Committee (4th Day)
Relevant document: 10th Report from the Delegated Powers Committee
Clause 10: Mandatory fee limit condition for certain providers
122: Clause 10, page 7, line 15, leave out from beginning to “limit”;”
My Lords, before I call the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, I must point out to the Committee that there is a mistake on the Marshalled List. It should read: “page 7, line 15, leave out from beginning to ‘see’”, not “limit”.
My Lords, I am speaking to the various amendments in this group in the name of my noble friend Lord Stevenson, including Schedule 2 stand part.
Schedule 2 is about linking the case for a fees increase to the teaching excellence framework. It provides a mechanism for the setting of fee limits, permitting providers to charge fees up to an inflation-linked cap according to their ratings for teaching quality established through the teaching excellence framework, which is referred to—though not, of course, by name—in Clause 25. The Explanatory Notes reveal the name of the TEF, which is supposed to enable the impartial assessment of different aspects of teaching, including student experience and the job prospects of graduates.
We believe it is important to break the proposed connection between measuring teaching quality and the level of fees that can be charged. Increasing fee limits in line with inflation is of course nothing new. It was introduced in Labour’s Higher Education Act 2004 and was routinely applied between 2007 and 2012, until ended by the coalition Government. What is new is linking fee limits to teaching performance, and that is what has alarmed so many people and institutions in the higher education sector.
The framework is described in Clause 25 as a system for providing,
“ratings … to English higher education providers”.
Schedule 2 sets out the meaning of a high-level quality rating, which will be determined by the Secretary of State. Our Amendment 122B seeks to ensure that the high-level rating is established by regulation so that it can be subject to proper scrutiny by Parliament. That rating will be the gold standard, irrespective of whether we have a traffic-light system, and, as such, will be of crucial importance in the future of higher education in England—too important, we would argue, to be left to the Secretary of State alone to decide.
Universities are rightly concerned about the use of proxy metrics, including statistics on graduate earnings, in a framework that is supposed to be about teaching quality. Also of concern is the fact that a gold, silver and bronze rating system is proposed to differentiate the sector based on those metrics. This will undermine the sector’s reputation both within the UK and overseas because universities deemed to be bronze will have been independently quality assured and have met all expectations of a good provider, but that is not how it will appear to those outside, whether in the UK or, indeed, further afield. That is why we have submitted Amendment 195, which seeks to ensure that the scheme has only two ratings: meets expectations and fails to meet expectations. That has the benefit of being simple to operate and, perhaps as important, simple to understand for those considering whether to apply to a particular institution. It also sends a clear message beyond these shores and enables comparisons to be made with providers in other countries without the confusion of a bizarre system of three categories.
Where metrics are used, they have to be much more securely evidence-based than those suggested. Our Amendments 196 and 198 contain proposals that would oblige the OfS to make an assessment of the evidence that any proposed metric for assessing teaching quality is actually correlated to teaching quality and would ensure that, prior to making that assessment, the OfS consult those who know first-hand what is needed to measure teaching quality namely, academic staff and students. Having carried out those requirements in the interests of full transparency, the OfS should publish the assessments. Surely any inconvenience that the Minister may point to in terms of administrative burdens on the OfS would be more than counterbalanced by the benefits accruing in terms of the much more robust nature of the metrics produced.
We also believe it is necessary for the OfS to demonstrate the number of international students applying to and enrolled at higher education providers that have applied for a rating. It is important to protect the number of international students that providers are permitted to recruit; and to ensure transparency on that, the OfS should be obliged to lay a report before Parliament each year. My noble friend Lord Stevenson has added his name to that of the noble Baroness, Lady Wolf, on Amendment 200 to emphasise that we believe it is essential that the TEF must not be used as a determinant when providers seek to enrol international students, and I look to the Minister to confirm that, even if he is unable to accept the amendment itself.
Those faced with a wide range of institutions from which to choose when considering their course of study have a right to the fullest possible information on which to base that choice. That is why our Amendment 176 seeks to alter the wording of Clause 25, in much the same way as is proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Norton, in his amendment, to ensure that all the relevant information is made easily accessible to staff, students and parents and that the information is made available in a consistent form in order to facilitate meaningful comparisons between providers.
Noble Lords on all sides of the House made clear at Second Reading their opposition to statutory links between teaching quality and the level of fees being charged for that teaching. Since tuition fees were increased from £3,000 to £9,000 in 2012, there is no evidence to suggest that there has been a consequential improvement in teaching quality. Indeed, the National Union of Students has said that there has been no change in student satisfaction with the teaching on their course, while institutions have, in some cases, been shown to spend additional income from the fees rise on increased marketing materials rather than on efforts to improve course quality.
Why do the Government now believe that there is a link between fees and teaching excellence? Indeed, which should come first or be expected to come first? This is a clear example of the Government’s view that the Bill is as much a question of consumerism as it is about education. As I said at Second Reading, we on these Benches reject the concept of students as customers or consumers in higher education. Many universities have said in their response to the Bill that there is no evidence to point to fee increases improving the quality of teaching. The University of Cambridge stated in its written evidence that the link between the TEF and fees is,
“bound to affect student decision-making adversely and in particular it may deter students from low income families from applying to the best universities”.
Another point of concern in relation to the fees link is that in further stages of the TEF, the Government are moving to subject-based assessment. We do not take issue with that, because universities are large institutions within which there are a huge range of subjects and a great diversity of teaching quality, but linking a fee with an institutional assessment cannot do other than mask that range of teaching quality. People studying in a department where the teaching quality is not as good as in others will also pay higher fees. This flawed proposal does not enhance the Government’s objective, and we believe it should be rejected.
What Schedule 2 would do is introduce the provision that only those providers that can demonstrate high-quality provision can maintain their fees in line with inflation. The specious reasoning behind this proposal, based on metrics that are widely seen as an inappropriate method in which to take such decisions, would lead to a skewed outcome because, as we heard at Second Reading, several high-performing institutions would lose out on a high-level rating through no fault of the actual quality of their teaching.
We of course welcome any means of improving teaching quality in higher education, and we do not oppose a mechanism to measure such improvement if a reliable one can be found. But the TEF as proposed is not that mechanism, for reasons that I have touched on already and shall expand on when we come to debate what is currently group 17. Schedule 2 introduces the whole area of the fee limit and fee regime, a link which we believe is without merit. As such, Schedule 2 is not fit for purpose, and that is why we believe it should not stand part of the Bill. I beg to move.
My Lords, I have two amendments in this group, which complement those that the noble Lord, Lord Watson, has already spoken to. The Government’s current policy is for fees, even for those having achieved the top rate of the TEF, to increase only by inflation. However, paragraph 4(2)(b) of Schedule 2—on page 78, line 3—enables an increase by more than inflation if a resolution to that effect is passed in Parliament. Amendment 125 would remove this provision, thus requiring new primary legislation for any Government wishing to go further.
Amendment 199, which mirrors the amendment which the noble Lord, Lord Watson, has already spoken to, is somewhat of a pre-emptive amendment. No matter what your view of the TEF, it is clear that it is an attempt, albeit ham-fisted in our view, to give students more information and more security when choosing a course and to lift the standard of teaching in our university sector across the board. Both of these are noble aims. We agree with the aims, but challenge the methods proposed. We particularly deplore the categorisation of gold, silver and bronze, which seems to us to be extraordinarily damaging.
We do not have faith that the TEF will not be used for ulterior purposes in the future, in particular as part of the Government’s continued, blinkered action towards student immigration. This fear is not unfounded. Nick Timothy, the Prime Minister’s most senior adviser, is one of the biggest advocates of further crack-downs on student immigration. In a piece in the Telegraph in June 2015, he made clear his views that students should be,
“expected to leave the country at the end of their course, while only the very best of them should be allowed to work in the UK”.
In the piece, he states that these students are not, in fact, the best and the brightest and key contributors to our future prosperity, as,
“the number of foreign students at Oxford and Cambridge is a little more than 4,000, while there are about 66,000 at the remaining Russell Group universities”.
This attitude displays a staggering lack of understanding about the diversity and value of our higher education institutions and their graduates.
This amendment would prevent the TEF from being used in determining eligibility for a visa for students on leaving university. It would ensure that such a change would require primary legislation and not be possible through a simple change in Immigration Rules. If the Government were to seek to pursue such an approach, they should rightly have to make their case in Parliament. Can the Minister also clarify that the Government do not agree with the approach Nick Timothy has previously advocated? There are very many of the brightest and best students at universities outside the Russell group, and such discrimination can only be damaging.
My Lords, I speak in favour of Clause 10 being removed from the Bill. In doing so, I declare my interest as chair of the board of governors of Sheffield Hallam University. I should also note that the vice-chancellor of the university, Professor Chris Husbands, is leading work on behalf of the Government on the development of the teaching excellence framework.
