Is the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) to finally find some relevance in the lives of undergraduate students? It appears the TEF and its judgement categories are to be the basis behind a government U-turn on higher education funding in the UK.
The government introduced TEF in the 2017 Higher Education and Research Act. It was established to address teaching standards for undergraduate qualifications and shift importance away from university research programmes. The framework’s aim was to show which Higher Education (HE) institutions give students the best return on their investment. TEF assessments judge institutions by teaching quality, learning environment and student outcomes.
In a speech delivered this afternoon, Prime Minister, Theresa May, is expected to question how universities price their undergraduate courses by using elements, like teaching standards, included in the TEF, reports the Guardian. Those keeping up with news of the Higher Education and Research Act will have seen the TEF fall from a pivotal element of the original Bill to something of an add-on. Initially proposed as mandatory for all HE institutions, the governemtn eventually made TEF a voluntary assessment in the Higher Education and Research Act. To encourage participation, the government tied the TEF grading (gold, silver, bronze) to tuition fees; HE providers achieving gold standard could raise tuition fees in line with inflation.
However, news of the speech from the Prime Minister could scupper higher education institutions’ plans for fee increases. Instead of allowing HE institutions to raise course fees in line with their TEF award, the PM will “announce an independent review of fees and student finance,” reports the BBC.
The UK Is Now One of the Most Expensive Countries for Undergraduate Education
Full course tuition fees for undergraduate students are now “so high that they account for nearly half the average household’s earning,” said the Independent in 2015; since that report, tuition fees have increased, wages have stagnated and inflation has risen. Under increasing pressure to attract the young voters that flocked to Labour in the 2017 general election, the Prime Minister appears to be addressing the concerns of those who considered themselves priced out of higher education. Likewise, Theresa May will look to reverse the “‘outdated attitude’ [which] reserves university for the middle classes and vocational training as best ‘for other people’s children,’” said the Guardian.
Why the Change of Heart?
The BBC reported that “the Institute for Fiscal Studies has shown that students in England will run up more than £5,000 in interest charges [from their student loans] before they have even left university.” Those taking both tuition fee and maintenance loans are likely to finish university with a bill of over £50,000.
Although more students from both advantaged and disadvantaged backgrounds are now in higher education, a £50,000+ debt (with added interest) is unlikely to sit well with prospective students (and their parents) in light of the countless news stories of the sizeable pay increases for senior leaders in HE institutions. The Labour Party found considerable success with young voters by committing to the abolishment of tuition fees should they come to power.
Are All Degrees Created Equal?
The return on investment of university courses for certain disciplines is far below others. Graduates of medicine and dentistry are much more likely to find work after graduation than their social science counterparts, yet students from both courses pay identical annual fees. The focus of a degree appears to have shifted from quality of education to employability; with fees rising almost yearly, students now expect HE providers to help add extra value to their professional profile. Education Secretary, Damian Hinds, hinted at lowering tuition fees for some courses; although, students from disadvantaged backgrounds could be more likely to apply for the cheaper undergraduate qualifications thus strengthening social class divides already in place in the UK.
What are your thoughts on the subject of tuition fees? Should we follow Germany’s lead and abolish fees altogether or could we look to the USA for private market inspiration? Comment below.
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