UCL News


UCL responds to government's proposals for university reform

21 January 2016

UCL has given a

Blue Monday Portico ucl.ac.uk/teaching-learning/news/ucl-tef-response" target="_self">robust response to the government over its far-reaching proposals for university reform.

The government's Higher Education green paper, published in November, signalled the most dramatic shift in higher education in England for a generation.

The paper outlined plans to measure the quality of teaching at universities - a Teaching Excellence Framework - and raised the prospect of allowing institutions to raise fees in line with inflation if they pass the first of four possible stages of the framework. More detail on this is promised in a technical consultation to be published over the next few weeks.

The green paper also proposed to create an Office for Students. This would be a new regulator which, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said would "empower students, strengthen competition, drive quality, eliminate unnecessary bureaucracy and save taxpayer money".

Our response, submitted to government at the end of last week, challenged the green paper's implication that research-intensive universities, such as UCL, do not seek to provide a high quality student experience.

"Contrary to some of the statements [in the green paper], it is certainly possible for outstanding teachers to access opportunities for career and pay progression which are comparable to those of outstanding researchers," our response states.

"Additionally, [we] are committed to academic excellence in the round … we are clear that teaching and research are both central functions of a university … our Connected Curriculum initiative demonstrates how the two can be embedded within taught programmes to inspire and educate students."

Our submission argues that we recognise that appropriate reward and recognition for teaching is a challenge in research-intensive universities and "this is something that we, and others in the Russell Group, are addressing as a high priority".

UCL's response states that the proposed metrics to measure teaching quality, such as student satisfaction indicators from the National Student Survey and data on what graduates are doing six months after graduation, are problematic. Student satisfaction is not a good proxy for teaching excellence, we argue, and data on what graduates are doing six months after graduation can be narrow.

"Student satisfaction metrics - whilst important - are not directly correlated with teaching quality, not with academic standards," our submission states. "It is therefore misleading - and potentially damaging - to suggest that institutions should be rewarded for high 'teaching quality' if this is actually expressed … in terms of how satisfied students are with their programmes … 

"Whilst we support the principles that students should be consulted on their learning and that institutions should respond proactively to student feedback, there are many factors that influence students' perceptions of the quality of teaching and student satisfaction alone is not a sufficient proxy indicator for teaching quality."

Our response raises concerns over other metrics proposed to measure teaching quality in the green paper.

"An over-emphasis on metrics such as graduate salary runs the risk of obscuring the value of careers that command more modest salaries, but that are rewarding to graduates and vital to society," our submission states. "We have concerns about the proposal to use learning hours as a measure of quality. This may unwittingly compel institutions to prioritise traditional pedagogical methods, rather than models in which the student develops as an independent researcher."

UCL supports in principle the enhanced profile of students within higher education policy and the creation of an Office for Students. However, our submission stresses the importance that universities are also represented and their interests safeguarded.

Professor Anthony Smith, Vice-Provost for Education and Student Affairs, said: "The implication in the Green Paper that UCL and other research-intensive universities do not prioritise teaching and therefore do not seek to provide a high-quality student experience is plain wrong. We are committed to academic excellence in the round and prefer not to separate teaching and research. We must persuade BIS of this and of the crucial importance of institutional autonomy for the continuing excellence of the UK HE sector ."

UCL's full response to government proposals
UCL Teaching & Learning Portal