Reputation of UK universities 'could be at risk'


The international reputation of the UK's universities could be put at risk if plans to boost teaching standards are rushed, MPs have warned.

In a new report, the Commons business committee said it backed government proposals to improve the quality of teaching at universities and open higher education up to more people from disadvantaged backgrounds.

But it added that it recognised there are concerns from the sector about how the reforms would be introduced and the pace of the change.

A consultation paper published by Universities Minister Jo Johnson at the end of last year outlined a series of plans such as a new "teaching excellence framework" that would encourage institutions to focus on high-quality teaching and the employment prospects of graduates.

It included a proposal to link teaching to tuition fees, allowing English universities to raise fees in line with inflation if they could show high teaching standards.

Other recommendations included a new Office for Students and making it easier to open new universities.

In its report, the business committee said that overall it welcomed the consultation, but said it is important that the Government ensures it has the right systems in place to properly measure the quality of teaching.

"We share the general support for the principle of the teaching excellence framework (TEF) but recognise the legitimacy of concerns about the practical details of implementation, given the proposed pace of implementation," the cross-party group of MPs said.

"The increasing competitiveness of this sector heightens the responsibility on Government to establish new mechanisms to measure properly the level of teaching quality.

"There is much at stake. A poorly designed or rushed TEF will not serve students, higher education institutions, Government or the taxpayer and could negatively affect reputations.

"Equally, a well designed and implemented TEF could provide a model for other nations and enhance the UK's already strong position."

Committee chair Iain Wright said: "UK Universities have an outstanding international reputation and the higher education sector is an area where the UK is a genuine world leader.

"It's vital that we capitalise on these strengths and not put the world-class status of our universities at risk by pushing ahead with a poorly implemented or rushed teaching excellence framework.

"It's better to get this major reform right than to get there quickly."

A Business Department spokeswoman said: "We welcome the committee's recognition of the steps we are taking to drive up the quality of teaching in universities.

"We want to ensure students get real value for money and graduate with the skills employers need.

"As the committee states in their report, our approach could help to ensure that higher education institutions meet student expectations and improve on their leading international position.

"We will carefully consider the committee's findings and will set out further detail in our response to the Green Paper and consultation."