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Could TEF initiate a ‘golden age’ for student services?

A recent AMOSSHE roundtable explored the impact that TEF might have on student services. Nicola Barden asks whether student services will be shown to be more valuable than ever as a result.
This article is more than 4 years old

Nicola Barden is Director of Student Services at the University of Winchester, and an Executive Member of AMOSSHE, The Student Services Organisation.

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When the ways in which universities’ performance is measured change, institutions change their behaviours too.

So far, so obvious. The advent of the Teaching Excellence Framework poses interesting, and different, challenges for universities and for the range of professional services functions. At a recent Association of Managers of Student Services in Higher Education (AMOSSHE) roundtable event which I chaired, we explored the question: what does TEF mean for student services? Here’s what we found out.

It has been interesting learning about the ways in which colleagues across the sector have been more, and less, involved in the response to TEF. There’s been significant variation in the point of ‘ownership’ and myriad ways in which student services colleagues have been involved, for example in producing content such as additional data for the provider submissions.

We know that TEF, in its current form at least, stretches far beyond a narrow definition of ‘teaching’ to cover other aspects of the student experience. As such, our colleagues working to support students’ learning through study skills, disability services, careers and employability, and many other areas, have valuable contributions to make to students’ success along their learning journey,

But, as with all systems of measurement, there’s a need for student services to really demonstrate the value that they provide. In an increasingly competitive higher education marketplace, and where competition within universities for resources can be fierce, we need to be alert to understanding – and quantifying where possible – the value that student services bring. With TEF, that means targeting notions of value to the metrics used in the exercise. How has student support improved retention? Can we show the impact of careers services on graduates’ employment? And can any of this be fairly demonstrated?

As well as working with the data, we need to think about how the numbers translate into stories which are compelling for our internal as well as external audiences. Building relationships across our institutions – breaking down any barriers between academics and professional services is essential – will enable these functions to be valued and recognised. Making the case for investment will be a lot easier when the data is available and robust  to bolster the business case.

Looking ahead, colleagues across student services should get to grips with the metrics so that they can understand where they make an impact. With the recent arrival of the Longitudinal Education Outcome data on graduates’ earnings, there’s ever more pressure to show impact in the outcomes achieved by students, and go beyond measuring inputs.

The emphasis which TEF places on teaching and on the student experience are welcome, particularly to those of us who work to provide the best possible conditions for students. DFE themselves know that the metrics are a work in progress and are committed to reviewing them, including undertaking pilot studies on learning gain. TEF’s ‘split metrics’ which look at the performance of particular groups should be broadly welcomed, particularly as they give further impetus to efforts in widening participation as the emphasis moves from admission towards measures of student success. With all this in place, TEF could mark a golden age for student support.

2 responses to “Could TEF initiate a ‘golden age’ for student services?

  1. Spot on, I think. I came to a similar conclusion when I was involved in preparing my university’s submission (more about that here: https://headofdepartmentblog.wordpress.com/2017/01/27/time-for-a-student-support-arms-race-entering-the-era-of-the-teaching-excellence-framework/). That’s not to say that TEF doesn’t need some changes. And I have some sympathy for universities that have been working hard to change culture on teaching, that will now be slapped down with demeaning and simplistic labels (‘silver’, ‘bronze’). This is a risk as well, since it might just royally piss off a lot of people who HEFCE need on board. But there’s no question, for me, that TEF has already – long ago, in fact – concentrated minds.

  2. Great to read an article which focuses on the opportunity presented by TEF. I expect the dynamic to be similar to what happened when the NSS came into existence. Initial cynicism will give way to a more robust focus on the issues highlighted within the datasets and improvements will be made. For example, I would suggest comparative performance on the learning resources scale of NSS has triggered the investments many universities have made in their libraries.

    Those of us working in Professional Service roles will need to accept the accountability that comes with the opportunity Nicola has described. If TEF metrics can be used to evidence the positive impact of interventions, they can also be used to show where they don’t work. My hope is that this is seen as a helpful challenge, which encourages innovation rather than stifling it.

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