The RHS has submitted a response to the House of Commons Education Select Committee’s enquiry into ‘value for money in higher education. You can read our submission here.
The RHS has submitted a response to the House of Commons Education Select Committee’s enquiry into ‘value for money in higher education. You can read our submission here.
HEFCE has opened recruitment for approximately 100 panel member roles on the TEF Subject Pilot panels and a small number of roles on TEF Year Three for applicants with HE in further education colleges and/or alternative providers. There are roles for students, academics, widening participation experts, employment experts and employer and PSRB representatives to review submissions and decide on the assessment outcomes.
We would encourage you to review the available roles to see if you or a colleague may be interested. We would also be grateful if you could disseminate details to colleagues across your provider.
The role specifications and applications forms for the available roles can be found on the TEF recruitment portal. Please note that the deadline for receipt of applications for all roles is midday on Friday 6 October.
Should you have any questions regarding the roles, please contact TEF@hefce.ac.uk.
The RHS is committed to monitoring and supporting the teaching of history in higher education and secondary schools. The Educational Policy Committee was founded in 2003 to bring together expertise in and outside Council in order to promote history teaching through offering expert advice to government and NGOs as well as sponsoring conferences and teaching-related initiatives. Accordingly, on the Committee sit not just elected councillors with a particular interest in teaching but also a number of co-opted members from History UK (representing History in HE), the Historical Association and secondary schools, and they bring to our discussions a wealth of experience and insights. Among our co-opted members are the former Chief HMI for History at Ofsted, the former discipline lead for History at the Higher Education Academy, and a current academy-school teacher and editor of Teaching History. Regular Committee meetings are supplemented by biannual visits to history departments where we see history teaching on the ground, sometimes in rather challenging circumstances, which helps inform our discussions and shape our priorities.
The Committee takes a broad purview of history at university by examining trends in admissions, curriculum design and delivery for both undergraduates and taught postgraduates. We are interested in history teaching in all its various settings, whether in a single-subject department, a multi-disciplinary humanities or humanities and social science unit, or historians teaching in other departments such as languages. Representatives of the RHS speak at teaching events and sponsor a number of workshops and conferences, most recently the ‘New to History teaching’, a one-day event in September 2017 at the IHR. We often provide expert advice to public bodies: in 2013-14 we contributed to the revision of the History Benchmarking document produced by the Quality Assurance Agency, and in 2017 gave evidence to the British Academy’s flagship project on skills in Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences. Currently the most pressing matter is the rapid development of the Teaching Excellent Framework. In January 2016 the Society submitted its response to the Government Green Paper on HE, ‘Fulfilling our Potential: Teaching Excellence, Social Mobility and Student Choice’, which was endorsed by the Economic History Society, History UK, the British Agricultural History Society, and the East Midlands Centre for History Teaching and Learning. Since then, the Society has maintained a watching brief over the rapid evolution of the TEF, and will in due course take up the invitation to offer views on the pilot subject-level metrics in 2017-19 and to the Independent Review of TEF in 2018-19. Another important role of the Society is to provide guidelines and resources for the fellowship and the wider discipline. We see it as a priority in the next few years to consider the implications of the digital revolution as it affects the teaching of history, and the evidence for better and best teaching practice across UK, and to share our thoughts and findings through a teaching resource portal on our website.
The RHS plays an important role in discussions about teaching in history, working in partnership with the Historical Association. In 2014-15 we took a leading role in discussions on reshaping history teaching from the National Curriculum via GCSE to A level. We are committed to ensuring that history in schools offers the best possible preparation for further study of the subject while also providing a rounded and fulfilling historical education for those who do not continue to study history at a higher level. Over the past decade we have built up excellent relations to the School Examination Boards, offering them advice and support as required, and convening a meeting most years to facilitate the exchange of views between their representatives as well as to asess trends in uptake, choice within specifications and performance. The recent revision of GCSE and A Level make these meetings particularly timely and informative.
Given the remit of the Society, and our close working relationship with the Historical Association, we are well-placed to help bridge the gap between history at school and university. We welcome, and are actively supporting, the Historical Association’s recent initiatives to forge closer ties with HEIs. We keep a close eye over the provision of teacher training places, and intervened in 2015-16 to protest to government over the threatened reduction in their number. A conference is being planned for March 2018, under the auspices of Professor Arthur Burns, Chair of the Committee in 2013-16, to bring together teachers of history in schools and universities with represenmtatives of the Examination Boards to review the consequences of recent curriculum changes and to smooth the transition from A Level to first year university history.
