Reflections on excellence

The topic of a recent HEA Scotland Symposium was ‘Defining excellence in Scotland’. This event was an opportunity to consider the implications of the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) proposed in last November’s government Green Paper. Although the TEF is proposed for England only, many anticipate that universities north of the border will be inevitably drawn in (as happened with the National Student Survey) and so questions of how to define the ‘E’ in TEF are highly pertinent. The Green Paper only gives hints; identifying teaching quality, learning environment, and student outcomes and learning gain as ‘key aspects’ in judgements of excellence.

Papers and workshops throughout the event acknowledged the many ways that ‘excellence’ is, and could be, measured. In her keynote, Professor Vicky Gunn (Glasgow School of Art) cited various aspects of the current regulatory framework that draw on differing conceptions of excellence. In the Quality Enhancement Framework, the UKPSF, outcome agreements and league tables we have: student engagement, effective assessment, widening participation/social inclusion and student satisfaction all drawn on as measures of, or proxies for, teaching excellence. Will the TEF just be adding another layer to an already complicated picture?  Perhaps, but that is because these simplistic metrics focus on one aspect of an educational experience that most will agree is multi-faceted. Rather than despairing at the addition of a (yet another) layer to the regulation of teaching within HE, Professor Gunn’s optimistic conclusion is that the TEF (and other metrics) can serve to demonstrate the range of ways in which excellent university teaching already exists.

Heather Fotheringham

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