The effect of the deletion of Clause 10 would be to remove the power of the Office for Students to set the fee limit by reference to a provider’s rating under the teaching excellence framework. It is important to say first that I strongly support the Government’s desire to improve the focus of universities on teaching quality. That is absolutely the right thing to do. I am also not opposed to the introduction of the TEF per se. I do, however, have some significant concerns about the approach that the Government are taking to the TEF and, in particular, the link being made between fee levels and the TEF. My three main concerns are as follows.
First, there is not a straight read-across between teaching and research. At a very basic level, publicly funded research has a small number of very informed funders, which make their decisions with a long-standing knowledge of the providers. In this context, the REF provides an effective framework to drive research excellence. In the case of teaching, the decisions are made by millions of individual learners. They will base their decisions on a range of factors: the reputation of the university itself, the place it is located in and their likelihood of securing the necessary grades, but, most importantly, their views of the course of study itself. In this context, the TEF rating of the university will be of interest but it is unlikely to add a great deal to their decision. The value of the TEF is more to the institution than to the student. Having a rating itself, combined with changing demographics, will provide a powerful enough incentive for institutions to improve, just as the NSS scores are now. There is no benefit, and indeed significant perverse consequences, from adding in a link to fees. For example, those institutions most in need of resources to improve their teaching will be deprived of the means to do so.
My second objection is that the TEF is still in development. I have to say that I cannot think of anyone better than Chris Husbands to lead the work on it, but he is inevitably working within parameters set by the Government. The higher education sector is a very differentiated sector, and not all universities are the same. Reducing that wide variation down to a rating of gold, silver or bronze is for me, and I think for many, a gross simplification. A bronze rating risks being seen as failing or poor, even though in athletics, from which this was derived, securing a bronze would be seen, by me at least, as a considerable success.
There remains a very significant debate about the metrics for the TEF, but also about the distribution of the ratings—how many institutions will score the highest rating and therefore increase their fees. I currently understand that the plan is for it to be 15% bronze, 70% silver and 15% gold, but that may well change. Moreover, the TEF rating, as has already been said, is in the first instance about the institution and not the course. Yet the proposals will allow the institutions to raise fees regardless of individual course quality. All of these are symptoms of a system that is still in development and unproven. Until we are really confident about these issues, it seems to be completely wrong to link the TEF to fees.
My third and final concern is that, even if these issues can be resolved satisfactorily, it seems wrong in principle to approach increases in fees in this way. The reason that the vast majority of universities raised fees to the level of the £9,000 cap in 2012 was that they needed to offset the loss of other government support. Universities have been spared the brunt of the austerity measures experienced in local government and other sectors, but at the price of increased fees for students and, arguably, for future generations for those students who are unable to repay their loans.
There is an important debate to be had about the future resources that universities need, the level of student fees and indeed the amount of government funding provided to support them. No doubt vice-chancellors, faced with the prospect of this being the only way to increase fees, will go along with it. Fundamentally, though, it sidesteps what should be a public debate. If there is a case to be made for increasing fees in future then it should be made, but this is making that policy by the back door.
I recognise that the Government have dug in on this, but there is still time to think again. The proposal is understandably deeply unpopular with students and the NUS. In my view, it is also the product of some deeply flawed thinking.
My Lords, I have a great deal of sympathy with the comments of the noble Lord who has just spoken. On the second day in Committee I drew attention to my long connection with the Court of the University of York. I have been struck by the views that it has expressed, and in particular that,
“the ratings of gold, silver and bronze risk damaging the reputation of UK HE internationally”,
through the impact of the teaching excellence framework. Of course failing institutions should be identified and dealt with, but it is very difficult to follow why the gold, silver and bronze ratings would achieve that. Instead, it would be damaging to the reputation of British higher education internationally, potentially putting off international students from coming to study in the UK. In an already challenging market for international students, this would put UK higher education at a disadvantage and have a significant economic impact.
On the second day in Committee I expressed my regret that I was not able to be present at Second Reading; I was abroad on parliamentary business. On reading that day’s debate I was struck by the very strong views that were expressed to the Government with regard to these matters. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester said:
“Given its potential impact it is crucial that the TEF does not misrepresent university quality and create a PR nightmare”.—[Official Report, 6/12/16; col. 621.]
I am sorry to read these out but they are a reflection of the very strong feelings in the House. The noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, said:
“Can the Minister confirm that the crude ratings of gold, silver and bronze, to which others have referred, will not be used by the Home Office in deciding on the student visa system and how it is implemented?”.—[Official Report, 6/12/16; col. 628.]
The noble Lord, Lord Giddens, said:
“Standardised metrics for teaching assessment simply will not work across the whole range of universities”.—[Official Report, 6/12/16; col. 633.]
My noble friend Lord Norton of Louth, from whom no doubt we shall be hearing in a few minutes, said:
“The likelihood is that, as with the REF, universities will engage in gaming the system and devote considerable resources to the task … the danger is that the TEF will be even more problematic. It may well serve to drive up costs rather than teaching quality”.—[Official Report, 6/12/16; col. 658.]
That, from him, with all his experience of academia, was very clear. The noble Baroness, Lady Royall, whom I see in her place, said:
“In practical terms, would a university judged to be gold one year have to reduce its fees in future years if it were then deemed bronze or silver—or, perhaps, vice versa?”.—[Official Report, 6/12/16; col. 697.]
I could go on. There is a major flaw in the Bill and the Government’s thinking on this. The noble Lord who preceded me pleaded with them to think again. I, too, say to the Minister that this will not do as it is. I hope that he will tell us that the Government will take this away and think about it again.
My Lords, I should like to testify that there is something utterly perverse in the current system of rating the quality of the provisions of individual departments within universities and of universities as a whole. The system depends on the National Student Survey, which aims to determine the degree of customer satisfaction. Because the ratings of the NSS are determined within these organisations, and because they can make no reference to what is happening elsewhere, they cannot possibly serve as a valid standard for comparison across the sector.
The NSS is subject to the social dynamics of small groups of students, and it can produce highly variable results from year to year. It is well known that it can be strongly influenced by the interaction of staff with students. There is a strong temptation for academics to appeal to their students, in ways that may be more or less subtle, to give ratings that will be beneficial both to themselves and to their students. This has often swayed the outcomes. Quite apart from these difficulties in assessing the true degree of customer satisfaction, it is questionable whether customer satisfaction should be the principle to guide the provision of teaching. It is now a principle that also guides many other aspects of the provision to students. The quality of sports facilities, catering, entertainment and much else besides has been influenced by the need to increase student satisfaction.
However, the effects on teaching of an adherence to this principle can be dire. It has been a common experience that, the more difficult a course and the more vigorously it is taught, the lower is its NSS rating. University administrators, who nowadays control the activities of academic staff, have requested the removal of courses that have scored badly. Among such courses have been some of the essential STEM courses, which often form the backbones of academic disciplines. I propose that we cease to use the NSS as a basis for assessing the qualities of universities. We should cease to make such assessments, or to use them, until we can be sure of their validity.
My Lords, I chair the Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, which I think is a very effective conservatoire. On Monday night I was closeted with my board, making one of the most difficult decisions that as chairman I have faced: should we go in to the TEF, which I think is supposed to close in about a week’s time, or not? The situation was simple. None of us thinks anything of it, particularly because of the presence within it of the metric of the National Student Survey, on which I will say a bit more in a minute and a lot more in our next debate.
But if we did not go in for it, we would have £250 less per student to spend on teaching, on instruments and on bringing them up to our very high standard. The board decided to go ahead. I very much hope that, before we finish with the Bill, they will be shown to have been right for a different reason—because the Government have backed off from these really very ill-considered decisions.
Incidentally, I endorse what the noble Lord, Lord Kerslake, said about Chris Husbands: if there is a man who can sort out TEF, it is Chris, and we should wish him every power and a fair wind from Ministers at his back.
I am a bit of a statistician; I chair the All-Party Group on Statistics. I will go into this in more detail on a subsequent occasion, as I said, but the NSS seems to be a statistic that makes the statement on the side of the Leave buses an exemplar of statistical validity. It is just frightful. In particular, for a small institution such as mine, the sample sizes are tiny. It has had the most coruscating reviews from the Royal Statistical Society. The Office for National Statistics put it more cautiously but nevertheless said the same thing: you cannot use it to compare institutions—which is exactly what the gold, silver and bronze ratings do.
This is the first time that a piece of legislation for the post-fact era, where facts no longer matter, has made it to the statute book. It must be changed. Fortunately, it can relatively easily be changed, because I think we are all after the same thing: we are after a true measure of teaching effectiveness. I do not mean just whether students like it. At one stage, I joked to my board that I was thinking of withdrawing all music teaching at Trinity Laban and instead providing free beer in the bar every night. They would be jolly satisfied with the quality of their courses if they had free beer every night, but they would not be learning to play their instruments—which is bloody hard work, I can tell noble Lords who have not tried it. For that reason, this metric is dotty.