Kenneth Fincham is Professor of Early Modern History at the University of Kent. A former RHS Hon. Secretary and then Councillor, he is an experienced academic editor and has a long-standing interest in curriculum and in building bridges between secondary and tertiary teaching. In the 1980s he taught for two years in a secondary school, and since then has been involved in ‘A’ Level history as an examiner, setter and now reviser.
Lord Stern’s review of the Research Excellence Framework (REF) issued a call for evidence in January 2016 (read the full call here). The review will have important implications for the scholarly community and for history as a discipline, dealing with the mechanisms for allocating QR (quality-related research funding) and the shape of future REF exercises.
The Royal Historical Society has provided a robust and thoughtful response to Stern’s call, challenging the notion that metrics can be used to measure research quality in the arts and humanities and pointing to the consequences of the present system for our discipline, whilst reflecting on the positive changes to research culture engendered by the REF. Read the Society’s full response below, or download a PDF version.
Response to Stern Review of the REF
It is essential that an exercise such as the REF commands wide support within the academic community and that its conclusions are respected. This is currently a clear strength and would be compromised by wider use of metrics, which simply do not work across the board. A main finding of The Metric Tide is that, in contrast to peer review, academics are sceptical of metrics, which are particularly problematic when assessing outputs in the Arts and Humanities. In terms of historical scholarship, there are no current measures which provide reliable data, and this is not likely to change given the broad range of types of publications in which scholars publish quality research, including book chapters, websites, and datasets. History has no established rank order of periodicals and impact factors—as in Humanities more generally—mean very little e.g. http://guides.temple.edu/c.php?g=78121&p=509794
There are two additional difficulties. The first is that, for historians, books are of primary importance in disseminating research. This was demonstrated in REF2014 where ‘books and parts of books’ were most likely to receive scores of 4*. There is no way of evaluating this type of output other than through peer review. In a discipline where so many outputs are submitted in book form, either as monographs or as chapters in edited volumes, metrics thus pose a particular problem. Second, the download half-life of journal articles in History—and Humanities articles more generally—is very much longer than it is for the Sciences. This is insufficiently recognized. The point is made in the British Academy report on Open Access which nevertheless severely underestimated this half-life as the report did not include downloads from heavily used archive sites such as JSTOR. The RHS estimates that the true download half-life of a History article is at least 12 years.
The RHS would therefore argue strongly that the quality of scholarship in History, as in Humanities more generally, is not quantifiable by metrics and its full value and impact become apparent over a significantly longer term than a REF cycle. Greater use of metrics in place of peer review would not only fail to capture the nature and quality of world-leading scholarship but is also likely to have a distorting effect on the methods by which historical scholarship is disseminated. As peer review offers the flexibility to assess research in new, minority or unfashionable fields, any downgrading, or substitution by metrics, is also likely to distort subject matter by encouraging publications on well-worn or voguish topics.
The RHS thus remains strongly committed to peer review, which is widely and routinely used to assess research quality in, for example, employment, promotion and publication decisions. It is, in fact, the only expert device we have to assess quality. After consulting REF2014 panel members, the RHS is confident that the workload in terms of the peer review of outputs was manageable, and the process very conscientiously carried out. Panel membership attracts outstanding academics who benefit from the opportunity to survey the field and in whom their peers have confidence. Maintaining this calibre, and this level of participation, is essential to the REF process.
The assessment of impact was new to REF2014 and here some doubt has been expressed, both over the volume of material to review and the fact that inevitably peer reviewers had less experience of evaluating impact. Academic assessors are trained to assess intellectual quality rather than impact. There was also less time and information available for review.
This issue is likely to diminish as the accumulated experience of impact grows within the research community. The RHS moreover believes that impact has benefitted the historical profession as it has underlined the deep public interest in History and the relevance of our research to various fields, including education, digitization, and policy. Although the definition of impact for REF2014 excluded the kind of broad expertise of a historical field that is evident in much public engagement work—and which should be reflected in how the underpinning research is defined and understood—it is valued by many.
However, research undertaken by the RHS demonstrates that, in terms of authorship, ICSs, are not representative of the wider research community. The ‘impact case study’ is an artificially constructed exercise, but the fact that 75% of identified PIs were men and just under 65% of PIs were professors is of real concern. One simple way of making ICSs more representative of the historical profession would be to make impact portable. There is an obvious logical inconsistency in having outputs transferable and impact not as both rest on underlying research usually undertaken over a number of years. The RHS is clear that it is highly discriminatory against ECRs not to allow them to transfer impact from one institution to another, or to include that based on unpublished research in a PhD thesis. This makes it almost inevitable that institutions will rely on case studies contributed by people at mature stages in their careers.
