Teaching Excellence Framework - Question

– in the House of Lords at 3:01 pm on 19th November 2018.

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Photo of Lord Stevenson of Balmacara Lord Stevenson of Balmacara Opposition Whip (Lords) 3:01 pm, 19th November 2018

To ask Her Majesty’s Government when the review of the Teaching Excellence Framework is due to report and whether this review will include recommendations for judgements to be made on the change in the percentage of first class and upper second class degrees awarded by higher education institutions.

Photo of Viscount Younger of Leckie Viscount Younger of Leckie Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, the Minister of State for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation has today announced the appointment of Dame Shirley Pearce as the independent reviewer of the teaching excellence and student outcomes framework. We expect the reviewer to report in summer 2019. The scope of the report is laid down in the Higher Education and Research Act 2017. It will be a wide-ranging and independent review and we cannot prejudge its focus and recommendations.

Photo of Lord Stevenson of Balmacara Lord Stevenson of Balmacara Opposition Whip (Lords)

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that reply and, indeed, for announcing the name of the person reviewing this area. Your Lordships’ House will recall that this review was one of the concessions extracted with some difficulty from the Government during the wash-up on what is now the Higher Education and Research Act 2017, as the House had significant reservations about the teaching excellent framework, although it is now called—I must say this carefully—TESOF. Concern has been rising in the sector because of the delay in this review since Royal Assent in June 2017, particularly in light of the policy statements increasingly being made by Ministers. So I am very glad to hear that Dame Shirley Pearce has been selected and we wish her well with her work. Can the Minister confirm that the remit set out in primary legislation still holds and that the report will be brought before Parliament when it is ready? Can he explain how the interests of valued institutions such as the Open University will be secured? These do not participate in TEF, as the current metrics do not work for distance learning or, indeed, part-time students more generally.

Photo of Viscount Younger of Leckie Viscount Younger of Leckie Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

I am delighted that this happens to be the day that the announcement of Dame Shirley’s appointment has come through. On timing, we said that the reviewer must be appointed within a year of the commencement of Section 25 of HERA; that is, by 1 January 2019, so we are ahead of time. I know that there are six aspects to the TEF review. The Open University is certainly something which the new reviewer will be looking at.

Photo of Baroness Warsi Baroness Warsi Conservative

My Lords, I draw the House’s attention to my interests in the register, specifically as a university pro vice-chancellor. Can my noble friend tell us whether there is any truth to stories in the media about a review which would look into funding and the fees charged by universities, specifically those universities that are likely to attract pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds? While I praise and support the Government’s commitment to social mobility, does he accept that if we were to apply such a pupil penalty at university level for those universities which are more likely to attract children from disadvantaged backgrounds, we would be fundamentally undermining the support of policies such as the pupil premium that put more funds into children from disadvantaged backgrounds in early years education?

Photo of Viscount Younger of Leckie Viscount Younger of Leckie Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

This Government have done more than any other to encourage those from disadvantaged backgrounds to go to university. There is a lot in the question asked by my noble friend. She will know that the 18-plus review, which is pretty wide-ranging, will be looking at all the aspects that she has raised.

Photo of Baroness Garden of Frognal Baroness Garden of Frognal Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My Lords, what feedback have the Government had from those universities branded bronze in the review on their ability to attract students, particularly international students? If it has had an effect, that is bad news for the universities; if it has had no effect, surely that is bad news for the TEF.

Photo of Viscount Younger of Leckie Viscount Younger of Leckie Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

I think it is fair to say that since our discussions during the passage of the HERA—I hope the House will recognise this—the metrics used, which by the way will be reviewed by Dame Shirley Pearce, have been largely well received. I do not want to prejudge exactly what Dame Shirley will come out with in the total review of the TEF, including the metrics, but so far the response has been broadly good.

Photo of The Bishop of Winchester The Bishop of Winchester Bishop

My Lords, given concerns about the perceived grade inflation of degrees and the indications about including the degree grade element in the TEF awards process, can the Minister advise the House on the criteria for evaluating grade awards in the TEF process? When will HE institutions be informed about this, so that they can evaluate their procedures?

Photo of Viscount Younger of Leckie Viscount Younger of Leckie Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

The right reverend Prelate raises an important point. The Government are certainly aware of the grade inflation aspect, which is topical and controversial, but he will know that there is a distinction between grade inflation and grade improvement. Although there has been some increase in good degrees, which is likely to be attributable to students’ prior attainment, this is not the whole story. Some parts of the sector argue that that inflation is actually due to grade improvement. It is very difficult to separate grade improvement out from grade inflation, and this is something that Dame Shirley will be looking at.

Photo of Lord Grocott Lord Grocott Labour

Did I hear the Minister aright earlier? I thought I heard him say that this Government have done more than any previous Government to increase inclusivity and access for disadvantaged groups to university entrance. I am sure that he would not have made that statement without some detailed statistical evidence. Could he present the House with it and place a copy in the Library?

Photo of Viscount Younger of Leckie Viscount Younger of Leckie Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

I certainly can. There is a lot of detail to back up what I have said because the tuition fee system, whereby the fee is attached to the student going to university, allows for more people to go to university. I will certainly write to the noble Lord and place a copy of the letter in the Library, with some statistics to back me up.

Photo of Lord Lexden Lord Lexden Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

Does the review cover the whole United Kingdom and, if not, are the devolved Governments making their own separate arrangements to hold reviews?

Photo of Viscount Younger of Leckie Viscount Younger of Leckie Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My noble friend raises a good question. The devolved Administrations undertake their own system, but no doubt they will look at the results of the review—which, as I said earlier, is due to report in summer 2019.

Photo of Lord Teverson Lord Teverson Chair, EU Energy and Environment Sub-Committee

My Lords, as someone who received a lower Second, could my degree be inflated to a double-starred First under this new system?

Photo of Viscount Younger of Leckie Viscount Younger of Leckie Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

One could assume that that was perhaps grade inflation but, hopefully, it would be due to grade improvement.