I have one or two other points to make. Information is very important in the new era. It is difficult enough to choose an institution now and, if the Government get their way and there is a proliferation of institutions, it will be more difficult in future for students to choose institutions. One thing that does not help is misinformation. We did not do terribly well in the National Student Survey this year. It was fine for me because I was able to say, as I had pointed out every year to the board, that the previous year had been completely different, because this number fluctuates almost completely randomly. But I had members of staff who were reduced to tears and considering resignation because we had a bad NSS score. Think how much more that will be so if it is incorporated into the midst of the TEF. Managers would then say, “You have a very bad NSS score, so we will do badly in the TEF, so we will have less grant”. The pressure will be enormous, crushing and based on wholly false information. We need proper information and a proper TEF based on the kind of assessment that Chris, with his team, is well capable of undertaking. New metrics are being developed that would help with this, although whether they will be available under the Government’s timetable is not yet clear.
We can get a TEF that works, which I would welcome. There are institutions that have not been as successful in their teaching as they have in other aspects of their work. If it fulfilled the Conservative election manifesto in the process, that is the sort of thing that we have to put up with in life. But please do not let us take this false step of a phony TEF that will reward only those who are good at gaming these things, not those who are doing what we really want: teaching well.
My Lords, I was present at Second Reading, when I did not speak, and I was not going to speak on the amendment, but I would like to make some contrary observations to what has been said so far. The first time I saw students rating teachers was in 1961, when I was at the University of Pennsylvania. The anger of teachers then was more or less the same as the anger being expressed now: “How dare anybody judge us, especially our students? They are so stupid that they will not like difficult courses. They are so stupid that they will always go for the soft option”. I do not want to comment on the quality of the National Student Survey, but we ought to reflect on whether we are not respecting our students enough if we think that they are stupid and likely to hurt themselves by grading soft courses higher than hard ones.
Several problems are getting mixed up here. First, can teaching be evaluated at all? Some people think it cannot. I was involved in the first round of the research assessment exercise, and virtually the same arguments were made by academics: “You cannot grade research or compare it; it is very difficult”, and so on. This was being evaluated by their peer group but, by and large, we academics are rather conservative people when it comes to being judged by others. Ultimately, I think that the research assessment exercise performed a very good function. It mattered that some universities were five star and others were three or two: if they were three star or two star, they had to get their act together and improve. There is no reason to believe that something as important as teaching cannot be judged and therefore that there can be no competition because it is such a pure product that it is impossible to find a methodology to judge it.
First, let us see whether there is a better methodology for ranking teaching, because I think it can be ranked like anything else; there is no mystery about it. Of course people will game it, but I have great confidence in students. Applicants look at the websites of different universities and know who is gaming. They are not stupid. If they are going to pay £9,000, or whatever, they will not be stupid about this. So let us have a bit more faith in our students and less protectiveness for ourselves as academics. Let us say that if we are going to improve the quality of teaching, somebody will have to find a way of judging it.
The second question, which I do not want to comment on, is whether the ranking—gold, silver or bronze, one to 10, or whatever—should be connected to the fees being charged. Perhaps, as someone said, those who are ranked lower should be allowed to charge higher fees—and let us see the consumer reaction.
I was an academic for 38 years. Luckily, I am not a vice-chancellor or a chancellor or anywhere, so I do not have to defend my university, but we cannot go on thinking that universities are beyond judgment and should be left alone to do whatever they do. Those days are gone.
My Lords, I do not think anybody is suggesting that universities should just be left to get on with it. I preface my remarks by saying how important I believe teaching to be. I went into higher education halfway through my working life. I had never taught, and I was shocked to discover there was nothing to train me how to teach: it was just assumed that an academic could relay their subject and teach it. That is completely different now. All universities have very good support to ensure that their staff teach well.
That said, I accept that it is important that there is some kind of assessment of teaching to balance the research assessment—the REF, as it is now called—to which my noble friend Lord Desai referred. REF is based on a direct assessment of the quality of the research; as I understand it, TEF will not be. I will not repeat the good critique that has been made by colleagues both now and at Second Reading of the metrics currently proposed, and I am not sure what the answer is. I can remember—I cannot remember in which year it was now—something called the TQA, or teaching quality assessment. I can remember quaking in my boots as some independent assessor came in to observe my lectures and tutorials. I am not sure what happened to it. It was a huge bureaucratic burden on the universities, so I am not saying that that is necessarily the answer. I am not sure what the answer is, but it is quite clear from what is being said in the sector, by students and people around the Committee that, as proposed, those metrics are not.
In his summing up, will the Minister explain exactly how he thinks the proposed metrics will tell us anything about actual teaching quality? What will be fed back to individual lecturers about their teaching? At Second Reading he said that,
“The TEF is designed to improve teaching”.—[Official Report, 6/12/16; col. 721]
How will it improve teaching? Will he explain that to us? If I were still lecturing, how would I know how to improve my teaching on the basis of the TEF and these metrics? It is not clear to me at all how that will happen.
Given the widespread disquiet and difficulties of doing this, will the Minister reflect on the likely adverse implications of this traffic light system, which the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, on Second Reading called a “ranking system for turkeys”? Perhaps that is appropriate in the consumer culture we are talking about, but it is not appropriate for education.
My Lords, I shall comment briefly on some of the remarks about the NSS and perhaps try to address some of the concerns and offer noble Lords on both sides of the Committee a bit of assurance about what is happening here.
I should begin by drawing attention to the fact that I am a visiting professor at King’s College London, which sadly scores rather low on the NSS. I will not detain the Committee with a special pleading of why I think that is a completely misleading picture of the excellent work done at King’s. I also chair the advisory board of the Times Higher, which itself produces university rankings.
Surely what we are trying to do is embark on a journey towards what should be reliable metrics of teaching quality and learning gain. Of course, we do not have those yet. The question is whether we do anything now or wait until we have these superior and trusted metrics. The dilemma that one faces is that, back in 2010, there really was only the NSS, and it has been caricatured as simply a question of a student’s kind of, “What’s it like for you?”. We have already seen changes in the NSS and, if I may get into the technical language, it is becoming much more like the National Survey of Student Engagement which does try to get closer to the academic experience of the student.
The measure that will be used in formulating the TEF is not the generic question, “How was it for you?”. My understanding is that that is not what will appear in the TEF. There will be the earlier questions in the NSS. The NSS has more than 20 questions, and incidentally is completed by hundreds of thousands of students. It is the earlier questions that are closest to engagement that will be the ones used in the TEF. They are particularly questions about teaching on their course and on assessment and feedback.
The noble Lord who spoke for the Opposition when he opened said there had been no evidence that anything had been getting better. I can tell him that the fact that many universities have done disappointingly badly on assessment and feedback has led universities to change their practice and give students much more prompt reactions on their essays or other forms of work than they used to receive. I would argue that assessment and feedback are regarded as having genuine value and significance in the world of universities. Those measures are the measures extracted from the NSS which will be part of the overall metric for the TEF. The others which I think will have higher weight are the learning environment and student outcomes.
These are not perfect measures. We are on a journey, and I look forward to these metrics being revised and replaced by superior metrics in the future. They are not as bad as we have heard in some of the caricatures of them, and in my experience, if we wait until we have a perfect indicator and then start using it, we will have a very long wait. If we use the indicators that we have, however imperfect, people then work hard to improve them. That is the spirit with which we should approach the TEF today.
There are genuine questions, including the impact on overseas students, and I understand that issue. But I think that it would not be possible to envisage fees increasing without some kind of measures of the teaching performance in universities.
Given the difficulty of getting any measures, my view is that the measures we have are the best ones currently available. I think that the message that should go out from your Lordships’ House is surely that we would see them improved, changed and reviewed—and improved rapidly. It would be particularly regrettable—I know that I am turning to a later stage in our debate—if we bring in measures, if we amend the legislation, to make future changes in the metrics harder rather than easier by requiring a more elaborate process for them to be changed in the future. I am absolutely not saying that we now have a reliable and authoritative measure of teaching quality.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Willetts, said that we are embarking on a journey, which indeed we are, but I feel that the car in which we will travel does not yet have all the component parts. I therefore wonder if, when we have concluded all our debates, rather than going full speed ahead into a TEF for everybody who wants to participate, we should have some pilots. In that way the metrics could be amended quite properly before everybody else embarks on the journey with us.
I speak to the amendments in this grouping, many of which I support and I remind the House of my interest as a pro-chancellor at Bath University. Like all other noble Lords, I celebrate quality and excellence, and students should and must expect to receive high-quality teaching in their higher education. This should always have been the case, but is especially important now when students leave university with a debt of perhaps £50,000.
How the quality is measured and the metrics used are of the utmost importance, and it is clear from everything that has been said that the Government have not solved the conundrum yet. However, it is very good news that Chris Husbands is assisting the Government in this task. I have to say that Bath has one of the highest levels of student satisfaction, of which I am very proud. Much of that is down to good teaching. In 11 departments we have 100% satisfaction rates, which is great, but I also have to wonder that there must be some instances in some universities where students are completing the student satisfaction surveys in their rooms and possibly they have never even been to a lecture. That metric is slightly questionable.
