Sub­ject-level TEF a ‘higher bur­den’

Uni­ver­si­ties to be as­sessed across 34 dis­ci­plinary ar­eas in re­vised pilot scheme. Anna McKie writes

THE (Times Higher Education) - - NEWS - Anna.mckie@timeshigh­ere­d­u­ca­tion.com

Aca­demics have ex­pressed con­cern about the grow­ing cost to UK uni­ver­si­ties of par­tic­i­pat­ing in the teach­ing ex­cel­lence frame­work af­ter the gov­ern­ment ad­mit­ted that its lat­est plans for the ex­er­cise would lead to a “higher bur­den on providers”.

For the sub­ject-level ver­sion of the coun­try’s sec­tor-wide eval­u­a­tion of teach­ing stan­dards, min­is­ters had been con­sid­er­ing two mod­els of as­sess­ment: one that would have seen broad sub­ject ar­eas given rat­ings of “gold”, “sil­ver” or “bronze”, and an­other that would have seen in­di­vid­ual de­part­ments as­sessed only if stu­dent met­rics sug­gested that their per­for­mance var­ied sig­nif­i­cantly from the over­all in­sti­tu­tional award.

Now, how­ever, the West­min­ster gov­ern­ment has an­nounced plans to con­duct de­tailed as­sess­ments of uni­ver­si­ties’ per­for­mance in 34 spe­cific sub­ject ar­eas, rat­ing them in ar­eas such as stu­dent sat­is­fac­tion and re­ten­tion, and grad­u­ate em­ploy­ment.

De­tail­ing its plans for the sec­ond year of the sub­ject-level pilot, the De­part­ment for Ed­u­ca­tion said that a con­sul­ta­tion with uni­ver­si­ties had raised con­cerns about the lack of co­her­ence in the broad sub­ject ar­eas that had been un­der con­sid­er­a­tion pre­vi­ously, and the lack of ro­bust­ness in the “by ex­cep­tion” model.

While the re­vised model will lead to “a higher bur­den on providers and a greater cost of run­ning the ex­er­cise”, the “first pri­or­ity should be to de­velop a ro­bust model of as­sess­ment that pro­duces mean­ing­ful rat­ings for stu­dents”, ac­cord­ing to the DfE.

Un­der the new pro­pos­als, which will be pi­loted this year be­fore be­ing im­ple­mented in 2019-20, provider­level and sub­ject-level as­sess­ments will run in par­al­lel, with the main panel be­ing given the op­por­tu­nity to con­sider the pro­file of dis­ci­plinary rat­ings be­fore set­tling on an over­all score.

How­ever, re­flect­ing the in­creased bur­den, sub­ject-level as­sess­ments will be con­ducted only ev­ery other year. Par­tic­i­pa­tion in the TEF is a con­di­tion of English uni­ver­si­ties’ regis­tra­tion with the Of­fice for Stu­dents.

Paul Ash­win, pro­fes­sor of higher ed­u­ca­tion at Lan­caster Uni­ver­sity, said that the re­vised pro­pos­als looked like a “mas­sive un­der­tak­ing”.

“If they are go­ing to as­sess ev­ery sub­ject in the way they say, then clearly that will be a big ad­min­is­tra­tive bur­den, not just for in­sti­tu­tions but for the TEF it­self,” Pro­fes­sor Ash­win said.

Other pro­posed changes for the sec­ond year of the pilot in­clude two new met­rics from the Na­tional Stu­dent Sur­vey, cov­er­ing learn­ing re­sources and how uni­ver­si­ties take ac­count of the “stu­dent voice”. Earn­ings data from the Lon­gi­tu­di­nal Ed­u­ca­tion Out­comes dataset will now be a “core” met­ric, rather than be­ing some­thing that could be con­sid­ered “sup­ple­men­tary” in­for­ma­tion.

How­ever, widely crit­i­cised plans to mea­sure the “teach­ing in­ten­sity” of cour­ses have been dropped. This could have seen uni­ver­si­ties as­sessed ac­cord­ing to their “gross teach­ing quo­tient” – a mea­sure of con­tact hours, weighted by class size.

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