MP criticises plan to link tuition fee rises to ‘teaching excellence’

Paul Blomfield. Sheffield Central MP.
Paul Blomfield. Sheffield Central MP.
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A YORKSHIRE MP has urged the Government not to link a university’s teaching excellence to increases in tuition fees beyond £9,000-a-year.

Paul Blomfield is a member of the Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) select committee which has produced a report today urging the Government not to rush the introduction of a new Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) to measure universities performance.

The Labour MP for Sheffield Central agreed with this conclusion. However he was at odds with other members of the committee on whether a university’s rating for teaching should be linked to the ability to increase fees.

The Government is proposing creating a new system which assesses university teaching on three areas: graduate employment, student retention and satisfaction.

In July, last year Chancellor George Osborne said that the Government was planned to lift the £9,000 cap on tuition fees to institutions which can show they offer high-quality teaching.

And in November a higher education green paper was produced outlining the plans for the new TEF. In it Universities Minister Jo Johnson said: “We will reward excellent teaching with reputational and financial incentives.” And it proposes linking fee increases with a university’s performance in the framrwork.

The new BIS select committee report said that it “agreed with the Government that no university should be allowed to increase its tuition fees without being able to demonstrate that the quality of its teaching meets minimum standards.”

Mr Blomfield had moved that this paragraph be removed. He wanted it replacing with the following: “We do not believe that the case for linking fees with the TEF has been proven.” However he was the only MP who voted for this amendment. Mr Blomfield said: “The Government must not link teaching excellence to fee increases. All the evidence the committee received in our recent inquiry into the Government’s Teaching Excellence Framework led to that conclusion. Students and universities made a powerful case that linking TEF ratings with fee increases would undermine the Government’s objectives on improving teaching excellence. It would fail to recognise variations in performance between departments and give students misleading information.”

The BIS Committee has voiced concern about the pace at which a new framework is being implemented by the Government. However the MPs said it supported the University Minister’s desire to improve teaching quality, widen participation to get more deprived students into higher education and increase the focus on graduate employability. The committee found while there was broad support from universities for the principles of the TEF, there were widespread concerns about how well the system might work in practice. MPs were told that improved scores for universities could be achieved by making courses less demanding or by reducing the intake of students who were less likely to succeed.

Iain Wright MP, BIS committee chairman, said: “Students rightly demand a rigorous and high quality experience for their considerable personal investment [at UK universities].

“It is therefore right there should be a stronger focus on teaching quality via the Teaching Excellence Framework.

We urge universities to engage constructively with the consultation on TEF and help to ensure robust and reliable metrics for a framework which delivers for students, taxpayers, and the HE sector.”

A Department for Business, Innovation and Skills spokesperson said: “We welcome the committee’s recognition of the steps we are taking to drive up the quality of teaching in universities. We want to ensure students get real

value for money and graduate with the skills employers need. As the committee states in their report, our approach could help to ensure that higher education institutions meet student expectations and improve on their leading

international position.

“We will carefully consider the committee’s findings and will set out further detail in our response to the Green Paper and consultation.”