The student voice is missing from the TEF

Jo Johnson says that TEF will deliver value to students. However, when you delve deep into the TEF year 2 proposals you discover something a little strange.

Quite surprisingly, the student voice section of the much anticipated Technical Consultation is a mere 99 words long. It says that where feasible, students should be ‘involved’ in preparing a university’s TEF submission – the document that universities will be invited to submit as part of the process. Astonishingly, it then boldly offers a get out jail free card by stating that a university will not be disadvantaged in the event of ‘non-cooperation’ by their students or students’ union.

As a result the process doesn’t actually give students an opportunity to give any opinion on the teaching at their university beyond completing the NSS. If they’re lucky, their students’ union will be invited to cast an eye over what a university has said about itself in its own written submission, but this certainly won’t be a requirement.

Along the way then, in the development of the TEF, there has been a decision not to offer students and students’ unions their own submission as part of the framework. This ignores the many years of effective student submissions produced as part of quality assessment reviews. These submissions have taught us a huge amount about what students think, for example how they interpret NSS scores, drop-out rates and graduate destinations.

We also know that leading up to a quality assessment review students’ unions continuously report how they make huge changes in their university as part of producing a student submission, thus enhancing the student experience and improving the quality of the education on offer. Why wouldn’t we want this culture as part of the TEF, particularly when the White Paper sets itself up as a champion of the ‘student interest’.

In effect, the TEF as it stands strips students and students’ unions of one of their current and vital roles. This contrasts substantially with the huge cultural shift the HE sector has been through since the development of Chapter B5 of the Quality Code. Student engagement and partnership is now a core element of assurance and enhancement in many institutions, and the better for it.

With this in mind, one could ask how legitimate will the TEF process be without proper student opinion. There seems to be an unremitting effort to dismantle the opportunities for students and students’ unions to have their evidenced and collective feedback used as part of the regulatory processes. With no visits to universities planned by the TEF panels, would it really be that difficult to have both a student submission and a university submission?

Surely this would be an example of delivering ‘value’: two for the price of one?

Leave a Reply