Hefce in the firing line as new report criticises its support for learning enhancement

Posted in: Comment, New Publications, News and Updates

There's a new report from the HEA on: The Role of Hefce in Teaching and Learning Enhancement: A Review of Evaluative Evidence.  It does not make good reading.

This report was commissioned by the HEA in 2013 at Hefce's request, with the following foci:

1 What do previous evaluations and current stakeholders’ opinions suggest were the key strengths and weaknesses of HEFCE-funded learning and teaching enhancement initiatives, both at the strategic and the tactical level, over the period 2005-2012?

2 What does the evidence suggest are the future needs of the HE sector in relation to the direction of learning and teaching enhancement initiatives?

3 What are the options available for HEFCE’s future role (if any) in learning and teaching enhancement initiatives for the future?

4 What alternatives, beyond a role for HEFCE, exist in learning and teaching enhancement initiatives for the future?

5 What does the evidence suggest are likely to be the most effective choices among these?

These are extracts from the report's executive summary ...

"The review considers selected aspects of HEFCE-initiated enhancement activities including the various Teaching Quality Enhancement Fund initiatives: Centres for Excellence in Teaching and Learning, Teaching and Learning Research Programme, the National Teaching Fellowship Scheme, support for institutional learning and teaching strategies, targeted funding allocation for teaching and learning enhancement (but not the retention element) through Support for Teaching Enhancement and Student Success (TESS). The report also takes into consideration the National Student Survey and Key Information Sets.  ..."

Key findings from 15 telephone interviews are:

  • there is a need for better data about enhancement requirements, prioritisation of efforts and good evaluation of outcomes and effects;
  • there is a need for better knowledge exchange in relation to what we know about good learning and teaching practices and about effective implementation of change into the policies, priorities and actions of government and enhancement-related bodies. The development of a good, explicitly stated theory of systemic change is important in this;
  • enhancement initiatives have tended to arrive hermetically sealed and so there is a need for policy links or increased joined-up activity with other initiatives and with the resources already in place on the ground;
  • despite many local successes, aspirations and expectations at the level of system-wide enhancement of learning and teaching have not been achieved;
  • there is a need for deeper and wider engagement of students and their representatives in decision making about, and the implementation of, enhancement initiatives;
  • large, high-profile projects often do not represent good value for money. In times of fiscal constraint and resource depletion, better thinking about small but effective initiatives would be beneficial.

Key findings from a literature review are:

  • the significant importance of HEFCE’s teaching enhancement initiatives in signalling the centrality of teaching and learning in higher education;
  • the significant benefits that individuals across the sector gained from their involvement in these initiatives;
  • the tendency to focus on raising the profile of, and rewarding, teaching rather than on the strategic development of teaching and learning across the sector;
  • the way in which these initiatives tended to focus on innovations and educational specialists rather than developing everyday university teaching and teachers;
  • the lack of a cohesive strategy that brought together HEFCE’s different quality enhancement initiatives.

Overall, it says,

"Our review of the literature has suggested that while HEFCE’s enhancement initiatives have played an important role in signalling the centrality of teaching as well as supporting individuals in developing their innovative practices (often to the benefit of students), it has been far less successful in promoting the strategic development of quality enhancement across the sector as a whole. Thus while some very innovative teaching practices have been supported, the impact on day-to-day teaching across the sector has been much more limited."

The NUS comes out of the report well, as does the NSS which is seen as a cost-effective way of subtly strong-arming institutions into taking students seriously.

This, about the NUS, is from page 25:

"A number of respondents had suggestions for or offered examples of ways in which learning and teaching enhancement across the sector could be augmented. These included: ... The NUS appears to be adept at generating considerable amounts of activity on limited resources by concentrating on local incentives and the outcomes.  ...."

This, about the NSS, is from page 27:

"If we ask the question “what has been the most cost-effective mechanism that has changed learning and teaching practices on the ground?” the answer would almost certainly be the National Student Survey. There is general agreement that, like the REF in the research field, the NSS is the object of close attention from, and often rapid response by, institutions.  It has focused attention and helped institutions prioritise enhancement efforts. This is not to say that it is not in need of amendment, nor that it has not had some deleterious effects; only that it has had a demonstrable impact across English higher education."

All this will come as little surprise to anyone who has followed Hefce's funding of sustainability-related initiatives through its various schemes where countless £zillions have been 'invested' to such little effect, 'NUS excepted', of course!

Posted in: Comment, New Publications, News and Updates


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