University lecturers face quality checks as student complaints rise

The Sunday Times, 01/03/15, England’s university teachers will have to submit to quality assessments under plans drawn up by the government to address complaints from students and parents. Chris Ramsey, headmaster of The King's School, Chester and Chair of the HMC/GSA Universities Sub-Committee is quoted.

Poor marks for teachers who fail to pay enough attention to their classes may help to decide the levels of government funding their universities receive.

The move is being planned by Greg Clark, the universities minister, as growing numbers of undergraduates complain about the quality and frequency of their classes, overcrowded lecture halls, the level of challenge provided by their degree courses and the value for money their education represents.

Ministers are still studying how the assessments will be conducted and to what extent they might be similar to the Ofsted ratings of Britain’s primary and secondary schools.

The results of the assessments, which are to become part of the Conservative party’s election manifesto, could affect the distribution of up to £1.9bn of public funding.

Labour has also targeted universities as an election issue. The party announced last week that it would cut tuition fees by a third, to £6,000 a year, to reduce the debt burden on students.

Last year students lodged more than 2,000 complaints about poor teaching and facilities, resulting in compensation payouts of more than £1m.

Chris Ramsey, chairman of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference of public schools, said: “Universities can hardly be surprised to have tuition put under the microscope when students have been explicitly told that this is what they are paying for.”

A senior source close to Clark said: “We want to make sure that teaching quality is looked at with more rigour than it has been in the past and we want to make sure that students are getting value for money and the quality they deserve.”

Star professors, however, reacted with alarm to the news that their teaching might be marked out of 10, with a financial spanking for bad behaviour.

Mary Beard, professor of classics at Cambridge University, said: “The danger is that we get another exercise which takes weeks and weeks of time proving that we are teaching well, when we should be . . . well, teaching.”

Sir Jonathan Bate, provost of Worcester College, Oxford, said: “It is indeed time for the pendulum to swing back towards high-quality small-group teaching, but I very much doubt that penalties as opposed to incentives are the best way of achieving this.”

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