As we begin a new year and a new semester, I am delighted to introduce our new blog. We hope that staff and students from across the University of Hertfordshire will share their thoughts and experiences here. Being at a University is about creating, learning and sharing knowledge. Every day we share ideas with colleagues and peers. This blog will enable us to have those conversations across the University, across our Schools and across our Campuses.
To kick things off, I wanted to share my thoughts on the Government’s latest proposals for reform in the Higher Education sector, that were published last year in a Green Paper called Fulfilling our Potential. The Government has proposed a number of changes which, if instituted, will significantly change the way that universities such as ours operate, and the shape of the sector that we operate in. These include: the introduction of a Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) to ensure that universities take their responsibilities for teaching undergraduates as seriously as they take their duty to carry out original research, the reorganisation of the current sector body HEFCE (the Higher Education Funding Council for England) into the Office for Students which will prioritise the student experience, and measures to make it easier for new institutions to become accredited as universities, able to award degrees and call themselves universities as opposed to colleges. The TEF is the main area I want to focus on.
The plans for the TEF will be a challenge for the entire higher education sector, but as a lecturer, a researcher and a university leader, I welcome the TEF. After all, it is impossible to work in education and be opposed to excellent teaching. The challenge will come in ensuring that the measurements and tests used to judge the TEF capture the range of teaching practices that take place across universities, all of which could be excellent but all of which look very different indeed. At the University of Hertfordshire, I want a TEF to capture the advantages of experiential learning, whether in the School of Engineering, the School of Law or the School of Health and Social Work, where students get to try and do, as well as read and write. I also want a TEF that values research informed teaching. For students, that close connection to the academic investigation that their lecturer is carrying out can be both hugely inspirational but also incredibly informative as they understand the hard work and skill behind the knowledge that is shared. And finally, I want a TEF that measures ‘learning gain’, that doesn’t just tell us how many students from a particular institution graduate and what classification of degree they get, but how far their learning had moved on from when they started their degree.
None of these values will be easy measures. And initially, at least, the TEF is more likely to be focused around proxy measures such as how well students regard their institution to be performing based on National Student Survey scores, and the success of students in gaining employment post-graduation that is measured by the DLHE results. However, I will keep engaging with policymakers as the TEF is developed, and evaluated and refined over the years, to push for a TEF that reflects the true diversity and innovation that takes place across the UK’s universities. It will by no means be a perfect measure of the teaching that takes place within higher education. But the TEF will at least reflect the seriousness with which everyone in this university takes their responsibility to excel in the education of those who choose to study with us.
Vice-Chancellor Quintin McKellar
University of Hertfordshire