Students arriving in Leeds this autumn will be amongst the first in the country to study under the controversial ‘Teaching Excellence Framework’ (TEF).
The TEF ranks the academic quality of universities through a series of metrics, awarding gold, silver and bronze rankings in accordance with their performance.
Five of the city’s universities and colleges took part in the TEF, with the University of Leeds achieving gold; Leeds Beckett, Leeds College of Art, and Leeds Trinity achieving Silver; and Leeds City College achieving bronze.
The TEF has suffered intense criticism from numerous sources.
Its metrics have been criticised for inaccuracy, with the inclusion of average graduate salary and national student survey performance particularly derided. Moreover, in its contributing to the marketisation of higher education, the framework has come under fire for undermining freedom of thought.
Perhaps the most startling aspect of TEF is that it authorises facilities which achieve one of the three rankings to increase their fees by £250 per year. This is an option which has been taken up by the University of Leeds, Leeds Beckett and Leeds College of Art.
From the first whispers of its introduction, the TEF has been rightly resisted by Leeds University’s student representatives. They mocked up a false supermarket, called ‘TEFCO’, and criticised the government’s attempt to market further education. Elsewhere, they organised a march against the implementation of the reform, and created a petition which received over 1000 signatures.
Despite their strong opposition to TEF, these same representatives decided not to engage in a proposed nationwide boycott of the National Student Survey, which had been suggested as a form of resistance to the reform.
They refused to opt out of the survey, instead pressuring the university’s Vice-Chancellor and colleagues to use their influence to get ‘the best deal for students now and in the future’.
The reasoning for this is that whilst the TEF is obviously damaging, to refuse to engage in the National Student Survey would lead to a lack of data available regarding student experience. Ultimately, whilst our student body hated the structure, we are bound within a system where the government holds all the cards.
There is debate as to whether continuing marketisation will leave scholars in a position of consumer power, but for now education is a business, and students cannot afford to bite the hands that feeds.
Reece Parker is Editor-in-Chief of The Gryphon at Leeds University