notes on saying “no” to the TEF

educational value-in-motion

it is clear that universities must do more to demonstrate they add real and lasting value for all students.

Now that we are asking young people to meet more of the costs of their degrees once they are earning, we in turn must do more than ever to ensure they can make well-informed choices, and that the time and money they invest in higher education is well spent…

While there will be financial incentives behind the TEF, with those offering high quality teaching able to increase fees with inflation, the TEF will not just be about accessing additional funds – I want it to bring about a fundamental shift in how we think about and value teaching in our universities.

we need a simpler, less bureaucratic and less expensive system of regulation. A system that explicitly champions the student, employer and taxpayer interest in ensuring value for their investment in education and requires transparency from providers so that they can be held accountable for it.

Johnson, J. 2015. Higher education: fulfilling our potential.

[T]he creative power of [an individual’s] labour establishes itself as the power of capital, as an alien power confronting him… Thus all the progress of civilisation, or in other words every increase in the powers of social production… in the productive powers of labour itself – such as results from science, inventions, divisions and combinations of labour, improved means of communication, creation of the world market, machinery etc., enriches not the worker, but rather capital; hence only magnifies again the power dominating over labour… the objective power standing over labour.

Marx, K. 1993. Grundrisse. London: Penguin, pp. 307-8.

overwork for the love of teaching

Speaking to parents and students since taking on this job has confirmed for me the extent to which teaching is highly variable across higher education.

There are inspiring academics who go the extra mile, supporting struggling students, emailing feedback at weekends and giving much more of their time than duty demands.

These are the people who will change our children’s lives

Johnson, J. 2015. Higher education: fulfilling our potential.

The specific economic form, in which unpaid surplus-labour is pumped out of direct producers, determines the relationship of rulers and ruled, as it grows directly out of production itself and, in turn, reacts upon it as a determining element. Upon this, however, is founded the entire formation of the economic community which grows up out of the production relations themselves, thereby simultaneously its specific political form. It is always the direct relationship of the owners of the conditions of production to the direct producers — a relation always naturally corresponding to a definite stage in the development of the methods of labour and thereby its social productivity — which reveals the innermost secret, the hidden basis of the entire social structure and with it the political form of the relation of sovereignty and dependence, in short, the corresponding specific form of the state.

Marx, K. 1990. Capital, Volume 3. London: Penguin. p. 927

There’s little doubt that “do what you love” (DWYL) is now the unofficial work mantra for our time. The problem is that it leads not to salvation, but to the devaluation of actual work, including the very work it pretends to elevate — and more importantly, the dehumanization of the vast majority of laborers.

If profit doesn’t happen to follow, it is because the worker’s passion and determination were insufficient. Its real achievement is making workers believe their labor serves the self and not the marketplace.

Nowhere has the DWYL mantra been more devastating to its adherents than in academia… The reward for answering this higher calling is an academic employment marketplace in which around 41 percent of American faculty are adjunct professors — contract instructors who usually receive low pay, no benefits, no office, no job security, and no long-term stake in the schools where they work.

Few other professions fuse the personal identity of their workers so intimately with the work output. This intense identification partly explains why so many proudly left-leaning faculty remain oddly silent about the working conditions of their peers. Because academic research should be done out of pure love, the actual conditions of and compensation for this labor become afterthoughts, if they are considered at all.

Nothing makes exploitation go down easier than convincing workers that they are doing what they love.

Tokumitsu, M. (2014). In the Name of Love. Jacobin Magazine, Issue 13.

please drink your TEF data responsibly

Pace Wilsden et al. (2015), we might note the following.

There are powerful currents whipping up the metric tide.

Across the [teaching] community, the description, production and consumption of ‘metrics’ remains contested and open to misunderstandings.

Peer review, despite its flaws and limitations, continues to command widespread support across disciplines. Metrics should support, not supplant, expert judgement.

Inappropriate indicators create perverse incentives. There is legitimate concern that some quantitative indicators can be gamed, or can lead to unintended consequences… Linked to this, there is a need for greater transparency in the construction and use of indicators, particularly for university rankings and league tables. Those involved in [teaching] assessment and management should behave responsibly, considering and preempting negative consequences wherever possible, particularly in terms of equality and diversity.

