The Great TEF Debate

Published: 9 September 2016

The Higher Education and Research Bill currently winding its way through Parliament has already caused concern, excitement and pure confusion in equal measure. It will give Universities the opportunity to increase their fees based on their outputs across key performance indicators ranging from teaching quality to graduate employment rates. This will create a market in which students have even more choice and points of differentiation. With Brexit, a new PM and the Department for Education taking the Higher Education remit we are in for unprecedented change. 

Last week we heard news of a potential “boycott”. Strong words used by The Times in their article on 2nd September and it highlighted the growing sense of uncertainty surrounding the policy. With many of the prestigious Russell Group institutions yet to indicate their intentions, there will be a nervous wait for the pro-TEF camp to see whether some of the country’s leading Universities opt in or out. The potential for a split in the sector is an alarming possibility and will nullify many of the benefits the new system seeks to bring about. With its focus on teaching, student experience and graduate outcomes there is a sense the TEF might favour the modern institutions, leading to a situation of Universities opting out if the TEF criteria are not favourable. This could lead to an already complex landscape becoming even more convoluted; arguably to the detriment of the students. 

Fundamentally, the new policy will allow Universities to increase their fees (in line with inflation) if they meet specific targets. So what happens when they do hit them one year but fail to do so the next? Surely the fees will reduce leaving a hole in budgets and financial forecasts. Universities will need to become far more sophisticated at financial modelling with the potential for millions of pounds disappearing (or appearing). The impact will not end at just financial planning but could go on to affect capital estates programmes, course growth and campus refurbishment. 

At the moment an air of uncertainty hangs over Universities and it will be interesting to see just how things unfold over the coming months. Will the dissenting voices get louder or will there be an acceptance that TEF and the Bill are happening and that opting in really is the best option? Whatever the outcome, hopefully UK Universities can seize the initiative and ensure both students and institutions continue to prosper.

Gin Bhandal is a Consultant in the Education practice at Berwick Partners. He regularly works with Universities to appoint senior leaders tasked with delivering transformational change across the sector. 

Categories: Education Recruitment

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