What's going on in Higher Education?

Will universities’ retention problem worsen thanks to the TEF?

In this article, NUS Vice President, Sorana Vieru, describes the way in which the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) may negatively affect dropout rates of predominantly mature, black and minority ethnic and students from poorer socio-economic backgrounds. This is in spite of the fact that retention rates comprises one of the three key metrics in TEF alongside student feedback and graduate employment.

The article explains how ‘research from the National Education Opportunities Network shows that the pressure of increased tuition fees has changed the behaviours of working class students’. More likely to continue living at home and work more hours to cover living expenses, these students are also choosing courses for their graduate opportunities, even where they find the subject less interesting. As a result, students are becoming less engaged with their academic environment. Research has shown a strong correlation between student retention and engagement with, or ‘a sense of belonging’ to, their institution, meaning that these students might be at greater risk of dropping out.

There is positive news, however. The article notes that, of the three key metrics which comprise the TEF, ‘retention data is probably the one measure which institutions have the most power to directly shape and impact’. If universities effectively work to better engage with their students, dropout rates should deflate.

 

IELTS and the case for testing English in-subject

This Wonkhe think piece asks whether the English language tests, to which prospective international students are subject, are fit for purpose. This article condenses the findings of a paper submitted to an Education journal, available here, and recommends that international students be tested on their in-subject English knowledge. It suggests that the traditional approach of English + Subject in native language = preparedness for university study makes a false assumption, since ‘when lecturers in subjects such as Nursing or Design use particular words, they do so with their own unique subject based understandings’.

The International English Language Testing System (IELTS) is used to measure the language proficiency of those wishing to study or work in an English-speaking area. It uses a nine-band scale and a test specifically designed for those wishing to pursue academic study in the UK, Canada and Australia. As it stands, IELTS claims that a score of 6.5 or above is ‘probably acceptable’ for students applying for a ‘linguistically less demanding academic subject’, and 7.0 or above for ‘more demanding’ courses. These are, however, only guidelines, and higher education institutions are able to use their discretion. Anglia Ruskin requires 6.0 for the majority of its undergraduate courses.

 

Highlights from the week’s papers

Student blogger describes struggle to balance university, work and socialising explores some of the problems inherent to earning whilst studying.

Labour peer brings motion to ‘regret’ changes to tuition fees. This week, the Lords voted to pass a motion regretting the burden of tuition fee changes, citing worsening opportunities for young people from low-income backgrounds, mature students and those undertaking part-time courses.