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Universities: Teaching Excellence Framework

Volume 783: debated on Thursday 29 June 2017


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government, following the publication of the Teaching Excellence Framework outcomes, whether they will review the metrics employed.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, I declare my interest as a former chairman of King’s College London.

My Lords, the metrics used in the teaching excellence framework have been thoroughly reviewed and will continue to be carefully scrutinised as the TEF develops. During the passage of the Higher Education and Research Act, the Government committed to undertake a lessons learned review to consider how the metrics were applied and interpreted in the trial year and to commission a future, independent review of the TEF.

I thank the Minister for confirming that the teaching excellence framework and indeed the metrics will be reviewed, but I wonder whether he would agree with me that a system that classifies the London School of Economics and the University of Southampton as third class, and University College London and the University of Manchester as second class, must surely be using metrics which are not suitable for properly assessing teaching quality?

My noble friend will not expect me to agree with him. I believe that the results show that every single participating provider has met very demanding national requirements that ensure a high-quality academic experience, delivery of positive student outcomes and the protection of the student interest. I would say also that providers awarded bronze or silver still deliver outcomes that fully meet or exceed the existing high bar for quality and standards in UK higher education. As Chris Husbands, the chief executive for the TEF said, “seams of gold” can be found in many silver and bronze providers.

My Lords, can the Minister name any other country which has set up a dubious system of metrics which needlessly damages the reputation of its highly regarded universities? If not, does he not think it would more effectively raise teaching standards if, instead of publicly branding universities as third class, they were all encouraged to train their teaching staff in teaching skills, which are after all very different from the skills required to get a good degree or a doctorate?

I do not share the noble Baroness’s pessimism on this. We believe that the test can be used to enhance the UK’s international reputation and will support our universities to recruit more students by sending a clear message to the world that we take teaching seriously. For example, Coventry has recently used its additional TEF accolade to market itself effectively in China.

My Lords, is it not a good reminder to us all that the success of a university is to be judged against not the number of students it recruits—in particular, the number of students from overseas that it recruits—but more the contact that takes place between the students and their tutors, in particular the support that students get in the early years as they move into university life?

The noble Lord is absolutely correct. He will know that the process is an iterative one, which we believe is becoming more robust. For example, the assessment process takes account of diverse forms of teaching, the level of academic support and the learning experience—everyone knows about the NSS—and also looks at outcomes and where students end up. Each application for this particular trial also included a 15-page submission from the providers, so it was very much qualitative as well as quantitative.

My Lords, when the Higher Education and Research Bill was going through your Lordships’ House earlier this year, noble Lords from all sides, including the Government Benches, argued strongly against the concept of a teaching excellence framework, warning that it was a blunt instrument and ill equipped to show what actually happens within lecture rooms. Now we are where we are. Everyone knows that the London School of Economics, the School of Oriental and African Studies, Goldsmiths, University of London, the University of Liverpool and the University of Southampton are in no sense third-rate institutions, but that is not how it looks now to potential students, particularly those from overseas. Although we accept that an independent review will be carried out—which I am sure will sweep away the nonsense of gold, silver and bronze—will the Minister say in the interim, to address the inevitable reputational damage to institutions, what support he will offer to them in that situation?

Again, I do not share the pessimism that has come across from the noble Lord. I was very pleased to be part of the process of the Bill. There were over 500 amendments, and I appreciated the noble Lord’s contribution. I repeat that it is an iterative process. Once the TEF has been properly introduced a year or so down the line, there will be that proper independent review and, as we pledged in the process of the Act, it will look at the metrics and the definitions. We will see what happens from there.

My Lords, does the Minister agree with me that a system that ends up giving a gold teaching award to his alma mater and mine, the University of St Andrews, as well as to my university, the University of Dundee, of which I am chancellor, must be the right system?

I can only agree with the noble Lord. In congratulating the University of St Andrews, I would like to take this opportunity, which other noble Lords have not done, to congratulate all those who have got a gold award but also those who have got silver and bronze.

My Lords, what applies to St Andrews also applies to Lincoln, I am pleased to say, but does my noble friend not accept that those coming to our great universities from abroad, on whom we increasingly depend, want to have a message of clarity, not confusion? No one can begin to pretend that the LSE and UCL are not among the foremost institutions of the world, and anything that casts doubt on that is only damaging our higher education system.

Let me say again that there is a strong panel that took its time and went through a process to provide the assessments. This is something that has been well thought out. My noble friend will know that some initial ratings were given and then final ones. It is a strong process. With regard to marketing abroad, the Department for Education has been working closely with the British Council and Universities UK on an international script for UK embassies to use to avoid any international misinterpretation of the award levels.