A further consideration is how the requirement that departments submit one impact case study plus one other for up to 10 researchers has affected very small research clusters, for example, in universities where a department or school might only have 2 or 3 historians. The RHS is concerned that various REF measures put this kind of unit at risk (see the remarks on environment below).
The benefits of organizing returns by unit of assessment are most apparent in the evaluation of outputs, where subject-specific specialists are clearly best placed to conduct peer reviews. History is represented within the great majority of universities as well as in other cultural institutions. Large disciplines need their own UoA; the volume of outputs is substantial and the variety of expertise already contained within the discipline is broad.
In History, as more generally, REF owes its credibility as an assessment exercise to its expert review panels. It is clear from our consultations that the History panel worked very effectively, with a shared understanding of criteria and quality. In contrast, colleagues on panels that covered a range of disciplines found the task of assessment could be more difficult and even conflictive. Departments within these broader panels, for example Languages, experienced more uncertainty preparing for REF. REF ‘scores’ based on amalgamated disciplines may also be misleading in terms of individual departments or schools and we would certainly resist History’s incorporation into a wider UoA. The international strength of historical research in the UK is reflected in the large number of high performing units, which has been confirmed in all previous REF exercises. We believe it is important to showcase this; any move to amalgamation would occlude the proportion of world-leading historical research for which British universities are responsible.
It is hard, if not impossible, to see how outputs could not be linked to individual researchers in History. This means that, while allocated scores—at least in terms of QR—go to institutions—and so, in a sense, it is the headline institutional score that matters—it is not clear how this could be obtained without expert peer review, which has to take place at the level of the individual outputs or ICS. There is also a further point, in that the granular detail of REF feeds into, for example, university guides, admissions league tables, and wider research rankings and here the disciplinary picture is crucial. This a particular concern for small, strong units within less-research intensive universities; these are not uncommon in History.
In broad terms, the RHS believes that the current arrangement for outputs (four, with differentially weighted monographs), impact and environment is manageable and effective with outputs as the main weighting. There is some feeling that environment should not weigh more heavily in the process. While, in a ‘bundling’ category such as environment, some form of metric evaluation is conceivable—research income and PGR numbers are two of the very few measures that can be aggregated across all subjects and both relate to environment—we see real difficulties with evaluating environment simply by metrics. REF is designed to recognize and support essential research activities, including a rich academic culture represented by seminars, workshops, conferences etc, participation and leadership in learned societies, editorial work, peer review and collaboration across institutions. Not to assess these vital academic functions would be to undermine them.
Wider use of metrics would also raise real issues of equity even at UoA level. It is clear from the RHS’s analysis of REF2014 that research income and PGR numbers were crucial to success in terms of research environment. Every university in the top 22, bar one, graduated at least 1 PhD per FTE over the REF cycle and 10 more than 1.5; the best predictor of rank in research environment was the number of PhDs per staff FTE between 2008 and 2013. Given the concentration of AHRC funding for doctoral study in a small number of consortia, in which Russell Group institutions predominate, this makes it almost impossible for small units in less-research intensive universities to do well in terms of environment no matter how strong their collective research endeavours. The RHS views this with real concern.
This is not primarily a question for representative bodies such as learned societies. Indeed, as REF information is provided at aggregate levels, and only every seven years or so, it is hard to see it as a significant source of management information.
The RHS believes that there is a useful purpose to having research, particularly research outputs, evaluated by independent external assessors. However, if, as we believe and as is set out in question 2, REF is a tool to allocate QR then it should be used for this purpose. It should not be for government to suggest or draw on other uses of REF by individual universities and the RHS would resist any move to embed REF as a performance management tool.
The RHS is sceptical as to whether data in and of itself can be used to drive research excellence. We are strongly committed to research excellence, and to research publication in all its various guises, but see academic freedom, research time, the availability of funding and an atmosphere of creativity and communication as being far more pertinent to those working in Humanities as guarantees of research excellence and productivity. However, there are areas where data gathering as part of REF would usefully highlight areas of concern, for example historical research conducted in other languages and linguistic skills that need developing and/or support.
It is also the case that the suggestion in the recent Green Paper that measures of casualisation might serve as a measure of teaching quality could equally be applied to REF. The close link between teaching and research is one of the great strengths of the British university system. This is reflected in the high proportion of staff on full academic contracts, which should be protected. Collecting such data would also provide a clear picture of the employment position and foreground an issue that is of particular importance to ECRs and the future shape of the profession.
This is in some ways a curious question: how can REF be used in support collaboration between universities when by its very nature it makes them compete? However, the RHS is confident that collaborative mechanisms—which are often informal—are strong and that historians collaborate with as much or more vigour as ever. There are also examples of strong regional partnerships that encourage and fund research and doctoral studentship collaborations, for example the White Rose. These are, however, not directly related to REF.
