Measuring teaching intensity and grade inflation in subject-level TEF ‘highly problematic’, says British Academy

22 May 2018

The British Academy has today (22 May) published its response to the government’s consultation on subject-level Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework (TEF).

In its consultation, the British Academy highlights four key areas which need to be resolved for the TEF to work at subject level: metrics, grade inflation, teaching intensity and interdisciplinary provision.

As the national body for the humanities and social sciences, the Academy warns that the metrics proposed in the new framework to measure teaching at subject and provider level are “fundamentally flawed”.

While it welcomes the reduced weighting for the National Student Survey data in the subject-level TEF, the Academy remains sceptical about the value of a student satisfaction survey for measuring teaching quality.

It also believes that proposals to measure both teaching intensity and grade inflation in the subject-level TEF are “highly problematic”.

Teaching approaches vary massively within higher education, and increased contact time does not necessarily encourage independent thinking and peer learning, desirable outcomes for university teaching.

Instead of measuring teaching intensity, the British Academy suggests focusing on learning outcomes and experience, taking into account the resources of different departments.

Measuring grade inflation is also virtually impossible because of the variants between cohorts of students and other factors that affect their performance. It is unclear how the subject-level TEF would differentiate between improved grades as a result of teaching quality, or as a result of grade inflation.

Lastly, the Academy raises concerns about capturing interdisciplinary teaching. The government’s proposals do not recognise the difference between joint or multi-disciplinary courses and interdisciplinary study, which does not simply replicate aspects of teaching and learning from multiple disciplines. This may have the unintended consequence of disincentivising  providers from adopting interdisciplinary approaches in the future.

Professor Roger Kain, Vice-President (Higher Education and Research) of the British Academy said:

“We are particularly concerned about the lack of understanding of interdisciplinarity in the government’s proposals for the subject-level TEF. Addressing the global challenges we face – from cleaner energy to an ageing society -  will require collaboration and knowledge from many disciplines,  and so we should encourage an interdisciplinary approach from undergraduate level. A successful subject-level TEF must distinguish between multi- and interdisciplinary study. Otherwise we risk disincentivising providers who adopt innovative and creative programmes.”

Read the British Academy's submission to the government's consultation on subject-level Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework (TEF).

To accompany the submission, the British Academy has also published a personal commentary from Professor John MacInnes, Professor of Sociology at the University of Edinburgh and the British Academy's Strategic Advisor on Quantitative Skills.

Contact the press office

For further information contact the Press Office on [email protected]  / 07500 010 432.

Sign up to our email newsletters