Supporting disadvantaged groups through teaching excellence

Blog by Josephine Barham, Yorkshire Universities

It is now over four months since the Higher Education (HE) Green Paper: teaching excellence, social mobility and student choice was published, and almost two months since the deadline for consultation responses passed. Unsurprisingly for such a wide ranging set of reforms, the Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) has received an estimated 600 responses from across the sector and beyond.

Much has been written about the proposals contained within the paper, and in particular on the introduction of a Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF). There is much to be admired in the plans for the TEF, including the aspiration for teaching excellence to be embedded within our Higher Education Institutions (HEIs). With the financial burdens placed upon them, everyone would agree that students should receive the highest quality teaching, and are prepared in the best possible way to make the right choice of where to study. In particular, it is right that efforts are made to support students from disadvantaged and underrepresented groups, in entering HE on an appropriate course, throughout their time in HE, and how they progress afterwards.

Although the reforms are welcome, they do present a paradox, with institutions that can effectively demonstrate value-for-money and teaching excellence being able to raise fees in-line with inflation, thus increasing the financial burden on students (including those from the most disadvantaged groups).

So how might the TEF help with the challenge of supporting disadvantaged groups in HE? Through its work on student engagement, Yorkshire Universities (YU) has been looking at this and in particular at the role of collaboration between members in ensuring positive experiences for such students at all stages in their HE life cycle, from application to post-course choices. This work may include sharing good practice across institutions to develop an inclusive approach to supporting disadvantaged students. Universities UK has recently established a Social Mobility Advisory Group, which will provide useful learning for this area including the use of data to support social mobility.

What may be more of a challenge, is how to effectively measure approaches designed to support these students. There is no one way of measuring teaching excellence, the individual student teacher relationship will play an important part in student success, but can this be adequately reflected in metrics chosen to populate the TEF? This is especially true when using metrics not originally designed to measure teaching excellence. Similarly, fostering a sense of belonging is an essential part of student experience, but how each student experiences this will not be picked up by measures such as the National Student Survey (NSS). That being said, monitoring and evaluation is a critical part of understanding ‘what works’ to support disadvantaged groups, and establishing and sharing effective practice will be important to this. It is hoped that an appropriate balance can be found, so that ultimately those students most in need can truly benefit from these reforms. YU’s Student Engagement network will be exploring these issues through our hard-to-reach working group led by Leeds Beckett University. 

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