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Behind the HE headlines is one key question – the purpose of universities

The past week’s higher education news demonstrates that there are certain expectations of universities that policymakers, HE leaders and the Augar review are expected to address, says Johnny Rich, Chief Executive of the Engineering Professors’ Council and Chief Executive of outreach organisation Push .

30 VCs sign new Civic University Agreement

Leaders of thirty universities have signed a Civic University Agreement, reaffirming their institution's commitment to their local communities by pledging to put the economy and quality of life in their home towns and cities at the top of their list of priorities.

TEF metrics and rankings are "unsustainable" universities warn

Higher education leaders have warned that “fundamental flaws” in the proposed metrics and ranking system for the forthcoming Teaching Excellence Framework could make the TEF “unsustainable”.

As the 26 January deadline for the TEF Year 2 submission approaches and peers prepare to scrutinise quality assessment plans in the committee stage of the Higher Education and Research Bill, universities are raising concerns over the way TEF metrics will be applied.

Senior managers and professional staff involved in university submissions to the TEF say a high satisfaction rating from just an additional three students or only two more graduates being unemployed could result in an institution moving up or slipping down in the proposed gold, silver and bronze medal TEF rankings.

One of them told HEi-know: “The whole thing is unsustainable.  The TEF might not even get going.”

The standard deviation being applied to the TEF rankings is too narrow, and the metrics also penalise interdisciplinary study and flexible programmes, according to staff involved in TEF submissions. The system will encourage “gaming” strategies by institutions, such as making programmes easier to increase student success and satisfaction and attracting more independent school students who are more likely to step into graduate jobs, they warn.

Universities are putting a huge amount of effort into their submissions but, according to an insider, they are struggling because the assessors have not been given satisfactory guidance on issues such as the weighting they should give to the metrics and submissions. 

“Assessors are supposed to come to a holistic judgement on each institution based on the metrics and the submission to recommend to the TEF panel. Obviously, it’s going to be largely ruled by the metrics but one hopes they will put a lot of weight on the written submissions because it is not in the sector’s interest to have a lots of bronze institutions,” he said. 

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