Clearing 2021

Assessing the quality of teaching in higher education is complex, with many factors impacting on the educational experience of students. We the undersigned believe students’ views about their own learning experiences must be central to any credible assessment of teaching quality. In the Higher Education White Paper, the Government is committed to putting students at the heart of how higher education is regulated, with a focus on transparency and student choice. The Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) represents a key element of this transparent architecture. Only by giving sufficient weight to the student voice within the TEF will the Government succeed in placing students at the centre of the higher education system.

This is not a new issue within higher education. In the well-established and accepted mechanisms for assessing research quality, the views of users, in the form of peer review of research outputs and impact case-studies, are central to the judgements made about the quality of research at UK universities. It would be perverse for the TEF not to adopt a comparable, user-centric approach.

The National Student Survey (NSS) provides the most robust and comprehensive basis for capturing students’ views about the quality of their education and student experience. Completed by students at all publicly-funded Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) in England, Wales, Northern Ireland, and Scotland, as well as all Alternative Providers (APs) in England, the NSS provides a consistent basis for capturing the judgements of students across the range of their educational and wider student experiences. The use of a common set of questions, applied at all universities, provides the only means of establishing an evidence base that can inform comparisons across universities. It is precisely this feature of the NSS that makes it uniquely well-placed to represent the student voice within the TEF.

The NSS is widely recognised as an authoritative survey by prospective students. The results are made available to prospective students and their advisors through the Unistats website. As one of the key objectives of the TEF is to provide prospective students with information that will allow them to make informed choices about where to study, it would be perverse to exclude use of the only cross-sector, reliable source of student’s views about the quality of their education provision, from the TEF.

The NSS plays a crucial role in signalling to students the importance of their views and experiences of their education. It is practical evidence of the compact that underwrites the scholarly community, where having a voice matters and where there is a joint commitment to the provision of an excellent education for all. The unique insight and perspective of students and the perspicacity of students’ comments enables universities to continue to enhance the education that is provided to current and future cohorts of students, and to do so in collaboration with our students. Excluding the NSS from the TEF would undermine this compact and severely damage our ability to continually enhance the excellence of the higher education.

Professor Anthony Forster, Vice-Chancellor, University of Essex

Professor David Richardson, Vice-Chancellor, University of East Anglia