A new paper by the Higher Education Policy Institute considers the most controversial aspects of the new Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) and proposes substantial changes to make sure it works. Tackling Wicked Issues: Prestige and Employment Outcomes in the Teaching Excellence Framework (Occasional Paper 14) includes two essays, written by three authors with long experience in the higher education sector.

In the first part, ‘Why research trumps teaching and what can be done about it’, Paul Blackmore, Professor of Higher Education at King’s College London, explains why university research has been regarded as more important than teaching students.

Professor Blackmore said:

‘Whenever research and teaching are pitted against one another inside universities, teaching loses. This is because research produces prestige. So driving a new wedge between research and teaching, as the Government is doing, sets up a contest that teaching is bound to lose.

‘Instead, we should be linking teaching and research at all levels. There should be one official body with oversight for both. Staff promotion should reward those who link research and teaching. Research funding should help deliver better teaching and teaching funding should be linked to research-like learning.

‘Given that higher education now straddles two Government Departments, it is doubly important to ensure that teaching and research are not driven even further apart.’

In the second part, ‘Why employment outcomes are important and how they should be measured in future’, Richard Blackwell, Emeritus Professor of Southampton Solent University, and Martin Edmondson, Chief Executive of Gradcore, challenge the idea that graduate outcomes are best measured through long-term earnings data.

Richard Blackwell said:

‘Surveys of new graduates have gone out of fashion in recent years. It is true that knowing what someone is doing six months after they have graduated provides limited information about the lifelong benefits of having a degree. But such data are vital in telling us how new graduates are faring and whether social mobility is happening. There are good reasons why other countries look jealously at the detailed information the UK collects on what new graduates are doing.

‘Tax record data provide a longer time horizon over which to judge the success of graduates, at least in earnings terms. But this information has serious flaws of its own. The only major study using graduate earnings data that has appeared to date took years to produce, provided information at an aggregate level and covered only a small part of the higher education sector.

Martin Edmondson said:

‘Across the UK, different universities have different missions, offer different subjects and operate in different economic environments. So we need lots of data on outcomes and very careful treatment of the results. Above all, it is vital that short-term graduate outcome data continue to be collected, and set in context, as the new higher education landscape takes shape. Only then will it be possible to construct a sensible basket of measures on employment outcomes for the new Teaching Excellence Framework.

‘Perceived value for money is falling fast among students. They do not want to pay more, even where teaching is known to be excellent, but they do want their degree to make them more employable. Meanwhile, universities say they can’t offer a world-class education unless they have sufficient income. So employment data, and specifically first destination data, have a significant role to play in making a case for bigger university budgets.’

Notes for Editors

  1. Paul Blackmore’s chapter recommends the following policy changes at a national level:
  • a single funding body for teaching and research or, at the very least, ensure that each funding body proceeds with full reference to the other;
  • asking universities to provide a research and teaching strategy for quality-related research funding, showing how each informs and supports the other;
  • including a teaching impact statement as part of all research applications; and
  • introducing a research-related conception of teaching in the National Student Survey.
  1. Richard Blackwell and Martin Edmondson recommend that the TEF should contain a basket of measures containing existing data and new data, such as:
  • an enhanced version of the existing Destinations of Leavers from Higher Education (DLHE) main survey, including new information on whether students have done a placement or other work-based learning;
  • an enhanced longitudinal DLHE assessing outcomes three-and-a-half years after graduation, to be undertaken on an annual basis for the first time;
  • tax record data on earnings from HMRC; and
  • an institution-specific element in which performance is measured against declared targets.