I would be grateful if the Minister can say who will make the judgment in respect of what the metrics will be and who will judge each university that is part of the system? Those people are incredibly important.
While I support the TEF in general, whatever system is introduced must not be the traffic light system currently under consideration and it should not be linked to fees. The real problem is when the quality of teaching in a university is measured across the board. As the noble Lord, Lord Kerslake, said, excellence in some departments will be eclipsed by poor teaching in other departments and vice versa. Creating a system that assesses the quality of a whole institution and allows that whole institution to raise the fees of every course based on that assessment, when the quality of teaching will vary—potentially drastically—for every student at that institution, is therefore fundamentally unworkable. It risks creating the potential that students undertake courses that are not of high quality but at an institution that was deemed by the TEF to provide general high quality, and are therefore unfairly charged higher fees for poor-quality degrees. As has been said on all sides of the House, the bronze, silver and gold proposals are entirely inappropriate and fraught with difficulties, not least the potential for jeopardising the excellent international reputation of our universities. Why would a foreign student paying hefty fees wish to study at a bronze university, and why should our own students go to British universities that are deemed inadequate? Students who begin their degrees at a gold university that is judged to be silver or bronze at the end of the course would feel disillusioned and, literally, short-changed. Amendments 176, 177 and 195 are particularly interesting, and I hope that the Government will give them favourable consideration.
While I realise that the Government are sadly not giving an inch in Committee, I think it inconceivable that they would not agree to Amendment 196 on Report. Surely arrangements for the scheme to give ratings must be made through affirmative ratings. In answer to many concerns expressed at Second Reading following the Home Secretary’s speech to the Conservative Party conference suggesting a two-tier visa system for international students based on tougher rules for lower courses or less prestigious universities, the Minister said:
“There is nothing in this Bill that links the TEF to any limits on international student recruitment”.—[Official Report, 6/12/17; cols. 724-25.]
While that may be literally true, like other noble Lords I am fearful that the system of ratings will be used by the Home Office as an immigration tool. We will discuss in depth the issue of immigration when we reach the amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, to which I have added my name, and there was an excellent debate last Wednesday. However, I warmly welcome Amendments 199 and 200 on this issue.
Quality ratings must absolutely not be used to determine whether a provider may enrol non-EU international students. The purpose of the TEF should be to ensure quality, not to restrict the number of tier 4 visas authorised by the Home Office. Our higher education sector is flourishing, much of it due to the contribution of overseas students and staff, and the benefits to our country are enormous. The Government are deeply exercised by immigration numbers, but their concerns must not be allowed to contaminate higher education policy and practice.
My Lords, as a long-term university teacher, often rated by my students, both in this country and overseas, I have a sense of some metrics that are less gameable than others. That is surely what any attempt to measure things must look like. Student satisfaction about the beer is, obviously, not the best place to look. There are some well-known ways of looking at teaching which, if one can get the measurements, are quite useful. One might be how much a student has actually attended the required instruction. Statistics have been collected on this by the Higher Education Policy Institute, but if it was known that they were a metric I fear that they would be gamed. It is remarkable—and I think that I mentioned this at Second Reading—that the average for UK students a few years ago, when I last looked, was 13 hours per week of non-required work, above lecture and lab hours. That is not huge, but it varied from a number that I dare not even state to 51 hours of private study a week. That was for medics at some of our leading universities. That is one metric that cannot be gamed, but there are a few others. The number of pages written in a term or semester is quite instructive, and the number of those pages that receive feedback or commentary is another instructive metric. All those things are unglamorous—but you have to take extreme care in using them. Simple online tests of mastery of first language, second language and relevant mathematics might be worth looking at, but I do not think that student satisfaction is going to give us an accurate view of what is really going on.
My Lords, I have two amendments in this grouping, and I declare my interest as a serving academic. I share the views of the noble Lord, Lord Desai, who I gather is a fellow graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, on the NSS, and to some extent those of my noble friend Lord Willetts. The survey provides valuable feedback and is a useful form of intelligence, but I am not sure that it can bear the weight that it has been given in this proposal for the TEF.
I commend the Government for recognising the importance of teaching and their acknowledgement of the complementarity of teaching and research. I commend them also for seeking to enhance teaching excellence. Ensuring that more information, and comparable information, is made available to prospective students, and encouraging the dissemination of best practice within HE, are wholly commendable goals. My amendments would protect the provision of information. I have no problem with introducing incentives to HE institutions to enhance teaching quality, but where we need to stress test this part of the Bill is in creating a statutory link between teaching quality and the level of fees being charged for that teaching.
There are three problems with the link stipulated in the Bill. The first is defining what is meant by teaching excellence. The proposed metrics for the TEF are too blunt to meet the assessment criteria and, in some respects, too narrow. The Explanatory Notes to the Bill state:
“The Teaching Excellence Framework is intended to provide clear, understandable information to students about where teaching quality is outstanding and to establish a robust”—
I always worry the moment I see the word “robust”—
“framework for gathering information to measure teaching in its broadest sense”.
I have no problem with the first part of the statement. It is the second part that is problematic. What is meant by teaching “in its broadest sense”? For me, it encompasses the capacity to develop not only intellectual but also personal skills that will enable students to fulfil their full potential as individuals in wider society. This may not be confined to career goals but may extend to being worthwhile members of society—in effect, good citizens. How does one measure that added value? It goes beyond the assessment criteria. I have serious concern with some of the metrics, because I fear that they may privilege status rather than teaching excellence.
The second concern is that, in so far as one can assess teaching excellence, quality is at department or course level, as the noble Lord, Lord Kerslake, and others have stressed. One has only to look at the National Student Survey to see variations between the aggregate at institutional level and the performance at subject and course levels. Yet the intention is to enable an institution to charge a higher fee level, which may apply to all courses, even those which deliver less quality than courses at other institutions which are not able to increase their fees.
The third concern, as we have heard already from the noble Lord, Lord Watson, is that there is no clear link between fees and teaching excellence. Higher fees will not necessarily serve to drive up teaching quality, but rather enable HE providers to spend more on marketing and ensuring brand recognition. More money may be spent on providing services to students, but not necessarily on their teaching.
In short, the proposal before us is based on a concept that is not clearly defined, cannot fairly be applied at institutional level and asserts a link that has not been proven. I look forward to my noble friend the Minister assuaging my concerns.
I declare an interest as former principal of St Anne’s, Oxford, and former independent adjudicator of higher education. I am speaking in support of Amendment 122. I have three very brief points to make.
First, it has been alleged that the whole purpose of the Bill is to enable universities to raise fees, and that all the contortions that we are going through in relation to the Bill is centred on this one element—that one will be able to raise fees if the teaching is good. That seems to me not a healthy way to approach it.
Secondly, there is profound disagreement about what is good teaching. One metric is likely to be the prevention of drop-outs and helping students from non-traditional or underprivileged backgrounds to get through the course without failing. This must tempt tutors and lecturers to spoon-feed and it is simply not clear in higher education whether the temptation for spoon-feeding—a brief term but I think all noble Lords understand what I mean—will be enhanced by some of the metrics, as I understand them.
My third point is related to the question of teaching students from less-privileged backgrounds. What will this link do to social mobility? The better universities, however they are judged, are quite likely to be Oxbridge and the Russell group, are they not? They will be able to charge higher fees. Some other universities, which will be taking more of those from underprivileged and less-traditional backgrounds, and may be doing more spoon-feeding, may well find that their teaching is not rated so highly, for reasons that all of us who have ever taught such students very well understand. They will charge lower fees. It will become a reinforcing division: the so-called “best” universities charging the higher fees will attract those students who can afford them and the not so good under this scale—the bronze—will likely get the not-so-good students who cannot afford the fees. This will really damage social mobility and parity of esteem, not to mention the fact that this is coupled with the abolition of maintenance grants, meaning that more students will be forced to go to their local university. So my question to the Minister is: what effect do the Government think the linking of fees to teaching quality will have on social mobility?
My Lords, I declare an interest as a member of the council of two universities. Like others, I am in something of a quandary on this part of the Bill; I have several concerns about the TEF, but I support enthusiastically any attempt to improve the status and excellence of teaching in universities. As chief executive of Universities UK, way back in the 1990s, I was instrumental in helping to develop the Quality Assurance Agency, which has gone on to do such a great job of encouraging institutions to take teaching much more seriously. It has developed the extensive framework for assurance and quality enhancement that characterises the HE sector today and which is admired around the world.
Despite the fact that there is an enormous amount of good teaching in universities, producing excellent learning outcomes, it has long been a dilemma that—at least in certain institutions—research and not teaching has become the means of individual advancement and the basis for institutional reputation, reinforced by league tables. That is not to say that researchers do not make good teachers—many do—but it is research that garners the accolades. Not enough weight is given to the support of students through good teaching, although I am heartened to learn that there has been much more emphasis recently on showing students how research and scholarship links with undergraduate learning.
