Teach­ing stu­dents in smaller classes had no im­pact on how univer­si­ties scored in the UK’s teach­ing ex­cel­lence frame­work, de­spite the govern­ment’s in­ter­est in mak­ing this part of fu­ture met­rics for the ex­er­cise, an anal­y­sis shows.

There was also no link be­tween the pro­por­tion of staff who held a teach­ing qual­i­fi­ca­tion ac­cred­ited by the Higher Ed­u­ca­tion Academy and how well an in­sti­tu­tion fared in the as­sess­ment, ac­cord­ing to re­searchers at Cran­field Uni­ver­sity who sought to ex­am­ine whether out­stand­ing per­for­mance on two of the sec­tor’s most ac­cepted mea­sures of ed­u­ca­tional stan­dards had any bear­ing on in­sti­tu­tional out­comes.

Au­thors Richard Wild­ing and Emel Ak­tas found that there was no cor­re­la­tion be­tween staff-to-stu­dent ra­tios, which they treat as a proxy for class sizes, and the TEF awards an­nounced in June. For ex­am­ple, De Mont­fort Uni­ver­sity claimed a gold award with a stu­dent-to-staff ra­tio of 19:1, whereas Soas, Uni­ver­sity of Lon­don (11:1) achieved bronze, says the study, which used data from the Higher Ed­u­ca­tion Sta­tis­tics Agency to cal­cu­late the ra­tios.

The find­ings come as the govern­ment plans to pi­lot a “teach­ing in­ten­sity” met­ric in the sub­ject-level it­er­a­tion of the TEF, which would mea­sure con­tact hours and class sizes.

Pro­fes­sor Wild­ing and Dr Ak­tas also dis­cov­ered no cor­re­la­tion be­tween the pro­por­tion of staff who have teach­ing qual­i­fi­ca­tions and a uni­ver­sity’s TEF award. For in­stance, 90 per cent of teach­ing staff at the Uni­ver­sity of Hud­der­s­field are recog­nised as HEA fel­lows, hav­ing un­der­taken teacher train­ing recog­nised by the or­gan­i­sa­tion, while only 3 per cent of aca­demics at the Uni­ver­sity of Cam­bridge can claim the same award; yet both in­sti­tu­tions re­ceived gold awards in the TEF.

Con­versely, 83 per cent of York St John Uni­ver­sity teach­ing staff are HEA fel­lows – the third-high­est pro­por­tion in the UK, ac­cord­ing to data for 2014-15 pub­lished by Hesa – yet the in­sti­tu­tion re­ceived a bronze award, as did the Lon­don School of Eco­nomics, where only 13 per cent of teach­ing staff pos­sess an HEA award, the au­thors found.

The study is likely to spark fur­ther de­bate about the va­lid­ity of the TEF’s re­sults in ad­vance of an in­de­pen­dent re­view of the frame­work, which is set to take place in 2018-19 ahead of the po­ten­tial in­tro­duc­tion of sub­ject-level re­sults.

A Univer­si­ties UK re­port re­leased last month, which was based on re­sponses from 83 of its mem­bers be­fore the pub­li­ca­tion of the TEF re­sults, found that only 2 per cent of in­sti­tu­tions agreed that the frame­work would “ac­cu­rately as­sess teach­ing and learn­ing ex­cel­lence”, whereas 73 per cent dis­agreed (25 per cent were neu­tral).

Asked what new met­rics should be pri­ori­tised for in­clu­sion in any fu­ture ver­sions of the TEF, 43 per cent of re­spon­dents high­lighted teach­ing qual­i­fi­ca­tions – a more pop­u­lar choice than lon­gi­tu­di­nal ed­u­ca­tion out­comes (LEO) data on grad­u­ate earn­ings (cited by 27 per cent), which will be in­cluded in the fu­ture TEF.

Pro­fes­sor Wild­ing, Cran­field’s pro­fes­sor of sup­ply chain strat­egy, told Times Higher Ed­u­ca­tion that he was keen to take for­ward the de­bate on “what the TEF is ac­tu­ally mea­sur­ing” and hoped that the anal­y­sis “opened up a lot more ques­tions about the TEF for in­sti­tu­tions”.

Are smaller class sizes nec­es­sar­ily bet­ter? a new study is likely to spark fur­ther de­bate about the va­lid­ity of the TEF’s re­sults

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