At first what I liked about the TEF framework was that it took into account the likelihood of obtaining highly skilled graduate employment. I have noticed discourse in the past linking education and improving employment prospects, but had found them irritating because I knew graduates who couldn’t get jobs related to their degree or even degree level jobs. So specifying the percentage of students getting highly skilled graduate employment seemed like an improvement.

And then…I remembered that the TEF awards are made for the university as a whole and not a particular course, so that limits the usefulness of the measure.
And then…I thought about the messages behind these measures. Just by mentioning employment prospects the student (just as I was when reading this) will be directed to think not about education as an intrinsically worthwhile pursuit, an opportunity to immerse themselves in art making in a supportive and stimulating environment where they can share and develop ideas. Instead, in true capitalist style the student is directed instead to consider their employment prospects. 

And then…the awards themselves provide financial rewards for universities to improve their scores. They can charge an extra £250 per undergraduate student, per year. The idea that universities would need financial incentives to improve their teaching and the student experience strikes me as somewhat offensive. It is a rather pessimistic (and market fundamentalist) view of human nature. I’d rather think that non-monetary values are enough. Just the desire to teach and help others could be enough, when harnessed and supported. I’ve been reading recently about the possibility that monetary incentives serve to crowd out people’s intrinsic motivations to act, and eventually erode and replace our morality. 

And then… there are those student satisfaction surveys. How good accurate are they? Sometimes it seems to me that very privileged students have very exacting and demanding standards and are likely to be less satisfied when the slightest thing goes wrong, whereas disadvantaged students might be used to putting up with things and therefore mark their poorer institutions more favourably than they should. I don’t have any evidence for this though. Also, my friend gave her university high scores just to make sure that they stayed high up in the league tables. Again not an accurate measure.

I understand that TEF might reassure students that the teaching at a higher education establishment has reached a required minimum standard, but I would question how and if the TEF measures and assesses teaching practice.

So, the more I think about it the more flawed the attempt to measure something like education is. Like measures of GDP so much is missed out and the concentration on the measurements, and its components, can send us off in the wrong direction. Wouldn’t the money and time and effort be better spent on more teaching – and giving art students what they really complain about – more contact time and more studio space. 

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