Storm force TEF

The UK Government’s HE and Research Bill made further progress this week, Jo Johnson outlining a range of amendments to research practices and structures (e.g.,  enshrining the Haldane Principle, although looking at the detail that doesn’t really add up to a tin of beans). There are also plans to strengthen coordination between the Office for Students and UKRI and protect institutional autonomy. All very good, all very “motherhood and apple pie”. What matters in legislation – and I appreciate the number of people who, like me, feel obliged and even slightly enjoy getting down and dirty with the details of Higher Education Bill, is vanishingly small – is not only what structures are put in place but how robust they are when you take into account people’s subsequent behaviour. I have to say I’m still not convinced that efforts to protect the dual funding route will survive for very long; the fine words on Haldane are almost directly at odds with all the other amendments which are focused on making sure research review remains objective. Dual funding won’t survive the demise of HEFCE for long.


On the education part, there was some tinkering about the details of the TEF… delays, pilots, and a possible change in the metallic ranking of institutions. Personally, I do think they should do away with a gold, silver and bronze rating system and go for something more interesting. How about ranking universities using the Beaufort Scale? It’s a 12 point scale so you can have finer distinctions and it adds a little colour. For instance, you could have a university rated one: light air, at sea, “ripples with the appearance of scales are formed, but without foam crests”. Poetic! I suspect the government would love its universities on Beaufort Scale one; the appearance of innovation, but causing no trouble. Institutions that overstepped the mark could be rated four; “dust and loose paper raised, small branches begin to move”… Sounds a bit like LSE?

At the other end you could have those universities scoring 11 or 12. At sea, greatly reduced visibility. On land, debris and unsecured objects are hurled about. Universities operating at hurricane force will surely incur the wrath of the Department for Education! Never mind that at storm force 10 there is, “considerable tumbling of waves with heavy impact”… Probably not the sort of impact we are wanting, thank you very much.

There is little doubt few in politics are minded to say that the TEF is a bad idea. Why would they? Telling students and their parents (voters) that there isn’t going to be an objective measure of quality assurance for how they spend their money doesn’t feel like a vote winner. And, as often happens in politics, the strange ways in which that system will measure teaching excellence are secondary concern. The list of Russell group institutions opting out of TEF could well start to snowball.

This week you lucky people have an HE Bill double-header… so see below (previous or right) for “The Culkin Degree“.