Thoughts on the HE green paper
I was asked to give my thoughts on the HE green paper. Here are some thoughts.
- I agree with a strong emphasis on teaching.
- This can be improved considerably but it is a caricature to suggest that teaching is not valued.
- A stronger emphasis on teacher should not mean that it’s just another extra obligation. It must be understood that if we want more emphasis on teaching, perhaps there must be less emphasis on research. A nightmare scenario would be that the TEF adds to the bureaucracy of HEIs
- In other words, it should not be another REF, but then just for teaching. Certainly if we want a cross-over between research and teaching (p. 20), especially important perhaps for an Education School, then this also means appreciating what can’t be done.
- Measuring ‘teaching quality’ is difficult. Using multi-modal approaches is better than simple metrics. I think chapter 3 on the TEF addresses this quite reasonably.
- Teaching is a collaborative affair where teachers (staff) are experts who ‘teach’ students. Teachers together with students. A too student-centered approach (aimed at what the students want) is not desirable. Students do not always know best. Metrics like the NSS are very arbitrary and do not correlate strongly with teaching quality. Research shows that variance of surveys like these lies more at the student level and not institutional level, in other words differences within HEI are much larger than between HEI. This means that comments like on p.19 (point 7.) are unwarranted, as hardly any variance on student experience and engagement can be explained at the HEI level. I appreciate that this can be mitigated by using multiple sources for determining ‘teaching quality’ but this must really be key. In addition, good teachers already listen to students.
- The link between ‘teaching quality’ and raising fees is undesirable. The comment on p. 19 on ‘value for money’ is subjective as ‘value for money’ can also mean that the fees should be lowered (this would be a good idea), thus increasing the ‘value for money’. Yet, in this context it is used to argue the value should be increased. Given the high scores for the NSS, this seems strange. Further, the HEPI-HEA research also says (p. 9): “Unsurprisingly, when asked about their top three priorities for institutional expenditure, 48% of students chose ‘reducing fee levels’. However, four further clear priorities emerge, each chosen by over one-third of students: increasing teaching hours, decreasing class sizes, better training for lecturers and better learning facilities.”. The current report seems to what one-sidedly have chosen only a few of these items.
- There is another inconsistency in all of this: if teaching quality for students is improved, partly based on student judgements, I presume, students are ‘rewarded’ with higher fees. This seems very paradoxical, very ‘anti market’, and could also set teachers against students.
- GPA seems more appropriate than the current ‘banding’ but the problem is more that student achievement is conflated with ‘teaching quality’. Certainly with a strong contribution of student evaluations I doubt a new system will do away with a tendency to have higher grades. The new system even seems to incentivize this. I would prefer actions that really do something about root causes. Luckily the limitations are acknowledged on p.26 (point #41).
- On participation the document does not convey any sense of wider, systemic reasons for a lack of participation, for example Socio-economic inequalities. Of course this document is about HE but like many foci, some acknowledgement of this would have been good.
- The changes in the market do not acknowledge that there is no real market. Like many semi-public examples this will combine the worst of both worlds.
- On the education structure: students should not be at the center: students AND teachers should be at the center. In point 4 staff is sorely missed. In addition, ‘market principles’ are very central. It also says ‘affordable’ which seems counter to the fee developments in the last decade. A name ‘Office for Students’ fails to acknowledge HE is a joint affair.
- The changes in the architecture seem very reasonable but the question needs to be asked “what does this restructuring really solve?”. It sounds like rebranding exercises the private sector often does: old wine in new wineskins. The costs of these reforms are often underestimated (e.g. IT costs).