Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) Results Revealed

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The results of the 2017 Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) have been published, with more than 230 universities and higher education institutions in the UK being awarded one of three available medals.

The newly released TEF rankings are a government-backed assessment of undergraduate teaching quality, which aims to provide a guide to prospective students when choosing where to study.

The TEF is a voluntary framework, with participating institutions receiving a Gold, Silver or Bronze award, which reflect their quality of teaching, learning environment and student outcomes such as employability.

Those being awarded a TEF ranking will be able to increase their tuition fees in line with inflation, although the Department for Education is yet to confirm what the 2018-19 fees cap will be.

Some notable institutions that received the lowest award include the London School of Economics, The University of Southampton, and the University of Liverpool, all of which are Russell Group members.

In total, more than half of Russell Group institutions, usually described as being the best in the country, did not score a Gold rating.

Understandably some of those, including the University of Southampton, are less than pleased with the award they've been given.

Commenting on the results, Sir Christopher Snowden, said: "I know I am not alone in having deep concerns about its subjective assessment, its lack of transparency, and with different benchmarks for each institution removing any sense of equity and equality of assessment.

"Our own student satisfaction metrics, including satisfaction with teaching, are better than some of those universities who have been awarded silver and gold today."

Similarly, the University of Liverpool said it was disappointed with its Bronze award. Other league tables consistently place the institution within the top 200 universities globally, but the university said it was committed to improving against the measures used in the TEF.

Defending the results, the Higher Education Policy Institute argued that TEF would have failed if it had simply replicated existing hierarchies. However, they suggested prospective students should use the rankings with caution, as they are not reflective of individual courses but of a university as a whole.

A full table of results can be found via the Higher Education Funding Council for England's website.

Lettings Fees to be Banned

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Legislation banning landlords and agents from charging letting fees looks likely to come into force after it was announced within the Queen's Speech today.

The Queen's Speech this morning outlined a Draft Tenants' Fees Bill will be bought forward, which plans to ban letting fees being charged to tenants as a condition of their tenancy.

The legislation appears to go further than the initial consultation by indicating there will be measures to enforce the ban with provision for tenants to be able to recover unlawfully charged fees. However, at this stage it's unclear whether this will be applied retrospectively.

A survey by Citizens Advice, which formed part of the initial consultation, found nearly two-thirds (64%) of tenants had problems paying letting agents' fees, while 42% had to borrow money to do so. Meanwhile, the 2014-15 English Housing Survey found that the mean average fee paid by a household in 2014-15 was £223, although this varied significantly between location and agent.

The aim of the new bill is to improve transparency in the market while making the private rented sector fairer and more affordable.

An eight-week consultation on banning letting fees closed in April and responses will be used to inform the draft bill.

Universities Struggling in a Competitive Landscape

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In an increasingly competitive market, figures suggest some former polytechnics and colleges are struggling to survive.

Manchester Metropolitan University's Crewe campus is to close in the summer of 2019, with 160 academic jobs at risk.

Despite a recent £70 million redevelopment, the Cheshire site will be shut down after university chiefs confirmed in February it was no longer academically or financially sustainable.

As a result of the job losses, academics will stage a two-day walkout in protest of the university shutting the campus down.

Although students have been told they can finish their degrees, they're concerns lecturers won't be around to teach them.

The scale of the problem for former polytechnics and colleges can be seen in the number of students starting full-time courses between 2011 and 2015. During this period, those attending Russell Group universities grew by 15%, while the number of entrants to MillionPlus institutions, which includes former polytechnics and colleges, declined by 22.9%.

The trend appears to be linked to Russell Group universities lowering their entrance requirements in some subject areas. Sarah Stevens, head of policy at the Russell Group, said: "These young women and men are typically from groups who have historically been under-represented in higher education."

With competition for places intensifying, at least 16 universities have announced redundancy programmes for academic staff.

Commenting on the increasing financial pressures facing institutions, Alan Smithers, director of the centre for education and employment research at the University of Buckingham, suggests some universities may have to merge to survive. Meanwhile, universities or branch campuses such as Crewe, which typically recruit local students from working-class background, are particularly vulnerable.

The news comes ahead of the new Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF), which is to be released this Thursday and ranks institutions on areas such as student satisfaction and employability. Expectations are the new rankings could place further pressure on some universities.