Similarly, for the [excellence] component of the [TEF], it is not currently feasible to use quantitative indicators in place of narrative [excellence] case studies, or the [excellence] template. There is a danger that the concept of [excellence] might narrow and become too specifically defined by the ready availability of indicators for some types of [excellence] and not for others. For an exercise like the [TEF], where HEIs are competing for funds, defining [excellence] through quantitative indicators is likely to constrain thinking around which [excellence] stories have greatest currency and should be submitted, potentially constraining the diversity of the UK’s [teaching] base.

Wilsdon, J., et al. (2015). The Metric Tide: Report of the Independent Review of the Role of Metrics in Research Assessment and Management. DOI: 10.13140/RG.2.1.4929.1363, pp. viii-ix.

the coming wave of ‘education evaluation’, threatens to supplant traditional understandings of universities as communities advancing public knowledge. Current regulations governing the awarding of degrees aver that standards are maintained and safeguarded only by the critical activity of the academic community within an institution. It will be harder and harder to recall that fact.

McGettigan, A. (2015). The Treasury View of HE: Variable Human Capital Investment. Political Economy Research Centre, Papers Series 6, p. 6

I want to see much more data being made available for academics to analyse and potentially link with other data sets.

Johnson, J. 2015. Higher education: fulfilling our potential.

choice and the war on academic labour

To ensure students have real choice that reflects their diverse needs, we must continue to open up the higher education market and put in place a regulatory framework that reflects today’s challenges.

This government values competition. We want a diverse, competitive system that can offer different types of higher education so that students can choose freely between a wide range of providers.

Competition not for its own sake, but because it empowers students and creates a strong incentive for providers to innovate and improve the quality of the education they are offering. That’s why, back in July, we published our Productivity Plan, ‘Fixing the Foundations’.

It set out how we’re going to boost productivity in this country. Among other goals, it promised to remove barriers to new entrants and to establish a risk-based framework for higher education, reducing burdens on some so we can focus oversight where it is needed.

Johnson, J. 2015. Higher education: fulfilling our potential.

What are the characteristics of a quality assessment system that would incentivise, support and recognise outstanding learning and teaching? Should the scrutiny of institutional quality improvement activities be a component of a quality assessment system?

Quality Assessment Review Steering Group. 2015. The future of quality assessment in higher education. HEFCE, p. 6.

Another way of putting this is from the flip side: there will be real-term cuts to the funding of institutions that do not fare well under this system. Since assessment will presumably be relative from a single budgetary pot, this is a zero-sum game in which some universities are to be slowly de-funded.

It seems that the government wants to decouple fee increases from social mobility while at the same time controlling the expansion of private provision according to teaching metrics. The end point looks likely to be to cut all public support for teaching outside the fee loan system and to squeeze the loan system to drive up competition (while getting rid of social mobility regulators like OFFA). Lots of universities won’t survive that kind of move, but will be replaced by new teaching providers.

Eve, M. 2015. TEF, REF, QR, deregulation: thoughts on Jo Johnson’s HE talk

The difference between the individual value of the cheapened commodity and its social value vanishes. The law of the determination of value by labour time makes itself felt to the individual capitalist who applies the new method of production by compelling him to sell his goods under their social value; this same law, acting as a coercive law of competition, forces his competitors to adopt the same method.

Harvey, D. 2010. A Companion to Marx’s Capital. London: Verso, p. 168.

Modern industry never views or treats the existing form of a production process as the definitive one. Its technical basis is therefore revolutionary, whereas all earlier modes of production were essentially conservative. By means of machinery, chemical processes and other methods, it is continually transforming not only the technical basis of production but also the functions of the worker and the social combinations of the labour process. At the same time, it thereby also revolutionizes the division of labour within society, and incessantly throws masses of capital and of workers from one branch of production to another. Thus large-scale industry, by its very nature, necessitates variation of labour, fluidity of functions, and mobility of the worker in all directions.

Marx, K. 2004. Capital, Volume 1, London: Penguin, p. 617.

With capital and labour thus released, new branches of business are constantly called into existence, and in these capital can again work on a small scale and again pass through the different developments outlined until these new branches of business are also conducted on a social scale. This is a constant process.

Marx, K., & Engels, F. (1864). Economic Works of Karl Marx 1861-1864. MECW Volume 34.

and the damage this does

Constant restructuring, constant changes in policy and procedures, and the constant increase in demands have created a state of acute anxiety and utter demoralisation for all staff at every level.

Shaw, C., & Ratcliffe, R. (2014). Struggle for top research grades fuels bullying among university staff. Guardian HE Network.

