Higher Education and Research Bill - Report (1st Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:30 pm on 6th March 2017.

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Photo of Baroness Wolf of Dulwich Baroness Wolf of Dulwich Crossbench 5:30 pm, 6th March 2017

My Lords, I, too, support the amendment. I agree with my noble friend Lord Kerslake that to use the TEF in its current state as a mechanism for deciding what fees an institution can charge is premature and quite wrong. I agree with him also that, given that the Government wish to put students at the centre of things, it is extraordinary how little we are listening to them. At the moment, not a single representative body led by students has backed the proposal to link the TEF judgments to the level of fees. Twenty-six students unions, including a number in the best-known universities—in fact, largely in the better known universities—are boycotting the national student satisfaction survey this year because they are so concerned that the metrics that the Government propose to use are inappropriate.

It is worth remembering that the Conservative manifesto undertook to recognise universities offering the highest teaching quality. I do not think that a single person in this Chamber does not believe that teaching quality and giving information to students about it are extraordinarily important. I want to quote my own institution. A joint statement from the college and its students union said that:

“The university and the Students’ Union … agree that the Teaching Excellence Framework … metrics currently under discussion are not, in their current form, appropriate measures for improving educational quality”.

The president of our students union feels strongly that, while students have never disagreed with this principle, they dispute the employment of the teaching excellence framework in its current form to achieve the goal of improving teaching quality in higher education. These are serious young people and they have thought about what they are doing. They feel that linking fees to the TEF is not appropriate.

Many people will know that Universities UK feels that the Government have great concessions and that this is basically fine. It is worth remembering that this was an action on the part of its executive. It is also important to remember that in the current environment vice-chancellors are above all interested in behaving in such a way that they maximise their fee intake. I remind people who have not already heard it of Goodhart’s law, which basically says that any instrument, measure or metric used for making decisions or allocating funds which are of high importance automatically becomes unreliable. It is a law for which nobody has yet found a counter example; it is my daily teaching bread and it is true not just in education but in hospitals, social care and everywhere else. If we want to give people really good information on the teaching quality in their institutions, tying it to whether that institution can raise its fee is not a good way to improve the quality of the measurements.

I want to cite three groups of academics who are quite separately trying hard to get through to us, the Council for the Defence of British Universities, the Campaign for the Public University and the Convention for Higher Education, all of which feel, as do students, that in their current state the TEF metrics are not up to the job of determining fee levels and that, until we are sure that we have valid and reliable measures, we should not do this.

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