Student Loan Debt Surpasses £100bn

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Student loan debt in the UK has grown to more than £100bn for the first time.

Outstanding loans increased by 16.6% to £100.5bn at the end of March, up from the £86.2bn recorded at the same point in time the previous year.

Of the total debt recorded, £89.3bn was associated to loans taken by English students.

Expectations are that the overall level of debt will increase further, as more money is lent out each year, with Sorana Vierue, the vice-president for higher education at the National Union of Students calling the levels "eye-watering".

Prior to increased fees being levied by universities in 2012, when institutions in England were allowed to charge up to £9,000 a year, student debt was less than half its current level, at £45.9bn.

Some are predicting student loan debt to double to £200bn within the next six years, making it economically significant, eclipsing credit card debt currently estimated at £68bn.

Despite yearly tuition fee increases being of concern to prospective students, the total outstanding debt is less meaningful to individuals and will be of greater concern to taxpayers and the government.

Commenting on the current loans system, a spokesperson for the Department for Education said: "Our student finance system removes upfront financial barriers for anyone hoping to study, and students only pay back what they can afford based on their income."

With the average student in England graduating with £32,220 in debt, there are however outstanding questions as to the long-term impact this will have on graduates purchasing power or the ability to contribute to pensions.

Pay Gap Present Upon Graduation

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New research has revealed that women face a pay gap as early as their first year after university, which widens further over time.

Figures released by the government on the careers of British graduates show that men were much more likely to achieve higher pay compared to their female peers, despite graduating in the same year with degrees in the same subjects.

The one exception to the rule was in English, where women received higher pay five years after leaving university.

But the research found the gender pay gap varied between both institutions and subjects. In nursing, a course predominately chosen by women, men were still earning around £2,000 more just a year after graduation.

Another example is Law, where female graduates from Oxford and Essex earned higher pay compared to men, five years after starting work.

However, Pam Tatlow, chief executive of the Million Plus group of modern institutions, suggested the data could be misleading as it failed to include mature students and the self-employed. The figures also failed to adjust earnings based on location, ensuring graduates from universities in and around London received the highest pay post-graduation.

Commenting on the findings, Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of the Universities UK lobby group, said: "Across all universities and courses, official figures show that graduates in the UK are still more likely to be in employment. On average, they continue to earn substantially more than non-graduates.

"However, graduate salaries are not the only measure of success in higher education. Many students seek rewarding careers where high salaries are not their only motivation."

Staffordshire University Launches UK’s First Degree in Esports

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Staffordshire University is set to become the first university in the UK to launch a degree in Esports.

The university is looking for students to apply to the new course and asking those interested to attend its next open day on June 10.

According to Staffordshire University, the three-year course will provide students the opportunity to focus on the business of Esports. Students will learn how to host events, create business plans to develop teams, create online communities and promote events through digital marketing.

The university will also provide students the chance to join one of its six competitive societies, covering a number of well-known games including, Overwatch, Counter Strike and League of Legends.

In year one students will be introduced to Esports along with the business of competitive gaming, event marketing and organising their first event.

Year two will see students learn more about public relations and promoting events as well as the technical set ups required to deliver an ESports event. The final year of the course will see students develop a large scale commercial event from start to finish. They'll also learn about games community management and legal issues involved with ESports, before creating business plans for their own Esports company.

Staffordshire University promotes itself as one of the largest and best games universities in the UK, with a long history of event management courses.

Although fees for the Esports degree are yet to be announced, the course is due to launch for the 2018-19 academic year.

UK Universities Fall in World Rankings

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Falling levels of research funding and a lack of highly qualified staff are being blamed for a fall in Britain's university rankings.

The latest QS world university rankings for 2018, which were published this week, show the majority of British universities slipped down the rankings. In total 57 of the 76 UK institutions received lower ratings than the year before, even though British universities occupied four of the top eight places.

Commenting on the declines, Jack Moran, rankings auditor for QS, said: "Put simply, this year's results indicate that the UK's universities are becoming less competitive as research-driven institutions."

Meanwhile, Nick Hillman, director of the independent Higher Education Policy Institute, said: "The competitiveness of UK universities has been affected by austerity. In particular, tuition fees have been frozen for five years and research funding has not grown as fast as in some other countries."

