By Arooj Sultan, BA Economics & Politics
SOAS is among the higher education institutions that is set to re-enter the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) – a system in which teaching excellence is rewarded financially according to ranking – over the course of this year.
Last year, SOAS received a bronze ranking under the TEF. The bronze ranking is the lowest that can be awarded. But this was received after a successful boycott of the National Student Survey (NSS) by the SOAS student body. This was because the TEF largely uses the results of the NSS to rank universities, and the boycott meant that SOAS was omitted from the NSS results.
In a recent Union General Meeting (UGM) the SOAS Student Union resolved to once again boycott the NSS. For the boycott to be successful no more than 50% of all third year undergraduate students can take the survey.
The SU is implementing this boycott as part of its commitment towards resisting the marketisation of higher education. Through successful boycotts at SOAS and other institutions such as Oxford, UCL and Kings’, the government’s proposal to link the NSS results, and through that the TEF, to university fees was shut down in the House of Lords.
However, fees and the NSS survey results have only been decoupled until 2021. Therefore, there is a danger that the plan could be revived if the NSS is able to gather data deemed necessary for the aforementioned plan to be implemented.
The current government’s plan had been to use the data from the NSS to rank universities under the TEF, and then link the rankings with funding by applying differential fees either by course or university —the TEF rankings would then serve to encourage competition between universities.
As per the SU’s statement from the February UGM, SOAS is not benefitting from the TEF. Since the inception of the TEF the school has become focused on projects to improve its ranking, at the expense of ignoring more pressing problems at the school. At the same time, SOAS has its own internal module feedback surveys and the Decolonise SOAS campaign as forms of alternative assessment. The TEF metric is therefore not needed to rate our university.