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It’s Not Easy Being Green

Possibly a first today, I read a government paper. Specifically, if you haven’t been able to guess, Jo Johnson’s green paper on the future of HE (a good overview can be found on THE’s website here). It has some good in it, but also a lot that worries me, and of course there is no question of anything that undermines the ideology of market good, public bad.

The big thing in the paper is the new Teaching Excellence Framework of course, something I think is basically a good idea, but it will succeed or fail on how good and useful it is, and on how difficult it is for universities to complete; qualitative measures are notoriously difficult to define and measure. The paper promises that the TEF will not be an administrative burden, which sounds to me like it is going to rely on reductive measures that will be taken to infer teaching quality, and I’m not sure that there’s a lot of value in that.

The expansion of private provision and speeding-up of degree awarding powers is the most worrying part of the paper for me. This has been tried in FE and it has not being going particularly well, with huge amounts of public money disappearing into the profits of private companies with very little student benefit. It’s going back to the underlying ideology of the government which believes that private is always good and public always bad, and all evidence to the contrary be damned. I welcome the acknowledgement of the need for exit measures of some kind in case of a course being withdrawn or the failure of an institution, but this area of the paper is extremely light on detail. A transfer to a similar course at another institution is fine, but I think there needs to be additional financial support available if someone has to relocate or travel so that the student is not left worse off, and the suggestion of a mere refund of fees paid if there is no transfer option is grossly insufficient, as the withdrawal of a course can have a devastating effect on someone’s life and career plans. I think this needs to be acknowledged and appropriate compensation offered in addition to a refund.

The best thing in the paper is the shake-up of the degree classification system with the introduction of a complimentary GPA. I kind of like the traditional honours degree classifications, but there is no question that they have lost a lot of value when 70% of students get either a First or an Upper Second, so I like that the GPA is being introduced as a supplement rather than a replacement.

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