According to QS researchers, the UK's relative performance deteriorated because of weaker research performance, with fewer research citations received from fellow academics, and weaker scores on academic reputations both at home and aboard.

However, it's argued the results are somewhat relative and indicate the rest of the world is becoming increasingly competitive.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) took the top spot, followed by Stanford University and Harvard University. The California Institute of Technology (Caltech) leapfrogged the University of Cambridge into fourth place, while Oxford and University College London came in at sixth and seventh respectively.

Despite MIT retaining the number one position for the sixth year in a row, institutions in the US also showed signs of faltering, with 71 of its 147 ranked universities receiving lower scores.

University Value for Money Falls Again

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A survey by the Higher Education Policy Unit and the Higher Education Academy, has found that the perceived value for money of attending university has fallen for the fifth year in a row.

The Student Academic Experience Survey found the percentage of students across the UK who thought university was "good" or "very good" value has dropped to 35%.

This marks its lowest ever level and a significant fall on the 53% of students who perceived university as good value or better five years ago.

Students from England, who have the highest tuition fees in the UK, had the lowest opinions of value for money.

The study tracks the views of students about their time in higher education and is based on a sample of around 14,000 current students. The survey found perceptions of value for money had steadily fallen, with the number arguing university was "poor" or "very poor" value for money doubling since 2012.

The study found the quality of teaching provided was an important factor in whether students believed they were receiving value for money.

There was also a view among students that universities were not doing enough to communicate how tuition fees were spent, with just 20% saying they received enough information on the topic.

Director of the Higher Education Policy Unit, Nick Hillman, said: "The survey shows students want universities to provide information on where fees go, taxpayers to cover more of the costs and policymakers to provide stronger arguments for future fee rises."

Tuition fees has been a hot topic during the general election, with Labour promising to scrap fees in England. Meanwhile the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have defended the current system of fees and loans.

Almost 200 Manchester Professors Sign Letter of No Confidence

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Almost 200 professors at Manchester University have signed a letter expressing no confidence in the institution's management.

The letter was addressed to Edward Astle, the chair of the university's board of governors after management confirmed its plan to axe 171 jobs.

The letter said professors and a "substantial number of other academics" have no confidence in senior management. In particular they feel the compulsory redundancies are being enforced without adequate justification of management's strategy.

The letter continued, saying: "We have all invested significantly in our university and our concerned about the significant damage to internal staff morale and external reputation, which will follow inevitably if the board does not restrain the management."

Of the 171 planned job cuts, 140 are academic positions in areas such as the arts, languages, biology, medicine and business.

Management have described more than 900 roles as being "at risk", and staff are being offered voluntary redundancy before a final decision is made in regards to which jobs will go.

Although substantial job losses are expected, the university has said it will make strategic investments, which includes hiring more than 100 new, early-career academic appointments. The decision to hire, while removing senior posts has led to the University and College Union accusing the university of clearing out experienced academics in favour of cheaper alternatives.

Mr Astle has responded to the letter, suggesting senior leadership have the board's full support and the job cuts were required to ensure the future success of the university.

Institutions Wary of New TEF University Rankings

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Universities are reportedly preparing themselves for less than favourable positions within the government's new "gold, silver and bronze" league table, due to be published next month.

The new rankings, to be dubbed the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF), will award universities with an official ranking based on factors such as graduate employability and student satisfaction.

The new rankings could lead to some disgruntled universities, with reports suggesting institutions such as Bristol, the London School of Economics, King's College London, Liverpool, Soas University of London and Goldsmith at risk of being awarded a bronze.

Those sitting within the bronze category will be unable to raise their tuition fees in line with inflation until after 2020.

The risk is not just limited to fees, with reputation also at stake.

General secretary of the University and College Union, Sally Hunt, highlighted the problems associated with the TEF. She said: "We are expecting letters from universities saying that every single one is reorganising because of the TEF. They will call it prioritising successful departments, but it will mean narrowing the curriculum."

It's expected that many universities will treat the first results with a pinch of salt, although understandably those that do well will likely flaunt the good news.

Those at risk of lower awards include universities based in the capital, where student satisfaction and retention are generally lower. Prof Ed Byrne, vice-chancellor of King's College London suggested: "There is always room for improvement, but for the world-class institutions to be classed as bronze is ridiculous."

Advice from universities is for prospective students and their parents to not base their choice solely on the new medals.