Interdisciplinary research is stimulating and valuable but it is also important to defend multi-disciplinary collaborations and the single-discipline scholarship on which these rest. Promoting interdisciplinary research is not in itself a guarantee of improvements in research quality and the RHS would encourage the review to address this directly.
In terms of REF, impact has clearly encouraged collaborations with other private and public sector bodies and there may be scope to adjust output criteria to acknowledge this. The arrangements for cross-referencing interdisciplinary work to other panels and interdisciplinary specialists appear to have worked effectively, another strength of the flexibility provided by peer review.
There is widespread concern over the potential for departments to score highly in REF by only submitting a small proportion of their staff. There is a division of opinion among historians as to whether this should be addressed through a 100% return of eligible staff, given that a possible response would be to increase the use of teaching contracts and so alter the proportion of staff employed on full academic contracts (see the response to Qu. 4 above).
However, there is a clear desire to prevent—or discourage—institutions from gaming the system. Not only can this have detrimental consequences for those omitted for strategic reasons but it can also lead to bad management decisions, as the 2/3 borderline is by far the most difficult to predict in internal assessment exercises. The RHS would therefore strongly favour restoring the previous system of requiring UoAs to identify the proportion of staff submitted.
It is hard to see how the other identified drivers affect historians or, indeed, most individual academics. Only a handful of scholars operate strategically in ‘international career markets’ while ‘global rankings’ are of little relevance below institutional level and then only to a select group of universities.
There is no doubt that REF has affected scholarly behaviour in History and that it will continue to do so. The introduction of impact, discussed above, has encouraged the academic community to be more outward facing and has also diversified the understanding of academic merit. Promotion criteria, for example, now commonly reflect the importance of external engagement. Less happily, the pressure for outputs has downgraded the status of the book in several disciplines—especially, but not exclusively, in the social sciences—where such publications used to be common. The differential weighting of monographs has prevented this in History and other Humanities subjects, and the RHS sees this as essential both to prevent distorting the research process and to reflect the research and scholarship that goes into producing such a substantial piece of work.
There is some suggestion that triple or quadruple weighting of monographs, and other very substantial outputs, would be beneficial, removing what may be seen as a perverse incentive to produce lower-quality article-length outputs to meet the output requirement. A single-authored 80-100,000-word monograph—the norm in our discipline—represents greater productivity than that required in other fields where team based research is the standard mode. Against this is the point that book authors seldom write nothing else and the greater complication it would give to panel deliberations. The RHS notes that the panel accepted 97% of double-weighting requests for REF2014, but this might change if the weighting rises.
One final concern is that REF pressure has downgraded the value of producing synthetic books and articles, which have an interpretative function and are primarily used for teaching purposes, including postgraduate teaching and training. Though pedagogically important, these are unlikely to be included in TEF and so run a real risk of falling between two stools. It would be helpful to have the value of these outputs recognised.
This is not a question that a learned society is well suited to answer but we are quite sure that our Fellows would resist adding bureaucratic requirements rather than taking them away. There is also a concern that the ‘strategy’ sections of the environment and impact statements were the least valuable parts of all the submissions: they are brief, rhetorical, and impossible for the panel to check.
The changes to the last REF were very profound and the RHS believes that there is a strong case for little or even minimal change to allow the present system to bed down, particularly in terms of the new emphasis on impact. Institutions are already undertaking extensive planning for a future REF and there is no doubt that radical adjustment would be disruptive and costly. As stated above, REF affects both individual and institutional choices; as research planning should look to the medium and long term, this is all the more reason not to keep moving the goalposts.
Many of you will be aware that current policies on ITT are having a worrying affect on the future provision of History in schools. At the end of last year the RHS and the Historical Association wrote a joint letter to government ministers and their teams outlining our concerns. We have now received a reply from Nick Gibb, Minister of State for Schools. The response is detailed and covers the issues of ITT provision as a whole. However, it does not address the concerns the subject community have about history. We would like to have some assurances and understanding about our subject, it’s not that we think we’re special, it’s just that each subject is different. So we have sent another letter (and some very specific detail) and requested a meeting.
Edited version of RHS response
The general principle of a ‘Teaching Excellence Framework’
The Royal Historical Society would like to see genuine incentives for HEIs to concentrate on teaching quality. Therefore, if the government introduces a TEF it should be one that encourages institutions to:
We believe that to achieve these goals, the TEF must:
We can see the value in aiding student choice of appropriately benchmarked metrics, but we do not think they could ever be an effective proxy for teaching quality and doubt that they could form the basis of reliable comparison across institutions or disciplines.
