The Department for Education today (Monday) launched a 10-week public consultation into the new ranking system, which is aimed at informing students whether university courses offer good value for money, in a scheme the government describes as a “global first”.
Under the new framework, individual subjects at universities will be given a gold, silver or bronze rating based on student feedback, drop-out rates and graduate outcomes. The system is an extension of the government’s Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF), which saw some of the UK’s most prestigious universities – including the London School of Economics (LSE) and the University of Liverpool – handed the lowest ranking.
Universities minister Sam Gyimah said “Prospective students deserve to know which courses deliver great teaching and great outcomes – and which ones are lagging behind, and the new subject-level TEF will give students more information than ever before, allowing them to drill down and compare universities by subject.”
Gyimah added: “In the age of the student, universities will no longer be able to hide if their teaching quality is not up to the world-class standard that we expect.”
The Department for Education also began a pilot scheme involving 50 universities and colleges, including the University of Cambridge, Imperial College London and the LSE, and the system is expected to be rolled out nationally in the autumn of 2019.
However, the scheme may still cause controversy. Led by the then-President Malia Bouattia, the National Union of Students previously called for a boycott on the National Student Survey, a poll of undergraduates which will be used to help rank universities for the expanded TEF.
Bouattia claimed that the scheme would “disproportionally hit female students and students from black and working class backgrounds” due to its focus on what students go on to do after graduation. She claimed “It will give universities material to avoid enrolling students from backgrounds who face structural discrimination in the job market”.
Ms Bouattia’s one-year term as President was almost universally described as divisive and was dogged by allegations of antisemitism and accusations of outright racism.
There are likely to be still further complaints, as universities which pass relevant standards will be able to raise tuition fees above £9,000 per year for those courses which are deemed to offer better value for money.
One of the inescapable truths of the irrational desire to shove as many people through university as possible is that universities are obliged to create courses that are less academically challenging, like it or not. That people are willing to get into debt doing a degree in David Beckham (Staffordshire University) is a little weird, but their choice.
With so many people leaving university with a degree, the value of degrees that don’t directly relate to a specific job is diminshed. What’s more, there is always a finite number of jobs that require university graduates, a simple fact borne out by the number of graduates working in bars, restaurants and car parks.
The inevitable outcome of this scheme is that courses in accountancy, law, medicine, engineering, physics and other degrees which are required for entry into certain careers will be seen to offer the best value, while meaningless and vague degrees which are unlikely to lead to a related job will be at the bottom of the list. It’s not rocket science.
With Ms Bouattia’s tenure over, it’s always possible the NUS will take a less hostile approach to government proposals, but few will be holding their breath.