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Martin Paul Eve

Professor of Literature, Technology and Publishing at Birkbeck, University of London

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This post is part of an ongoing series where I intend to develop my full personal (not institutional) response to the HE Green Paper. Comments are welcome to refine this.

The Green Paper asks (as question 3):

“Do you agree that the ambition for TEF should be that it is open to all HE providers, all disciplines, all modes of delivery and all levels?”

Provisional response:

No.

Besides the fact that this question takes the implementation of TEF as a foregone conclusion, even at the Green Paper stage and before we have the prerequisite information on its implementation, there are some considerable challenges here and I can imagine scenarios where providers would sit outside of the desirable frames of measurement. If the goal of TEF is to allow new innovative courses and providers to emerge, alongside new innovative teaching practices, it may be that some offerings are simply incomparable. If courses are unique, it is uncertain that the delivery/teaching on that course can be evaluated as a component that is separate from its content.

It is also not clear how TEF will compare teaching practices or allow for the freedom that makes for good teaching. If an institution implements a new way of delivering courses, or new teaching practices, that do not easily fit under TEF classifcations/metrics, they will be disincentivized from pursuing these. In other words, the major risk of TEF here is that in achieving universality of oversight, innovation in teaching becomes impossible. In such exercises, certain norms of teaching practices would become inscribed and immutable. Individual staff members will be disincentivized to implement new modes of teaching that do not fit TEF metrics as institutions would fear for not being classified, even if the teaching is excellent.

Again, this brings us back to the fact that the absence of detail in the Green Paper on the precise measures makes it very difficult to properly respond to this consultation. The fact that ““A technical consultation will be run in 2016 which will cover the operational detail of metrics and of the assessment criteria, process and outcomes, as well as looking at the evidence to be submitted alongside applications and how it will be used for provider level assessment” means that we have a democratic deficit in responding to this call. It would be better for that technical review to be conducted first and then for this consultation to be re-opened so that responses are less speculative about whether inclusiveness at all HE providers, all disciplines, all modes of delivery and all levels is a desirable goal and what unintended consequences may be.