It is one thing to seek to make information about teaching even more available and transparent to potential students and quite another to impose a target-led regulatory regime on HEIs, with all the well-known problems that will engender. As the government withdraws from direct public subsidy of teaching it must recognise that its regulatory role necessarily changes too. While the government can seek to give more leverage to students, since it is they who are now ultimately paying, it has ceded any direct leverage it may theoretically have had over how HEIs deliver teaching. Since the removal of the recruitment cap on undergraduate numbers, universities have noticeably been focusing more on teaching quality than was previously the case. The test of these proposals is whether it will enhance that tendency or retard it.
The Royal Historical Society’s case is that the only meaningful assessment of teaching quality is one that is rooted in the discipline-specific experience and judgement of those who participate in teaching and learning – the teachers as well as the students.
As the Green Paper concedes, it is palpably not up to the government to define what makes for effective teaching at HE level. It must therefore be up to teachers to determine how best to teach in their discipline at this level, within the resource constraints we face.
We are confident – on the basis of evidence – that a good history programme prepares students very effectively for the workplace, but we are certain that effective learning and teaching in History is not measurable by generic cross-disciplinary standards. Typically, humanities programmes will feature fewer contact hours than most science programmes, but will also feature much more small group teaching, a far greater emphasis on independent learning, and more concentration on the development of students’ writing and communication skills. There will be very different kinds of links with outside institutions and the nature of ‘employability’ will necessarily be different in a subject like ours than in some other disciplines. The QAA has already recognised this in establishing discipline-specific panels in order to draw up disciplinary benchmark standards. The TEF, if it is to have credibility, must do the same.
The RHS takes a lead in shaping and defining what effective teaching and learning means in our discipline. We therefore welcome the suggestion in the Green Paper that Learned Societies are among the ‘stakeholders’ with whom institutions would want to work. The RHS is already well positioned to play this role, being able to draw on a depth and range of expertise from many different institutions.
Metrics and how a TEF would work
We are pleased that the Green Paper acknowledges the difficulties of using metrics. We believe that the conclusions of Prof James Wilsdon’s review of the use of metrics in research assessment for HEFCE, The Metric Tide, apply with even greater force to teaching and learning.
By far the most problematic metric mentioned in the Green Paper is the destination of graduates. The difficulty here is that employment status and earnings are not related in any demonstrable or tangible way to teaching quality but reflect other factors including social class, the perceived status of the university attended, and secondary school type, as well as career choice. It may be of some value to students to have this information, but it should not be confused with a mechanism designed to drive up teaching quality.
In addition, the use of earnings/employment data, if they do not control for social origin, may have the perverse effect of incentivising socially selective admissions. We are sure you agree that government policy should not end up, however unintentionally, encouraging university admissions officers to have to weigh up the likely earning potential of applicants, something which would be dishearteningly easy for them to do using school and postcode data. Even where it is possible to control for some of these background factors, the demonstrable tendency of employers to use institutional reputation as a ‘screening’ mechanism in employment decisions suggests that a TEF based in any substantial degree on graduate earnings may only have the effect of fossilizing established hierarchies rather than inciting innovation and improvement.
Retention figures are of relevance but only so long as they are properly benchmarked against the background of the student body, since otherwise this would be a disincentive for institutions to recruit students from under-represented groups, including part-time and mature students, for whom the funding situation has already been deteriorating markedly in recent years.
Student satisfaction data is potentially of value, but again only so long as it is properly benchmarked. But, to state the obvious, a measure of student satisfaction is not a measure of teaching quality. Learning should be difficult and should require commitment on the part of the learner, and rigorous assessment means that by definition not everyone will succeed. These self-evident observations severely limit the ability of ‘satisfaction’ measures to capture teaching quality.
Of the metrics mentioned for later implementation we would strongly welcome a measure of the proportion of staff on permanent contracts. We would also urge that universities be incentivised to embed the relationship between research and teaching by being penalised for employing staff on teaching-only contracts. The distinctiveness of HE, and one of UK universities’ internationally recognised great strengths, is that students are taught by people who are also actively engaged in research. In our discipline (and no doubt in others) effective teaching cannot be divorced from research: we want to develop students who are engaged in research themselves and who are exposed to the people who are immersed in scholarship.
‘Teaching intensity’ is not clearly defined in the Green Paper, but in our discipline we believe it should mean levels of student engagement (i.e. evidence that students are actively participating in learning), insofar as that can be reduced to a metric. We are convinced of the value in our discipline of small group teaching and/or low staff/student ratios as a means to this end and believe that this is vastly more important than the number of contact hours. In our experience, drawn from across the spectrum of institutions teaching History, students consistently appreciate the individual attention and higher quality feedback that is only possible in a small-group setting.
