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7th November 2016

The TEF: a Trojan Horse into Higher Education

Manchester Students’ Union’s Education Officer argues that the Teaching Excellence Framework threatens to inject further elitism into Higher Education

The so-called Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) is a part of the Higher Education and Research Bill that is currently going through the House of Lords. It has been advertised as an innovative way to measure quality teaching, and to make teaching quality on par with research for assessing universities’ reputations.

But the TEF has been described as a ‘Trojan Horse’ for increasing fees at universities around the country. Similar to how the Greek soldiers tricked the Trojans into letting them into their city, when allowed to pass through the gates of universities, the TEF will reveal its true nature and have a devastating impact upon the Higher Education sector.

It will allow ‘gold’ universities to hike up their fees, whilst ‘bronze’ universities will stay at £9000 a year, turning the sector into more of a marketplace. Ultimately, this will lead to more of an elitist American-like system, in which the richest students will attend the ‘best’ universities whilst poorer students will miss out.

Another reason as to why the TEF is slipping sneakily into the sector is the cloud cast in the national press (understandably) by Brexit and the U.S. election. This dangerous policy has been in the shadows — it is passing through unnoticed.

There is no doubt that teaching excellence should be recognised more at universities. But the TEF is simply a mechanism which will be used by the government to split universities between fee tiers. It is also very clear that the creators of the TEF do not actually care about teaching excellence. The metrics used to give universities their gold, silver, or bronze awards (the National Student Survey, dropout rates, and the jobs and salaries students get after graduation) do not measure quality teaching. It is an insult to our best lecturers and tutors that they will be scrutinised in this way.

Moreover, every contribution that HE experts have given in policy consultation for has fallen on deaf ears. Those who know teaching quality the best — namely, lecturers, academics, or students — have not constructed the TEF. Instead, it is being imposed on universities based on the government’s ideological agenda to introduce a competitive market.

Manchester Students’ Union has been working hard to tackle the TEF. Unfortunately, this time the issue is more complicated to explain than, say, the outrageous £3000 to £9000 fee increase. We launched our ‘TEFinitely Not’ campaign with a two-minute video made in collaboration with Manchester Metropolitan and Salford Universities to explain the consequences of the TEF in more detail. You can find it on YouTube or on our website.

We are holding an event next Tuesday in Academy 3 to give an opportunity for students to find out more about the TEF. There will be speakers, banner making, and an open-mic set. We are taking students down to the National Demo in London on buses for £5 return, which you can find here. All our events can be found on Facebook and our website.

Some Students’ Unions around the country are opting for a boycott of the National Student Survey (the NSS), as it is the only metric of the TEF that students can act on. The NSS boycott would be a fierce battle between the University and the Union, and it is likely we will burn bridges and lose negotiating power in the process. At present, we believe it is better to actively work with University staff on the TEF instead of working against them.

We are also taking this stance because the deadline for applying to enter the TEF is the 26th of January 2017. Crucially, the TEF is not compulsory. Therefore we are lobbying the University to reject the implementation of the TEF at Manchester before this deadline. This includes bringing up arguments against the TEF at various University committees, boards, and groups, as well as in personal meetings with University staff. We are also educating Part-Time Officers and Student Reps on this issue, so they too can bring it up at with the University.

However, if the University of Manchester decides to enter the TEF by the deadline of the 26th of January , we will seriously consider the option of joining the NSS boycott. We will distribute more information if the time comes.


If you’d like more information about the TEF, email Emma at [email protected]

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