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Talking TEF: A breakdown

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In this May’s Higher Education White Paper, the government proposed a new university ranking system that comes with the potential for higher fees just four years after tuition fees were frozen.

Minister for Universities and Science, Jo Johnson has given  his support to a plan which could see universities raise fees up to £9,250 and potentially beyond, given they score well on the new Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF), which according to the White Paper is aimed at assessing higher education providers on their educational standards.

If set into motion, the development will reportedly address two fundamental issues: the favouring of research over teaching as a measure of a university’s prestige and the falling real value of education with a fixed fee.

Tipping the scales: research vs. teaching

Reportedly to counteract the high influence research has over university prestige and ranking, the new TEF spins the spotlight on the following three key headings: “teaching quality”, “learning environment” and “student outcomes and learning gains”. It is hoped by the government that if fees hinge on aspects related to students, universities will have a further incentive to improve student experience and academic opportunities.

How little is too little? What’s driving the policy?

The supporters of TEF maintain current fees are not enough to fully cover quality education. Following the decision by the coalition government in 2012 to treble tuition fees, the figure was capped at a maximum of £9,000, constant regardless of inflation. According to Johnson however, the current rate of inflation (2.8%) means that £9,000 cannot buy as much as it did in 2012.

Speaking earlier this year, Johnson explained to MP’s: “The £9,000 tuition fee introduced in 2012 has already fallen in value to £8,500 in real terms. If we leave it unchanged, it will be worth £8,000 by the end of this parliament. We want to ensure that our universities have the funding they need.”

The Russell Group is in agreement, commenting that universities fund a £72.5 million shortfall yearly in teaching, particularly on expensive subjects such as science and engineering. Although they have since failed to give their full backing to the change in policy.

Minster for Universities and Science, Jo Johnson has given his support to a plan which could see universities raise fees up to £9,250.

This August, the University of Exeter announced plans to increase fees to £9,250 for both current and future students from Autumn 2017. A survey carried out by Times Higher Education (THE) were the only Russell Group Universities in England who have agreed to enter the second stage of TEF.

With regards to Warwick’s plans, Peter Dunn, Director of Press and Policy state that the university is yet to make a decision on its course of action. Another point yet to be clarified is how fees will change for International students, who make up 37% of the student body at Warwick.

The TEF Framework and proposed higher education changes at large have already come under fire at Warwick. Members of the past and present Student Union Sabbatical Teams have expressed their opposition to the policy. In a video posted on the Warwick SU YouTube account this August, Education Officer, Hope Worsdale and Postgraduate Officer, Nat Panda explained that the TEF consists of “crude metrics” such as student satisfaction surveys and graduate employment data which “do not accurately assess teaching quality or provide a useful insight into standards of teaching.”

Another point yet to be clarified is how fees will change for International students, who make up 37% of the student body at Warwick.

Furthermore, in his first open letter as SU president on August 5, Luke Pilot wrote that the changes “are open to manipulation (and) are all part of a coordinated attack on Higher Education which n no way act in students’ best interests.”

With many fearing that the price differentiation in the provision of higher education may be a first step to a more marketised “American” system of higher education, the debate surrounding the merits for and against TEF look set to rage on.

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