On the whole, however, we suspect that the idea that metrics which may not be ‘robust’ can or should be ‘balanced’ with ‘institutional evidence’ is likely to lead to greater managerial attention to the former (which can be automated and rendered generic) than the latter (which relies on costly subject-specific and qualitative measures). Like other performance indicators this runs the risk of transferring institutions’ efforts from performance to indicator.
The precedent of the REF, where many of the distortions to academic effort have come from HEIs’ (mis)interpretation of the rules, is ominous. On this precedent one might expect university managers to be unnecessarily and distractingly interventionist not in ways that encourage diversity and experiment in teaching but rather in ways that are thought to mirror government ‘intentions’. It would be one of the most depressing unintended consequences of the TEF, albeit one very easy to imagine, if the regulatory constraints under which university teachers worked, stifling innovation and creativity, outweighed putative benefits in enhancing teaching quality.
Therefore, the TEF should not, indeed in our view cannot, impose measures that, however subtly or unintentionally, have the effect of directly engineering how teaching and learning happens in universities, whether that is through crude measures like ‘contact hours’ or anything else.
Social Mobility and Widening Participation in Higher Education
The Royal Historical Society is strongly supportive of efforts to ensure that class and ethnicity are not barriers to a good historical education with all the benefits that brings. Unless Access Agreements – together with evidence of progress toward achieving the goals set out in them — are a prerequisite for a TEF award, it is difficult to see what incentive HEIs would have for maintaining or extending the numbers of students from under-represented groups. This is especially true since in some respects the TEF, as outlined in this Green Paper, would otherwise incentivise universities to become more socially selective in order, for example, to ensure their graduates have higher earning potential.
There are few more important issues for universities, or the education system and society more widely, than ensuring fair access. Therefore we believe the government should use all available policy levers to ensure that universities make strenuous efforts in this area. However, we do not support externally imposed institution-level admissions targets for under-represented groups.
The challenge for HEIs and for us as a Learned Society is to work with schools and other organisations to increase participation and academic success among under-represented groups at all stages of the education system.
The challenge for government is to discriminate between those levers that can be pulled at the point of admission to university and those that can’t. It would be a mistake to place more policy emphasis on one specific stage than it can bear, and which would therefore be likely to incentivise game playing and produce perverse effects.
As the Green Paper points out, ‘prior educational attainment is the key factor in determining progression’. Disadvantage starts in infancy and deepens (unevenly) at different stages of the life course. Government policy on social mobility needs to link up communities, child-care, child support, schools, universities, careers, equal-employment policies and income inequality. At the point of entry to HE, a successful widening participation policy must give universities the ability to identify applicants who have demonstrated their intellectual ability while overcoming measurable disadvantages. Properly contextualised decisions about academic potential can only be made on the basis of as much data, about social class, ethnicity and school as possible. Therefore we support greater access to the kind of information currently held by UCAS.
A student-led market in HE
There is an important component largely missing from the Green Paper’s discussion of market exit: how to facilitate students transferring, during their degree programme, from one institution to another. Although there is now a rudimentary system of credit transfers that in theory allows students to move from one HEI to another without losing credit, in practice institutions often place barriers in the way. Incentivising universities to facilitate the transfer of students from a programme in one institution to a programme in another would create more fluidity in the market.
Naturally, it would also require an HE system that had robust mechanisms for ensuring peer-reviewed validation of programmes and the reinforcing of broad comparability among programmes through the external examining process.
Regulation, Research Funding and the ‘architecture’ of Higher Education
The higher education architecture is unnecessarily complex, but this is in large part because as government withdraws from direct administration it leaves behind complex regulatory frameworks. SLC, OFFA, QAA, HEA and HESA are all relatively recent products of this regulatory policy. The Office for Students (OfS) would be yet another one.
Not all of HEFCE’s current functions are appropriate for an OfS. Hiving off HEFCE’s research functions will, according to the Nurse Review, require a further complication of the research support structure. In addition to assessment and allocation of QR, HEFCE provides essential core funding to research institutes (such as the Institute of Historical Research, as part of the School of Advanced Study of the University of London, which provides crucial infrastructural support for our discipline). These research functions – not provided for in the rationale for government intervention in HE on p. 58 of the Green Paper– are crucial and not easily separable from ‘education’. For example, it is not clear from the Green Paper proposals where responsibility for PGT and PGR students will lie.
We would favour retention and indeed strengthening of a single higher-education regulator, such as the funding councils provide, with if anything transfer to it of some of the functions of the other, smaller quangos targeted for supersession.