The HE system is changing rapidly. It is already a diverse system and is becoming ever more diverse as new providers enter the sector. I was astonished to learn in a recent report that, on one count, there are 700 alternative providers; I gather that the more reliable figure is 400, but that is still more than double the number of established universities and clearly offers students a great deal more choice than was available, say, five or 10 years ago. Inevitably, though, there is a greater risk of poor-quality provision if these providers are not subject to the same extensive quality assurance process or regulatory regime as existing providers. So it is wise, in this new and changing environment, to review the way in which the quality assurance system deals with this much more complex world. Talking to people in the sector, and from what I read, I believe that the teaching excellence framework—the TEF—has the potential to provide more encouragement and support for teaching, to produce useful information for students, and, hopefully, to raise the status of teaching in all HE providers. But some of its provisions worry me—those worries have been reflected by other noble Lords.
We have been given a very useful briefing from the department on this part of the Bill and I thank the civil servants, some of whom I recognise in the Box, for the careful, helpful and comprehensive way that they have guided us through this Bill before each of our sessions. However, the recent briefing highlighted some of my concerns. The range of metrics described in the briefing, while voluminous, do not seem related to good teaching. They seemed much broader than a framework for teaching excellence would suggest. The metrics on employability and equality of opportunity—while perfectly good—suggest, for example, that the TEF is really about the student experience, or indeed about any provision that is not evaluated by the research excellence framework—the REF.
Like others, I was reassured that Professor Chris Husbands will be the chair of the TEF, since his background at the Institute of Education certainly inspires my confidence. It is good that he is coming to brief us next week, as that will be a real help. However, I would appreciate it if the Minister could reassure the House that the metrics, and indeed the further information that will be added in the provider submission, have been thoroughly assessed by teachers and that there is general and genuine buy-in, rather than just a sense of having to go along with this because something else is at stake.
Another concern for me, like for so many others around the House, is the scoring method and the use of the Olympics terminology. Using gold, silver and bronze as a means of differentiating between institutions seems to me to be absolutely meaningless and certainly not helpful. What is a student or parent supposed to read into them? How do they identify the nuances of what is good or what is in need of improvement across an HEI? The quality assurance process is not a race with only one winner. The first outcome judgments proposed were “excellent” and “outstanding”, but these were rejected because they were difficult to distinguish. Is it clear what the difference is between gold and silver? It seems obvious that it could well be best and second best. How quickly will second best come to mean mediocre? I understand that the expected distribution will be 20% bronze, 50% to 60% silver, and 20% to 30% gold—so it is already anticipated that well over half of provision will not be regarded as excellent anyway.
For a sector with an excellent reputation across what the late principal of Green College, Oxford, Sir David Watson, characterised as, “a controlled reputational range”, and for a sector that attracts and satisfies thousands of international students each year and is so highly regarded internationally, this seems like shooting ourselves in the foot. I am really concerned that categorising institutions in this simplistic way of bronze, silver and gold will have our competitors rubbing their hands in glee as these judgments are translated into league tables and used to downgrade our place in the marketplace. In a post-Brexit world, anything that undermines our core asset of quality and reputation should be avoided.
It therefore will not be any surprise to your Lordships that my doubts about the process mean that I am seriously concerned that these judgments are being linked to fee increases—very modest fee increases, I must say. I am delighted that the Government have recognised the danger of linking them to the recruitment of international students and do not intend to pursue that, but I urge the Government to reconsider linking these, as yet untested, judgments to the ability of universities to increase fees. It makes no sense at all from a student’s perspective. Students are already told that a fee of £9,000 gives them access to “high-quality education”. Are they to assume that this is only really true in 20% to 30% of institutions? And what about the impact on access, as the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, mentioned? A large number of students, often from disadvantaged backgrounds, need or choose to study at their local university. They do not have a choice of moving elsewhere. Are they to be told that, because of their circumstances, they must possibly reconcile themselves to attending an inferior institution? Surely we should be focusing on encouraging excellence in teaching in every part of every institution, while certainly encouraging excellence and acknowledging the best, so that students can be reassured that, whatever they study, they can indeed expect a high-quality education.
I make one final point, which links to the point made by my noble friend Lady Lister. I am really surprised that there is no mention of a requirement for qualified teacher status. Although a substantial proportion of university teachers have obtained such a qualification, many students and parents are surprised to find that it is not compulsory to train to teach at higher education level. Given the huge changes that are taking place in relation to digitisation in particular—which will affect life chances, jobs and many aspects of graduate work—the training and retraining of teachers would seem to be a fundamental element of continuous improvement of the quality of teaching.
I do not want to labour these points. I am very conscious of the advice of the chief executive of the QAA that universities should focus on putting the metrics into context, and,
“highlight and exemplify excellent practice across the institution”,
to help the assessors and panel members,
“see beyond the metrics and make … rounded judgements”.
I am sure that is wise.
This is TEF’s second year yet there remain serious doubts about the metrics and the grading, as well as fears about the reputational risk of getting this wrong and the financial consequences if the system deters students rather than highlighting areas for further improvement. There must be a more imaginative and less risky way of achieving the Government’s admirable objective of recognising the highest teaching quality, so would it not be equally wise for the Government to establish confidence in the system, evaluate it and see whether it is achieving its objective before deciding that reputations established with such commitment, effort and undoubted excellence over the last 10, 20, 30 years can be destroyed by a broad-brush, rather simplistic judgment?
My Lords, I agree with a great deal of what the noble Baroness, Lady Warwick, said. I am a thoroughgoing supporter of getting more information out there to enable students to evaluate the quality of teaching that they will experience at university. We have allowed things to drift a long way in the wrong direction. However, the idea that by waving a wand we should decide that 80% of British university education is sub-standard and promulgate that across the world on the basis of a collection of experimental and rather hard-to-understand metrics just seems to me daft. It is not really helpful to anyone. All we are doing is “dissing” these universities. We are not enabling anyone to choose them. If someone is choosing a university, they will look at what is going on on a course. They will not experience the university quality of teaching; they will experience what is going on on a course. That is the level at which they need data. Nor do they need the Government to say, “This is a bronze-level course”. They need the data to make their own judgment because different things matter to different students. Some students want strict, hard teachers who will push them to do well, others want someone who will get them excited about a subject and will be a source of inspiration—I imagine the noble Lord, Lord Desai, is like this—and will drive students to work extremely hard in their own time. Different students need different things. What we need is a lot of information so that students and those who advise them can make up their own minds. In that context, the amendment of my noble friend Lord Norton is a great deal better than any of mine. My noble friend’s Amendment 177 seems to me the right way to go.
I support what my noble friend Lord Willetts said: this is experimental. We need to go on down this road and have the courage to continue. However, we should recognise that this process is experimental and that we have not yet got to a point where we know that we are defining quality in the right way. It is a very difficult area to assess. On the basis of students’ experience of only one course at one university, how do you compare whether the teaching on the engineering course at Loughborough is better or worse than the teaching on the engineering course at Oxford? They are different kinds of students with different predilections on two excellent courses, but how do you compare them on a single measure? It is very difficult to understand how we get to that point or what we should be doing with that information. None the less, we want to drive up the quality of teaching and make progress in that direction.
There seems to be a wish on the Government’s part to incorporate some measure of teaching quality in their decision whether to allow a university to raise its fees. That seems to me fair enough. However, if there is to be a collection of metrics for that purpose, they should be used for that purpose. We should not try to use a set of metrics for that purpose and at the same time say that they reflect the quality of the student experience or decisions that students should make. In its dialogue with universities the department should use its own process in arriving at a decision; it should not publish its decision as if something that was good for setting fees was good for telling students what decisions they should take.
The noble Baroness, Lady O’Neill, says that there are metrics we could use. Yes, absolutely, there are things with which to experiment. If I think back to my own university days, attendance at courses rather depended on the timing of boat club dinners and whether I was supposed to go to something the following morning. I am not sure that that should reflect on the mark given to my teachers, whoever they were. So let us aim at something that encourages the creation of metrics and their publication. Let us make sure that these metrics cannot be summarised by the Government at the level of course, let alone university. It should not be the Government’s purpose to arrive at verdicts based on difficult-to-interpret information; it should be something they allow other people to do and make the best of. We certainly should not allow the Government to use these metrics for anything to do with immigration. I still remain entirely in the dark as regards the Home Office’s intentions. Let us see what response we get from the Government and be firm in our resolution not to let this measure through as it is.
