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Department of Business, Innovation and Skills - TEF year 2 technical consultation

As part of the government's work to review Higher Education policy, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills has launched a technical consultation into year 2 of the Teaching Excellence Framework proposals. Details of the consultation can be found on the government website.

The submission produced by the Geological Society can be found below:

Submitted 12 July 2016

Question 1:

Do you agree with the criteria proposed in Figure 4? Please outline your reasons and suggest any alternatives or additions. Question 8 asks about the type of evidence that will be used to assess the criteria so please put forward your comments on the evidence base in response to that question.

The overall criteria proposed in Figure 4 form a logical framework to use in assessing the quality of the student experience. However, we have some concerns around some of the details, particularly in terms of the impacts on geoscience teaching assessment and these are detailed in our response to Question 8.

Question 2:

A) How should we include a highly skilled employment metric as part of the TEF?

B) If included as a core metric, should we adopt employment in Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) groups 1-3 as a measure of graduates entering highly skilled jobs?

C) Do you agree with our proposal to include all graduates in the calculation of the employment/destination metrics?

We agree that a measure of highly skilled employment would be a useful addition to the proposed metrics. Care must be taken to design a metric that can be standardised across all the disciplines in a university, particularly at this institutional TEF stage.

Question 7:

A) Do you agree with the proposed approach for the provider submission?

B) Do you agree with the proposed 15 page limit?
Please explain your reasons and outline any alternative suggestion

The variability in the metrics across disciplines will result in the provider submission document having elevated importance to distinguish one institution from another. It is important that the regulations for the provider submission are such that the individual universities can incorporate all the variability between disciplines.

Question 8:

Without the list becoming exhaustive or prescriptive, we are keen to ensure that the examples of additional evidence included in Figure 6 reflect a diversity of approaches to delivery. Do you agree with the examples? Please outline your reasons and suggest any additions or alternatives.

We would urge caution in the use of some of the proposed metrics which are designed to represent educational quality. Metrics such as employment data 6 months after graduation may be a poor representation of educational quality in our sector. This was indicated in the Wakeham report which detailed that unemployment in the geoscience sector 6 months after graduation is at a similar level to the STEM average, but that a significantly higher proportion of graduates are in low-paid employment or non-graduate roles. This may be a result of the life choices of geoscience graduates rather than a result of poor preparation for the workplace.

The metrics proposed cannot capture the granularity required to effectively represent different subjects and disciplines. While the range of metrics proposed are sensible selections for assessing teaching excellence, concern remains that there might not be sufficient national data to effectively evaluate these criteria across and between institutions. Metrics based on poor quality or a small amount of data would deliver an inaccurate picture of teaching excellence across the sector.

Many respondents have raised concerns about the possible difficulties and unwanted impacts of using certain proposed metrics. The inclusion and prominence of the National Students Survey in the list of metrics poses some unique issues. Many agree that Higher Education should be a challenging experience for students in order to expand their knowledge and test their competence. This may result in short term student dissatisfaction with the Higher Education experience.

For this reason the student satisfaction results may not accurately reflect quality in education provision. In addition, it is not clear how the ‘learning environment’ requirements (detailed in Figure 2 and 4) of specific subjects can be captured. For example, the teaching of geological sciences requires extensive outdoor fieldwork, and it is not clear how the ‘effectiveness’ of particular fieldwork locations can be evaluated and included in the learning environment assessment at institutional level. Or, if TEF was eventually to be extended to individual subjects, how the effectiveness of a particular fieldwork programme, or a comparison of individual fieldwork locations, can be meaningfully captured by metrics.

Respondents to this call for evidence also raised the issue that currently; it is not clear how TEF will be used effectively to drive up quality at subject level. The current thinking appears to focus towards setting future fee levels. This is in itself counter-intuitive as those with the highest TEF scores will presumably be those with higher future incomes whereas those that might require additional income to improve quality will potentially lack capability. This will potentially have the greatest negative impact on “high-cost” subjects (including field-intensive subjects) in those institutions affected, as this is a means of redistributing income internally.

Figure 4 refers to the possible use of ‘professional accreditation’ as part of the evidence base for the aspect of ‘Teaching Quality’ and ‘Student Outcome and Learning Gain’ and Figure 6 refers to the ‘Recognition of courses by professional, statutory and regulatory bodies’. The Geological Society is a learned society and professional body and we are the recognised body in the UK for the accreditation of undergraduate and taught postgraduate degree courses in the Earth Sciences. We also accredit training courses, schemes and international degree programmes in Earth Science.

Our accreditation of education and training is part of a pathway to Chartership, a professional qualification which is a sign to clients, regulators, employers and the general public that you are a competent professional who can demonstrate a high level of knowledge skills and experience, and that you are bound by a strict code of professional conduct. Chartership, either as a Chartered Geologist or a Chartered Scientist, is an important component of accreditation and we note and support the wider move towards teaching staff in universities and vocational courses acquiring a professional qualification.

For those in a geoscience teaching role, the Chartered Geologist status is a very relevant and suitable qualification compared to more generic qualifications like those obtained from the Institute for Learning and Teaching in Higher Education. We agree that recognition of courses through accreditation schemes and professional accreditation through Chartership would be a useful component of the evidence for assessment.

As the accrediting body for UK and international organisations we are well placed to assist in the use of accreditation in geoscience as part of the TEF. If degree accreditation is a useful vehicle for making TEF assessment more useful and responsive then we would look at trying to adapt parts of the accreditation scheme to make it a good fit.

The degree accreditation scheme has been in place since 1997 and the Chartership programme has been running for 25 years and both required a long period of development so there are limits to the amount of adaptation that can take place. However, we are open to exploring ways in which the accreditation scheme can be adjusted to produce a good fit for the requirements of the TEF.