Although little teaching grant remains for humanities disciplines such as ours, we are concerned about the proposal to allocate teaching grant from within BIS to ‘enable ministers to strengthen incentives for higher education provision that supports the needs of the economy’. This seems to suggest a degree of ‘manpower planning’ which governments have largely abjured since the 1960s and which is inconsistent with an HE system centred on students and student demand. It points to features of the Australian system, including differential fees and subject quotas, which have been heavily criticised by students and employers for unbalancing the normal functioning of supply and demand mechanisms.
Independence of Research and Academic Freedom
Changes to the institutional framework are presented as reducing complexity. But we are concerned that they are also likely to reduce the independence of academic judgement in teaching and research that has been the recipe for international success of the UK higher education system for decades. We are pleased to see an acknowledgement in the Green Paper of the Haldane Principle, but we note that successive governments have redefined the Haldane Principle when it suits them. Clause 68(3) of the Further and Higher Education Act 1992, still in force, provides that ‘Such terms and conditions may not be framed by reference to particular courses of study or programmes of research (including the contents of such courses or programmes and the manner in which they are taught, supervised or assessed) or to the criteria for the selection and appointment of academic staff and for the admission of students’. This, in fact, provides for a stronger protection of academic freedom and independence than does the Haldane Principle, as observed as recently as 2010 by BIS in its Strategic Plan. But it would be weakened by the Green Paper’s proposal to limit protection to ensure that ‘ministers and officials could not single out specific institutions’. We note that the Green Paper acknowledges the importance of ‘research which is directed within institutions’ (p. 70), also protected by the 1992 Act, but it does not extend the same significance to teaching.
We would expect to see the independence of arm’s length bodies safeguarded in legislation at least as strongly as at present, with stronger protections for what the Green Paper calls ‘research directed from within institutions’.
The dual system of research funding
The two streams of the dual funding system have different purposes and different statutory status. By redefining the Haldane Principle, successive governments have increased their ability to influence decisions made on the RC arm. At the same time the balance between the budgets of the two elements has shifted in favour of RC funding (for example, in the 1992 ‘dual support transfer’ and again in 1998 in order to fund the Arts and Humanities Research Council – in both cases from the QR to the RC stream). To protect both the value and the independence of QR funding, some longer-term guarantee ought to be provided fixing the balance between these two budgets, as indeed is recommended by the Nurse Review.
QR is essential to the independence of individual academics and their employing institutions. Without it, student fees would presumably have to be used to cross-subsidise research infrastructure, which would be difficult to justify, not least to students. Above all, QR ensures, as the Green Paper puts it, that research ‘may be purely curiosity-driven, respond to individual partnering opportunities, or may be in rapid reaction to advances in a given field’. These qualities are more important to the humanities than to the sciences, as our research does not cluster so readily or fruitfully around easily identifiable research frontiers or immediate applications. It is for this reason that, rightly, 85% of government research funding in the humanities is provided by QR and only 15% by RCUK. As a means of distributing QR, REF has its critics, yet so far no one has come up an alternative that would be credible and consistent while also identifying and rewarding quality in all its many manifestations. In fields such as ours where quality is very widely distributed across a range of institutions, it also enables individual achievers to gain recognition independent of the reputation of their institutions and also to small pots of funding that have disproportionately significant effects in stimulating creative research across the system. This plurality is a sign of health in UK HE that is rightly envied abroad.
If REF is to measure research quality wherever it is, we need to find ways to reduce the extensive (and expensive) game-playing in which institutions engage, modelling the exercise many times in advance and erecting elaborate selection processes that divide the academic community and distract from the research enterprise itself. One option would be to require the submission of all research-contracted staff, but this requirement suffers from the fatal flaw that it would encourage the proliferation of teaching-only contracts and the bifurcation of HE into research and teaching streams, which, as the Green Paper indicates, would be to the detriment of both.
Universities and Science Minister, Jo Johnson, has launched a UK-wide review of university research funding . The review will be chaired by the President of the British Academy and former World Bank Chief Economist Lord Nicholas Stern. He will be assisted by a steering group of academic experts, including historian Linda Colley. The review is due to report in Summer 2016.
A recent analysis of ‘history teaching at its best’ in universities (Booth, 2014) has presented us with a clear picture of the issues we face as historians and an indication of some of the ways in which our discipline can engage, in broad terms, with the scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL). There are many challenges. How can we best enhance and support both the student and staff experience using research-informed teaching? How can we use pedagogic research, theory and innovations in order to engage learners, at all levels? How can we make sense of and manage change in higher education without sacrificing academic quality and identity? How can we teach not only our discipline, but also across, into and within others? How do we support students through critical transition points and intellectual thresholds?