My Lords, I remind the Committee that I am chancellor of the biggest private for-profit university in the country. We gain high marks in student surveys and in terms of employability. However, we regard both these things as at best very partial measures—student surveys, for all the reasons adduced by other Members of the House, and employability because we teach subjects, mostly law, accountancy and nursing, in which employability is slightly easier to expect. However, as part of getting degree-awarding powers, which took us four long years, we were assessed by the QAA. One of the things that was assessed was teaching quality. People who knew what they were talking about in terms of teaching quality, including from the Law Society and the Bar Council, sat in on lessons to see how we taught. When our licence was renewed in 2013, the whole thing happened again: people sat in on lessons and lectures to decide how well we were teaching. We passed with a very high standard. That might be the ideal supplementary measure because it is objective and is done by people who know what they are looking for. With the best will in the world, I do not think one can suggest that students, with their somewhat partial attendance, know what they are looking for. We need people with experience of teaching who know what they are looking for.
That leads me to the observation that the figure of 400 new entrants strikes me as amazingly high. The QAA says that it has passed through somewhere between 60 and 70 of us for degree-awarding powers since 2005, not more than that. Some of us have the title of university, some do not. These figures suggest to me that a much smaller number of higher education providers are outside the university sector than I thought. I wonder whether teaching quality assessment might not turn up as part of the duties of the new quality assessment committee, which appears later in the Bill. Might that not be part of its task, so that you have one expert assessment as opposed to the various useful consumer-type assessments which come from students liking and understanding what they are doing and getting jobs? I do not suggest that we should avoid those elements—they are excellent measures—but we need something objective as well to be sure that we are being fair to all institutions and that teaching quality is assured. I would like to come back to this later in the Bill.
My Lords, I support what the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, said, which was echoed by the noble Baroness, Lady Warwick. These measures should not be used as a means to punish academics but should rather be used to support them in developing their game. As a trustee of a mental health charity that works with schools, I am well aware of the morale among teachers and head teachers and regret to say that it is very often extremely poor. They are of course at the opposite extreme. As a former Chief Inspector of Schools has said, we have the most measured pupils in the world, and we probably have the most measured teachers in the world. So many of them are worrying, “When is an Ofsted report going to come along to tell me how badly I’m doing?”.
Lucy Crehan, a former teacher and an academic, recently published a book, Cleverlands, which looks at the best-performing schools in the world. She visited Finland, and what she found there was a complete contrast. When teachers were struggling, they would receive support. When they continued to struggle, they would receive more support. In contrast, in this country and the United States, when a teacher or a school is struggling, we attack them and punish them. That is going a bit overboard—there is good work in getting schools to support other schools. Predominantly, however, there is a far more punitive approach here. I would hate to see that coming into the higher education system. I look forward to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, of course we need as much information as possible about universities so that parents and young people can make the right decisions about which university they choose. I am delighted that we are now focusing on the quality of teaching. The noble Baroness, Lady Royall, was right to say that it must be about high quality. That means high quality throughout the university sector, in teaching, provision, and simple things, such as the ability to make sure that essays and dissertations are properly marked, and to make sure that there is high quality with regard to the size of tutorial and lecture groups. A whole host of issues will ensure high quality.
We sometimes forget that choosing a university is a huge decision for a young person and their parents. They do not pick one at random but do the research, looking very carefully. Again, not only do they choose carefully but they visit those universities. I know from my own experience that students and their parents will have put two or three universities down and will have one in mind as where they want to go to, because of the course they want to do. However, noble Lords will be surprised at how often they get there and do not like it. They do not get a sense of there being the right ethos about the place or they do not like the staff they meet. One of my friends, who is doing creative writing, had two universities at the top of her list. She went to visit them and they gave her sample lectures. Guess what—she went to the third one, because she found that the response and the quality of the lectures were not good enough for her. Let us not kid ourselves: when parents and students come to choose the university they will go to, they are already in the driving seat.
I have grave reservations about the notion of getting this matrix together, putting in things such as employability, and then, suddenly, there is a mark. Currently it is proposed that it be gold, silver or bronze. As I said at Second Reading, I cannot see many universities boasting that they have a bronze award—they will not do that. But you can bet your bottom dollar that those rated as gold will display that for everybody to see. That will be damaging to the university sector as a whole and, as we have heard many noble Lords say, it will be damaging for students coming to our universities from overseas. We therefore have to tread very carefully. The Minister told us on Monday that he was very much in listening mode. Speaker after speaker, right across the House, has raised considerable concerns about this issue. If the Minister is in listening mode, I am sure that he will want to ensure that when we come to Report he will take our points on board.
I do not have any interests to declare regarding universities but I have interests in mainstream education. We have been down this road of labelling schools. In my wildest imagination I never thought that we would see a maintained school system in which schools advertise their success on the backs of buses and on banners hung outside their schools. Parents are caught in this trap, wondering, “Do I send my child to an outstanding school or a good school?”. Of course, if a school needs improvement, while it is improving it has the problem of parents saying, “I’m not sending them to that school”. We have been there before in higher education. We can remember the days of universities and polytechnics. Polytechnics—higher education providers—were regarded as the poor relation. People would say, “I’m not sure I want my son or daughter to go to a polytechnic”, although in many cases the provision was as good and, in some areas, better than at universities. Thank goodness we decided to ensure that higher education institutions as a whole were labelled universities.
I hope that the Minister gets the message and that we provide as much information as possible and look at the quality of teaching. A noble Lord said that of course in the mainstream sector, your teaching is observed, and if you are not up to the mark, you will not teach. If we want to improve the quality of teaching in universities, maybe there has to be some sort of requirement to teach students. Teaching is not just about knowledge but also about how you relate to young people. The most knowledgeable and gifted professor may be unable to relate to a young person, and therefore cannot teach the subject. I therefore welcome the notion of improving teaching.
I know that it will be a small part of the matrix, but I have reservations about the concept of a student survey, or students marking teaching. Students should give their views; that is good and right. But students will rate highly teachers, lecturers and professors who give it to them on a plate: “Here is what you need to know—take it away”. Lecturers who are challenging, who want to push the students and make them think for themselves, are quite often marked down. I therefore have reservations about how we develop this idea of student feedback. That is not to say that student voices should not be heard, but that they should be a very small part of the whole. I hope the Minister will take that on board as well.
My Lords, I have today sent a letter setting out some further detail following Monday’s debates, and attached a briefing note on the teaching excellence framework which I hope noble Lords have found helpful.
I am grateful for the thoughtful comments made in this prolonged debate on the teaching excellence framework, which is in the manifesto commitment. These comments go to the heart of what we are trying to achieve in incentivising high-quality teaching. I am pleased that there is no disagreement on the importance of high-quality teaching, and the importance of incentivising this. Many Peers have acknowledged this, and Governments from all sides have wanted it for many years. This is an important element of these reforms and this has been a key debate, so I hope that noble Lords will forgive me and that the House will bear with me if I speak at a reasonable length on the points raised.
A number of Peers raised a point on whether the TEF should be tested more and, in effect, go more slowly. This was raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, the noble Lord, Lord Watson, and other noble Lords. In effect, the question related to a pilot scheme. I reassure noble Lords that the TEF has been, and will continue to be, developed iteratively. We have consulted more than once, and year 2, which we are currently in, is a trial year. Working groups, including those in the sector, are under way on the subject-level TEF. That was raised by the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, and I will say a little more about that later. Therefore, the sector has recognised this trialling aspect, and Maddalaine Ansell, the chief executive of University Alliance, has said:
“We remain confident that we can work with government to shape the TEF so it works well as it develops”.
The noble Baroness, Lady O’Neill, commented on the detailed metrics. She also spoke about iterating and reviewing the metrics, and made some constructive comments. The TEF metrics will continue to evolve. I stress again that, where there is a good case to do so, we will add new metrics to future rounds. I have no doubt that I will also be saying a bit more about this later.
I want to respond quickly to the amendments on the TEF and immigration. This picks up a theme raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Garden, my noble friend Lord Jopling and the noble Baroness, Lady Royall. Following our useful debate last week, and as I set out in my subsequent letter, I confirm again that we have no plans to cap the number of genuine students who can come to the UK to study, nor to limit an institution’s ability to recruit genuine international students based on its TEF rating or any other basis. This applies to all institutions, not just to members of the Russell group.
The noble Lord, Lord Watson, raised the issue of international students, and I move on to the proposal to publish the number of international students. The TEF will be a world-leading assessment of the quality of teaching and student outcomes achieved by higher education providers. Students should have a better idea of what to expect from their studies here—better than anywhere else in the world. However, a dataset that simply links the TEF to international student numbers fails to recognise the much broader international student recruitment market place. I should add that all the relevant information requested by the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, is in the public domain.
Moving on, I remind the Committee that the ability to raise fees according to inflation is not new. As the noble Lord, Lord Watson, said, it has been provided for since 2004. Indeed, as I think he said, the process was established under the then Labour Government and was routinely applied from 2007 to 2012. I reassure noble Lords that, as the Government set out in the White Paper, our expectation is that the value of fee limits accessible to those participating in the TEF will, at most, be in line with inflation.
