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The Society for Research into Higher Education

Vicky Gunn


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The latest TEF Assessment Framework, automated analysis of data, and some Scottish anxiety

By  Vicky Gunn

I had the good fortune to be in Rio for the Paralympics this September. My step-daughter was competing in an endurance road race. For her, the most important thing was improving on previous race times, but she’d hoped to get a medal as well (even though this was not predicted by her ‘metrics’). At the end of September, the Westminster Government through HEFCE, published the TEF2 Technical Specification[i] and I found, to my astonishment that the original differentiating phrases (meets expectations, excellent, outstanding) were to be replaced with medals: Bronze, Silver, Gold. All of this got me thinking about the Teaching Excellence Framework, built like British Cycling on the idea that we can differentiate excellence for competitive purposes and this is a good in itself. I find this comparison deeply troubling. I, like many involved in quality and teaching development in Scottish Higher Education, have invested several years of my professional life to fostering cultures of enhancement. Indeed, the distance travelled to improvement in teaching provision has been a mantra within the totality of Scottish higher education’s stakeholders (academic, government, student bodies alike). In the Quality Enhancement Framework (QEF), we have been more interested in seeing all Scottish institutions getting ‘personal bests’ (hence demonstrating continuous improvement from within their own context), rather than doing better than all the others (final outcome measure).

However, now that we have the first set of TEF indicative metrics, I (like a cycling coach) am assailed with a few doubts about the laudable concentration of raising the quality of the whole Scottish sector. This is an aim of the QEF. This resulted in engaged participants of a quality system which steadfastly refused the divisiveness associated with differentiated institutional quality review outcomes. Yet, if we individually enter it, the TEF will now demand this of us.  Should Scotland then change its QEF substantially with its aspirational collectivism to be consigned to being a phantasm of a previous era? How long can such a discourse last in the face of going for gold? Should I, as an institutional Head of Learning and Teaching, now focus on competing with HEIs, so my institution is seen as outstanding in comparison to all the others and place the sector’s aspirational culture in a box marked ‘soppy idealism’? To put it in British Cycling’s inelegant but superlatively economic phrasing: how will my small specialist institution medal when facing larger, wealthier institutions?  Continue reading


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Will putting schools, colleges & universities under one roof improve English Education?

By Patrick Ainley

SRHE Fellow Patrick Ainley has written a blog for Policy Press on the implications of the merger of schools, colleges and universities in the Department of Education whilst research funding remains under the renamed Department of Business Energy and Industrial Strategy.

He speculates that with the Higher Education and Research Bill passing its second reading last month, the focus within English universities may switch away from previously privileged research towards prioritising teaching – or at least meeting the targets specified in the Teaching Excellence Framework.

Unexpectedly, the government are still demanding unenthusiastic employers pay £3bn for Cameron’s promised ‘3m apprenticeships’ while the Sainsbury Report on Technical Education and the government’s ‘Post-16 Skills Plan’ might fit very well with the new Secretary of State for Education, Justine Greening’s ‘open-mindedness’ to bringing back grammar schools.

The full link to the article is available below

https://policypress.wordpress.com/2016/07/26/will-putting-schools-colleges-universities-under-one-roof-improve-english-education/#more-5281 

 

Vicky Gunn


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The TEF crosses the devolved border (Part 1)

By Vicky Gunn

It would not perhaps be an exaggeration to say that the last two months of higher education policy in the UK have been a little like an unimaginable soap opera in which the main protagonist was Jo Johnson and the main anti-hero, the higher education sector. Rapid change was ushered in south of the border through the English government’s commissioning of HEFCE to introduce the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF).  This happened at the same time as a radical overhaul of and, in some quarters, cuts to the UK-wide Quality Assurance Agency. ‘Another periodic rupture in the continuum of university and college accountability systems?’  Scottish VPs Learning & Teaching asked from our comfortable devolved zone, in which we debate the relative merits of quality enhancement over audit. Not quite. The intensity, cunning, and speed of the TEF’s introduction and its explosive amplification of the paradoxes of devolved education caught us by surprise.

There was a quick move to understand what the bigger picture underneath the TEF was and Universities Scotland organized an initial group (chaired by me) to establish a brief that would enable the Scottish universities to come to some sort of opening position about how to move forward with the TEF, when our own teaching quality system was so different to the one being proposed in England. We started with a few acknowledgements about the emergence of the TEF and its accompanying architecture as outlined in the White Paper: Continue reading


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What if flashier buildings don’t make happier learners?

By Steven Jones

In some respects, students at UK universities have never had it so good. Dusty old lecture theatres are being torn down and shimmering new ‘learning environments’ erected in their place. Between 2013 and 2017, outlay on buildings and facilities at higher-prestige institutions alone matched that spent on the London Olympics (BiGGAR Economics, 2014), with some universities issuing public bonds to raise extra coffers for campus development projects.

But how can the UK Higher Education sector be sure that its unprecedented levels of capital expenditure are leveraging commensurate ground-level pedagogical gains? Evaluation mechanisms, where they exist, tend not to be student-centred. For example, the Association of University Directors of Estates reports that income per square metre increased by 34 per cent across the sector between 2004 and 2013. While this might make for a healthy balance sheet, it tells us little about the ways in which staff and students engage with their environment. As Paul Temple noted in his 2007 report for the Higher Education Academy (“Learning Spaces for the 21st Century”), university buildings have the potential to transform how learning happens. The challenge for the sector is how best to assess their impact. Continue reading

Ian Kinchin


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Why do we need to consider pedagogic frailty?