In addressing these questions and others, this conference will explore theory and practices in teaching, learning and assessment in critical areas such as public history education; the use of digital and other new technologies; the relationship between school and university history; pedagogic theory, practice and the student experience; ethical dimensions and the teaching of ‘controversial’ subjects; learning outside the classroom; employability and work-based learning; policy, policy-makers and strategy. Papers, workshops and round table discussions will provide opportunities to disseminate and showcase evidence-informed practise from the higher education sector, facilitate discussion and debate and provide networking opportunities for participants.
Dr Mike Maddison (former OFSTED National Lead for History) will give a keynote address on “Developments in Schools History”
Professor Maggie Andrews (University of Worcester) will give a keynote address on “Politics, Problems and Possibilities: why teaching must really matter for historians”
This event is sponsored by The Royal Historical Society, Institute of Historical Research, History UK and The Historical Association
For more information about how to register for the conference go to RHS Events.
Go to RHS Education Policy
Arthur Burns writes:
Over the past few years, the Royal Historical Society has increasingly sought to highlight its commitment to supporting not just historical research, but the teaching of its discipline at all levels. The recent spate of activity relating to the School Curriculum from Primary to A-level has seen the RHS playing a significant role in discussions about History in the Schools, working in close alliance with colleagues at the Historical Association. At the same time, however, we have also been supporting History teaching in the universities, for example through our involvement in the recent revision of the QAA Subject Benchmarking Document, and our work supporting early career historians both in collaboration with historylab+ and on this website.
In the past our support for history teaching in HE involved us in close collaboration with the Higher Education Academy (first with its History subject centre and then its History discipline lead), which produced valuable support materials and from 2001 to 2013 hosted a very successful annual conference on approaches to History teaching in HE, as well as more focused events for those teaching at this level for the first time. In 2014, however, the HEA took a strategic decision to move away from subject specific support.
One consequence of this change of policy was the potential end to the annual conferences, which had been hosted at the Institute of Historical Research in 2012 and 2013. These were very successful international events, attracting some 80 delegates from four continents. Held on the eve of the start of the academic year, those attending valued a timely opportunity to refresh their ideas about their teaching practice, and network both between sessions and at the conference meal. Topics covered included employability and work-based learning; teaching controversial subjects; Holocaust education; fieldwork; developing historical consciousness; taking students through thresholds in history; the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in History and the idea of signature pedagogies; cultural diversity; gender history; analyses of texts and artefacts; public history education; interdisciplinarity; the relationship between schools and university history; regional studies of practice; history teacher-education; assessment; using historical fiction; empathy; and teaching world history.
The RHS had always taken a keen interest in these events, not least through providing keynote speakers, and also found them a valuable opportunity to work together in new ways with other key stakeholders in history, not just the HEA, but also the Historical Association and History UK. Following consultation with these other interested parties, we are therefore delighted that we have been able to agree to establish a conference modelled on the HEA events starting in 2015, with the Society acting as lead sponsor in collaboration with the IHR, History UK and the Historical Association. Responsibility for organising the conference rests with Peter D’Sena, a member of our Education Policy Committee and senior research fellow at the IHR, who in his former capacity as History Discipline Lead at the HEA was responsible for organising the conferences held at the IHR in 2012 and 2013. We hope that together we can sustain this very important forum for supporting good and innovative practice in historical pedagogy, something that is rapidly becoming more important both to individual academics and institutions given an increased focus on teaching quality and support in universities and a very rapidly changing pedagogic environment.
The conference, entitled Teaching History in Higher Education (THHE) 2015, will be held at the Institute of Historical Research on Tuesday 8th and Wednesday 9th September 2015. One of the keynote speakers is already confirmed as Dr Mike Maddison, who recently retired from his role as National Lead for History at Ofsted and HMI, and is now a freelance educational consultant as well as a long-standing member of our Education Policy Committee; not only is Mike an excellent speaker, but he is one of the best-informed and thoughtful commentators on the rapidly changing world of the teaching of History in British schools. Around the keynotes there will be opportunities for both experienced and early career academics to present and share views and concerns about teaching and learning. A call for papers, workshops and round table discussion sessions is currently open until 17 May 2015. Further details on this and the conference more generally can be accessed here and on the IHR website.
The RHS is also supporting an associated New to Teaching event, to be held at the IHR on Monday, 7th September, aimed specifically at early career historians getting to grips with teaching in HE for the first time, timed so as to allow those attending also to attend the main conference. Further details about this event will be released early next week.
We are excited about this new opportunity for the RHS to contribute to maintaining the very high standards that characterise the teaching of our subject in the universities, and we hope that some of the fruits of these events will later appear on this website.
Return to Education Policy page