As the Liberal Democrats will recall, the coalition Government used the legislation that had been put in place in 2004 by the Labour Government to increase tuition fees above inflation in 2012. We have no such plans to increase the value of fee limits above inflation. Increasing the upper or lower limits by more than inflation would, under the Bill as currently drafted, require regulations subject to the affirmative procedure, which requires the approval of Parliament. In the case of the higher amount, it would also require a special resolution. That is in line with the current legislative approach to raising fee caps.
I now turn to the link between the TEF and fees. Schedule 2 builds on well-established procedures in setting fee caps. Under the schedule, different fee limits will apply depending on whether a provider has an access and participation plan, and what TEF rating they have been awarded. Crucially therefore, this schedule will, for the very first time, link fees to the quality of teaching and thus increase value for students. This will recognise and reward excellence, and will drive up quality in the system. It will mean that only providers who demonstrate high-quality teaching will be able to access tuition fees up to an inflation-linked maximum fee.
The noble Lord, Lord Watson, said that since the increase in fees in 2012 there has been no increase in teaching quality. Therefore, this Government are, for the first time, putting in place real incentives, both reputational and financial, to drive up teaching quality. My noble friend Lord Willetts picked up on this theme. We believe that this is the right way forward. I have already mentioned the iterative aspect of this process.
The principle of linking funding to quality is familiar from the research excellence framework, which was introduced in the mid-1980s, and it has been an effective incentive. The REF has driven up the quality of our research, ensuring that we continue to be world leaders in global science. Tuition fees have been frozen since 2012 at £9,000 per year. This means that the fee has already fallen in value to £8,500 in real terms and, without the changes we propose, it will be worth only £8,000 by the end of this Parliament. Therefore, these changes are important if we want providers to continue to deliver high-quality teaching year after year.
As far back as 2009 the noble Lord, Lord Mandelson, said:
“We … need to look in my view for ways of incentivising excellence in academic teaching”.
He went on:
“We have to face up to the challenge of paying for excellence”.
I believe that the measures in Schedule 2 finally deliver that. The schedule allows a direct link between fees and the quality of teaching, with differentiated fees for different TEF ratings—a principle supported by the then BIS Select Committee and the wider sector—along with a clear framework of control for Parliament. This will ensure that well-performing providers are rewarded so that they can continue to invest in excellent teaching.
The noble Lord, Lord Kerslake, and the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, raised concerns about the idea of the TEF being operated at subject level. We agree that the TEF could work well at subject level and are committed to that. We have pilots planned for the end of this year, with the full rollout at subject level in two years’ time. However, this is an evolution from the institutional-level TEF. The rating at institutional level allows us, the sector and assessors to develop the complexity of the scheme over time. I hope that that provides some reassurance.
My noble friend Lord Jopling, the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, and my noble friend Lord Lucas went a little further and said that the NSS is flawed and should not be used. I disagree and can only quote two vice-chancellors—one of the University of Essex and the other of the University of East Anglia—who said:
“As one of the key objectives of the TEF is to provide prospective students with information that will allow them to make informed choices about where to study, it would be perverse to exclude use of the only cross-sector, reliable source of student’s views about the quality of their educational provision”.
However, we recognise the limitations of the NSS and have directed assessors not to overweight the NSS-based metrics. We have set an expectation that these metrics will be triangulated against other metrics and the additional evidence given by the provider. The rating is absolutely not just about the NSS.
My noble friend Lord Jopling quoted the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester, who spoke at Second Reading about ensuring that the TEF does not misinterpret teaching quality. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, stated that it needs to measure teaching effectiveness, and of course he is correct. I hope that I can reassure the Committee on that. Excellent teaching can occur in many forms, as I am sure is recognised. There is no one-size-fits-all definition of teaching excellence. However, great-quality teaching, defined broadly, increases the likelihood of good outcomes.
We have chosen to begin the TEF using metrics that are already widely established in the sector. We will continue to review the metrics in use and, where there is a strong case to do so, we will add new metrics to future TEF rounds. The metrics that we have chosen allow differentiation across providers. For example, on retention and student outcomes, many providers are well above or below the current sector-accepted benchmark. So clearly quality teaching makes a difference.
I should now like to address a number of concerns raised at Second Reading and in this group of amendments about the way we intend to communicate the outcomes of the TEF. The TEF is designed to provide clear information to students about where the best provision can be found, as well as clear incentives for providers to strive for teaching excellence. It delivers on our manifesto commitment to recognise universities offering the highest-teaching quality, driving value and transparency for students. To answer a point raised by my noble friend Lord Lucas, the TEF data will be published, not summarised, including the detail.
A fundamental purpose of the TEF is to differentiate excellence above the high-quality baseline in a way that is communicated clearly to students. We consulted the sector, which made it clear that it wanted neither a ranked league table nor confusing descriptors. The sector was also not keen on the four different levels that we originally proposed. In response to the feedback, we chose to have just three levels, which have been much spoken about today—gold, silver and bronze, using terms suggested by a consultation respondent.
The noble Lord, Lord Kerslake, asked what our assessment is of who will get what in the TEF and the anticipated distribution. In the technical consultation, we indicated a likely distribution where approximately 20% of participating providers would receive the lowest rating, approximately 20% to 30% would receive the highest rating and the remaining 50% to 60% would receive the intermediate rating. However, this distribution is not a quota; that is, the panel will not be expected to force an allocation of providers to categories based on these proportions. Rather, its assessment will be based on evidence, including the provider’s submission. The decision of the TEF panel will be the final determinant of a provider’s rating. The panel will be under no obligation to comply with a quota or guided distribution when determining ratings.
The noble Baroness, Lady Royall, asked who will make the judgment in respect of what the rating should be, which is a fair question. The TEF ratings will be decided by a highly respected and experienced group of TEF assessors, including academics, students and employers. It might interest the Committee to know that more than 1,200 people applied for these roles, which means that this is an extremely experienced group. The group, as was recognised by many Peers, is chaired by the excellent Chris Husbands, whose name was mentioned earlier. The ratings given by the group are made independently of government, which I am sure the Committee will realise.
I have heard concerns that bronze might be considered a negative award, but this is not the case in other areas. For example, for the Athena SWAN awards, recognising the advancement of gender equality, or for Investors in People, a bronze award is clearly seen as a badge of high quality, just as it will be in the TEF. We are not, however, complacent about this, and are working with the British Council and others to ensure that TEF ratings are communicated effectively internationally, emphasising the overall high quality of UK provision. We will have a joint communication plan with them in place by the time the TEF ratings are published. I believe this demonstrates the quality above the high baseline that we expect in the UK.
As I mentioned, there has been a full consultation on this. It came down to the best way forward, which we believe is to have three ratings. I should stress, and hope that I have stressed, that bronze is a good level and is highly respected. I want to make that quite clear to the Committee, and I hope that noble Lords will accept what I have said.
As I have said, the consultation has led us to believe that this rating system is the best that we have come up with. I have explained already that various other systems have been looked at and we believe that this is the right way forward. I understand that there is some passion around what methods should be used, but we believe that this is the right way forward.
I will continue on the same theme. My noble friend Lord Jopling and the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, suggested that the TEF metrics will be gamed. We expect the assessment panels to take a holistic approach in assessing all the evidence, not just the metrics, and therefore it will not be easy to game the system. In addition, the role of the external examiners, a robust quality assessment system and the ONS review of the data sources we use are all important in tackling this issue.
The noble Baroness, Lady Warwick, suggested that the TEF will mean that some students will be forced to study at bronze institutions due to their circumstances. However, as I said just now, a bronze provider is still one that has passed a high bar on the quality we expect it to offer. The TEF assesses excellence above that baseline and will, we expect, incentivise and encourage that bronze provider to offer a better quality of teaching to that student than they do at present.
Then noble Baroness, Lady Lister, asked how lecturers and teachers will know how to improve their teaching on the basis of the TEF ratings. The TEF provides clear reputational and financial incentives for providers to improve teaching quality, but it is not for us to tell universities how to teach. However, all TEF provider submissions will be published and we would expect those in the sector to learn from one another and to continue to feed back to us as the TEF develops.
The noble Baroness, Lady Deech, raised the issue of the impact of the TEF on social mobility, which is a very fair point. She asked what effect the Government think that the linking of fees and teaching quality will have on social mobility. Fears about only the Russell group providers doing well in the metrics are, we believe, misplaced. The metrics have benchmarks that recognise the student body characteristics of each provider, and a number of other safeguards are in place to ensure that the TEF should actually enhance the quality of teaching for disadvantaged groups. I know that Les Ebdon has made some comments on that, which will be very much known by the Committee.
In conclusion, while I recognise the concern that has been expressed around the ratings of gold, silver and bronze, we should not deceive ourselves. Both home and international students already make judgments as to the relative merits of different universities, based on all sorts of unreliable measures. The TEF will allow those judgments to be better informed, based on evidence rather than prejudice. These amendments would undermine the TEF’s ability to provide clear ratings and clear incentives to the sector to drive up teaching quality.