By Ian Kinchin

For some colleagues, the idea of pedagogic frailty (see post on 20th January 2016) provides a challenging concept. Why focus on what’s wrong (frailty) rather than what’s right (e.g. excellence, resilience etc.)? A good question, and I certainly do not hold the copyright to the correct answer to this. However, I feel there are a number of good reasons to explain why a consideration of pedagogic frailty can be helpful:

  • After talking with various colleagues across the disciplines, the idea of frailty appears to resonate. As I am not using the term to refer to an individual’s characteristics, but with reference to the quality of connections across the wider ‘teaching system’, it has not been perceived by them to be a threatening term.
  • The clinical analogy from which I have drawn heavily provides a starting point that colleagues can relate to. Everyone has either been ill, or knows someone who has, and recognises that the clinical professions are dedicated to promoting health rather than illness. Nonetheless, medicine knows more about disease than it does about health. This is the focus of medical studies. In order to promote health, you need to understand the indicators of illness and the consequences of inappropriate treatment.

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Paul Temple


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Comparing teaching and learning: enough, already?

By Paul Temple

Where did the obsession with comparisons in education come from? In his 1997 book The Audit Society, Michael Power identifies the causes of what he calls “the audit explosion” and the related demands for public-sector performance measurement in the 1980s and 1990s. The shock-wave of this explosion ripples on.

But one recent case, the OECD’s AHELO (Assessment of Higher Education Learning Outcomes) project, shows there may be limits to the comparison industry’s growth. This project seems to have stalled following concerns about its proposed methodology and likely costs: England said last year it wouldn’t take part, and American and Canadian universities have also said no. The OECD’s Institutional Management in Higher Education (IMHE) programme recommended in 2012 that the project be halted after seeing the results of a large-scale feasibility study. But the OECD’s Director of Education and Skills, Andreas Schleicher, is apparently undeterred, if his HEPI lecture (Value-Added: How do you measure whether universities are delivering for their students? HEPI 2015 Annual Lecture. HEPI Report 82) last December is anything to go by.

Schleicher thinks that his plans are being blocked by Continue reading

Ian Kinchin


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Teaching and Learning: “I pitch, you catch”.

By Ian Kinchin

Sometimes I wonder what I am doing here“.

A sentiment that can be heard from time to time in the corridors of academia. Young and enthusiastic academics are often drawn to a working life in universities because they are passionate about their subject, they love to teach, or they enjoy the cut and thrust of intellectual debate and the possibility of moving the frontiers of knowledge. I rarely hear anyone say that they came into the role because they love sitting on committees or they are fascinated by the implementation of regulations. You see where I am going here. Many of the  distractions of academic life are necessary, but they can be overwhelming, and sometimes they seem to suck the energy away from the things we enjoy doing – such as teaching.

Recently reading some sections of a book by Fanghanel (2012), there are some sections which resonate strongly with conversations that I have been having recently with colleagues on teaching development programmes. Continue reading


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New research on student engagement: partnership approaches in the disciplines

By Abbi Flint

Engaging students as co-researchers, co-designers and co-creators of their learning experiences is an idea that, over the past few years, has captured the attention and imagination of many staff and students. The rationales for engaging students as partners in their learning are diverse and complex, including political and pedagogic perspectives. From a desire to engage and empower all students to take responsibility for their learning, an ethical responsibility to ensure students have a say in their education, to offering a constructive alternative to consumerist models of higher education.

At the HEA, our rationale is pedagogic. We are interested in how approaches which foreground partnership with students are powerful ways of transforming teaching and inspiring learning. As a sector we need evidence of their effectiveness in fostering deeper engagement with learning, particularly how impacts play out across different national, institutional and discipline contexts. Recent HEA research makes a much needed contribution to this debate.

Engagement through partnership is a popular idea, but what does this actually look like in practice and what difference does it make to the student learning experience? Continue reading

Ian Kinchin


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Complexity of representation or simplicity of thought

By Ian Kinchin

Typically, concept maps that are more complex are scored more highly than those that appear simpler. This has been the basic principle that has guided the analysis of concept maps in numerous publications. Consequently, maps that include more stuff have been seen as a better indicator of understanding than those that contain less stuff. I have always had a problem with this and have been aware that some high-flying students who clearly have an excellent understanding of a subject (along with some subject experts), have been observed to construct smaller maps (that score less) than many of their less expert colleagues who score more simply by including more stuff.  I don’t think this is because geniuses are lazy, I think it represents the different ways in which people see the same content. This is one reason why I have avoided using any of the available scoring rubrics for concept maps (whatever the claims for validity and reliability) in recent years as I feel they mask the underlying story.

Dowd et al., (2015), provide a helpful paper Continue reading

Geoff Stoakes


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Grade point averages

By Geoff Stoakes

In May, the Higher Education Academy (HEA) published a report about the pilot study into a national grade point average (GPA) system. This study was prompted by the debate around the perceived limitations of the honours degree classification (HDC) system, in particular, insufficient differentiation between student performance, a lack of recognition outside the UK, and limited transparency in how the HDC is calculated by different higher education providers.

In his speech on 1 July 2015 at Universities UK, Jo Johnson, Minister for Universities and Science, highlighted that one of the things he wants to focus on in the forthcoming green paper is how a Teaching Excellence Framework can help improve how degrees are classified. He believes that the standard model of classes of honours on its own is “no longer capable of providing the recognition hardworking students deserve and the information employers require.” Continue reading