As the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, has requested this stand part debate, I remind noble Lords that removing this schedule in its entirety would remove any link between quality and the fees that a provider was able to charge. It would also mean that the sector would not receive the additional £16 billion of income by 2025 that we expect the TEF to deliver. I do not think that this is what we, or the noble Lord, want.
I am sorry to intervene on the Minister, but I really must challenge that. The situation, as he has already described it, is that fees have risen, substantially and then gradually, over the past period. That has been achieved perfectly straightforwardly by bringing forward statutory instruments that allow for an increase in fees relative to inflation. Although we have questioned some of the issues behind it, we have supported that. We are about to engage in a discussion in your Lordships’ House on the fee increases that are to apply from next session. Those fee increases are detached from any considerations of quality, are entirely related to inflation and are done on the basis that the House will consider and approve them. What exactly is the difference between that and what he is proposing? I do not get it.
I reiterate that the main way forward is that we want to link the issues of fees and performance. The TEF is a manifesto commitment, and I know that we are all agreed on the importance of recognising excellent teaching. As I have said very clearly to the Committee today, the Government have consulted extensively on the form of the TEF, and we will continue to listen to and engage with the sector as the TEF evolves. I say again that it is an iterative process, and that is why we do not need in primary legislation the detailed provisions that we have been discussing, as we believe they would hinder the constructive development that is already taking place. Therefore, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Watson, will agree to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, is there a risk with the direction the Government are taking that, in supporting the thriving, successful and very good teaching universities and, some might say, putting in a bad light the less well-performing universities, we will move to a culture of universities that is less rich and diverse, with fewer local universities and specialisms, and just a few thoroughbred universities that everyone will want to go to and a diaspora of rather struggling universities? Is the Minister prepared to go away and think about whether that is a consequence that might result from this and whether that would be helpful?
I thank the noble Earl for his point. However, I think it is right that we should be bold and look ahead to bring in the performance-related measures that we have been talking about—the sector has been waiting 20 years for this. We are bringing it in carefully, with some consideration, and I hope the Committee today recognises that there have been a lot of checks and controls in this. I do not think we should stick to the status quo, in which there is no consideration of assessing the performance of universities or teaching. It is very important to be sure that we raise the quality of teaching in this country.
My Lords, I declare an interest as pro-chancellor of Lancaster University, where we support strongly the principle of the teaching excellence framework. However, what I have found in this debate is that the Minister appears very reluctant to admit that, in any of the excellent speeches that we have heard tonight, good points have been made that are worth him thinking about and coming back to the House on at Report stage. This is disappointing. Does the Minister acknowledge that this might be the reaction of Members all around the Committee, and will he reflect on that?
I will reflect on that. I may not have said it, but I have appreciated the contributions from all noble Lords this afternoon. There have been a number of different angles to this and we had an interesting contribution from the noble Lord, Lord Desai. There is not a conclusive way forward—this is an iterative process—but I must say that, yes, I am listening. We believe that this is the right way forward. Although I have been listening, I will say again that this is a manifesto commitment and we are very keen to take it forward.
My Lords, several noble Lords around the Chamber—probably all of us, actually—are anxious about the risks associated with this process; that is what we have been trying to describe. We are not resisting the way forward but trying to assess the extent of the risk. Can the Minister tell us whether there has there been a risk assessment and whether he can publish it if there has?
I will reflect on what the noble Baroness has said. It may give her some comfort if I say that we are not rushing this in. The proposals that we have are not all in the Bill; that is why this is an iterative process. I will continue to engage, as will the team and my honourable friend in the other place, on rolling out the TEF.
My Lords, we do not question the fact that this is a manifesto commitment. We support the fact that it is a manifesto commitment. We want to ensure that the system which comes out of the noble Lord’s manifesto commitment works for all universities in this country and ensures their excellence in the future.
My Lords, we all want that. I hope that in my considered response I have given my views as to how we see the way forward. I will say again that I have listened to all the views and will reflect carefully, when I read Hansard, on what noble Lords have said. I am sure that that will be read widely. I am listening but I do not wish to go any further from my views on how we go forward.
My Lords, my noble friend made a statement of the Government’s policy regarding overseas students which was fuller and stronger than I have heard from anyone else—on which I congratulate him. Can he confirm therefore—it would be consistent with what he said—that the Home Secretary has now taken a step back from the remarks she made in her speech to the Conservative Party conference, and in particular the ones that implied she would reduce the number of students by refusing lower-quality courses, as she described them, the right to take overseas students?
On gold, silver and bronze, my noble friend is somewhat confused as to the effect of these things. As the noble Lord, Lord Desai, and others pointed out, bronze is only valuable because so many people get worse. Under the old Ofsted rating system of outstanding, good and satisfactory, it was quite clear that “satisfactory” meant “avoid at all costs”. It was the lowest rating you could get above absolute disaster. That is the way it was perceived.
Although we in this country may manage to give things time, see them in perspective and understand why it is worth sending our children to a bronze institution, it would be extremely hard for agents overseas to do so. We will be competing with other countries which will not hesitate to ask, “Why are you thinking of sending this child to a bronze institution when we in Canada”—or Australia or wherever else—“can offer them a top-quality institution doing the same course in the same subject?”. It would be really damaging.
It is also unnecessary, because it is not valuable information for a student. It is the Government’s conclusion, but what is important is the students’ and their advisers’ conclusion. The way in which the Government choose to balance particular elements of their assessment of quality do not bear on the decision that an individual student may take. That must be a matter for individual decision. We should publish the information—absolutely—but not some arbitrary percentage. Someone in the Civil Service or in some committee may decide that only 20% of our universities are excellent. At least with Ofsted there are criteria that can be relied on. This will be damaging and will hurt one of our great industries. It is not based on anything useful or on fact, but it will be treated as if it is.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, mentioned, as have many other noble Lords, gold, silver and bronze. At last year’s Olympic Games an event at which many British athletes and Paralympic athletes won medals was swimming—we won many gold medals, many silver and many bronze. The Minister must be in line for a gold medal at swimming because he has been facing a torrent against him throughout the debate. He has been swimming manfully but has not made very much progress.
By my calculation, some 13 noble Lords have spoken in the last hour and 52 minutes. Of those, all were in favour of improving teaching quality, as you might expect, and of having a teaching excellence framework in some form. As all noble Lords have said, we welcome the role of Chris Husbands in developing it. However, with the exception of the noble Lord, Lord Willetts, we all believe that it cannot be delivered in the form that is proposed—and even the noble Lord, Lord Willetts, could muster no more enthusiasm for the TEF than to say that the current metrics are not as bad as claimed. That qualifies as faint praise.
Many noble Lords also spoke against the link between teaching quality and fees in principle, and more spoke in favour of rating on a basis other than the gold, silver and bronze. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, quoted someone in Canada, looking at British institutions and spotting a bronze and thinking, “Why would I advise my son or daughter to go there rather than an institution in Canada because it is only a bronze?” The point is that the bronze institution in the UK could well be better than the institution in Canada, but the perception will not be that. Perception consistently outranks fact, and that is the big danger in the three-tier system being advanced by the Government.
I wish to make a serious point about two of the contributions in the debate—those of the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, and my noble friend Lady Warwick. Both highlighted and made powerful points on social mobility and the effects that the Government’s proposals not only could but almost certainly will have. I quoted Cambridge University in my opening remarks; that has the same fear. The Government claim to be committed to improving social mobility although some of us are unconvinced. That view is reinforced by the fact that the Minister, very disappointingly, failed even to mention social mobility in his reply. In his own terminology, he needs to reflect on that matter before Report.
In his response, the Minister referred to linking fees to quality of teaching but did not say how that would be achieved. That is the main reason for noble Lords’ opposition to the link. My noble friend Lady Cohen said that objectivity is the key here. That is what is required, and it is a quality that is lacking in the metrics as they stand at the moment.
The problem of rating on the basis of institutions has also been highlighted. The Minister said that, at the moment, the Bill allows for the scheme to be developed at institutional level and then at departmental level at some point in the future. The question mark is how. If the ratings are to be made on a departmental or faculty basis, how can you avoid, ultimately, differential fees being charged within institutions if the Government truly believe in that link? That certainly is not a road we would wish to go down. The bottom line here is that the Government need to build confidence within the sector that the path they are going down is one that will improve the sector’s quality and sustainability, particularly with so many new operators arriving.
My noble friend Lord Desai asked whether anyone would fail the exam. The Minister could not bring himself to admit it, but unless he believes that all institutions will be capable of being rated gold, the answer can only be yes. That is why our Amendment 195 recognised that fact and advocated a simple pass/fail rating. That way, every institution knows where it stands—as does everyone outside it when making their decisions. That is something that those looking at a course at a university have the right to have available when they make their choice.
I suggest that the Minister will need to come to terms with the fact he is not carrying noble Lords with him. I suggest he will need to change his position substantially before we come back to this matter, which we undoubtedly will when we next discuss it on Report. On the basis of an invigorating and very useful debate, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 122 withdrawn.
House resumed. Committee to begin again not before 8.41 pm.