In the Darwinian world of pro-cycling at the end of the 1990s, racing teams learned that the only way to level out competitive opportunity was to meet the standards set by the most committed. To ride within the limits of your own ability became naive, disloyal to the team, and uncompetitive. Young riders waited to be invited to join the inner circle who were doping, and accepted pills handed to them on the basis that it would make them healthier; team management understood and allowed this to happen, because results had become the currency for economic survival, not just for individual riders, but for vast whirling enterprises of sponsorship, employment and profit… [Academics] overwork like cyclists dope: because everyone does it, because it’s what you do to get by, because in the moment we argue to ourselves that it feels like health and freedom.

Bowles, K. 2014. Beyond a Boundary.

Even radical faculty who seek to enact transformations outside the university find themselves performing within the university as managers not only of their own labor, but of that of their students and their colleagues, designing curriculum and imposing regulations that require students be physically present and adopt a certain performative attitude during class time through the coercive metrics of attendance and participation grades.

Meyerhoff, E., Johnson, E., & Braun, B. (2011). Time and the University. ACME: An International E-Journal for Critical Geographies, 10(3), p. 493.

marketise everything

“we need to bust this system right open”

Jo Johnson in the Financial Times.

while taxpayers and students bear all the risk, there is little sign of the promised savings to the public purseor of the competitive and innovative education market that we were promised’… if Johnson really wants a better-functioning market in higher education, he should ponder new means of incentivising would-be students to assess the value of institutions and courses on offer – regardless of whether or not he reforms the requirements for validation.

One of these would be replacing the current system of tuition fees and loans with a commission system, in which graduates pay a commission to their university on their earnings for a fixed number of years, or up to a fixed total amount, or a mix of both. This would allow the market to do better what markets do well: empower the good to drive out the bad.

Goodman, P. 2015. Jo Johnson wants the higher education market to work better. Here’s a way of ensuring that it does. Conservative Home.

Such an anti-vision of higher education – let the market determine what should be offered – unfortunately meshes with a stratified higher education sector which mirrors an increasingly unequal society… the next phase of higher education policy [] will exacerbate the erosion of public knowledge from the institutions traditionally most associated with it.

McGettigan, A. (2015). The Treasury View of HE: Variable Human Capital Investment. Political Economy Research Centre, Papers Series 6, p. 2.

what is to be done?

Pace Wilsden et al. (2015), we might note the following, replacing research with [teaching].

Responsible [TEF/learning gain] metrics

In recent years, the concept of ‘responsible [teaching] and innovation’ (RRI) has gained currency as a framework for [teaching] governance. Building on this, we propose the notion of responsible metrics as a way of framing appropriate uses of quantitative indicators in the governance, management and assessment of [teaching]. Responsible metrics can be understood in terms of the following dimensions:

Robustness: basing metrics on the best possible data in terms of accuracy and scope;

Humility: recognising that quantitative evaluation should support – but not supplant – qualitative, expert assessment;

Transparency: keeping data collection and analytical processes open and transparent, so that those being evaluated can test and verify the results;

Diversity: accounting for variation by field, and using a range of indicators to reflect and support a plurality of research and researcher career paths across the system;

Reflexivity: recognising and anticipating the systemic and potential effects of indicators, and updating them in response.

Wilsdon, J., et al. (2015). The Metric Tide: Report of the Independent Review of the Role of Metrics in Research Assessment and Management. DOI: 10.13140/RG.2.1.4929.1363, p. x.

The risk is that academics seeking to resist this further privatisation of knowledge will be cast as vested interests seeking to protect an old, inadequate system lacking in transparency. We will end up on the wrong side of the argument. The difficulty: How to articulate what is threatened? How to defend forms of knowledge which are not subordinate to private returns? Academic freedom and autonomy now face a more pressing, insidious, financialised threat than the traditional bugbear of direct political interference. But all this may prove too abstract for effective resistance. I have no glib solution to which you might sign up. But when hard times find us, criticism must strike for the root: the root is undergraduate study as a stratified, unequal, positional good dominating future opportunities and outcomes. What might find broader public support is a vision of higher education institutions that are civic and open to lifelong participation, instead of places beholden to the three-year, full-time degree leveraged on loans and aiming to cream off ‘talent’.

McGettigan, A. (2015). The Treasury View of HE: Variable Human Capital Investment. Political Economy Research Centre, Papers Series 6, p. 8.

But we might say “no”//refuse//exchange our “no”, as a starting point

The temporality of no is one of urgency. To think in terms of yeses suggests a different temporality, the patient construction of another world. This is important, but we are forced by the destructive dynamic of capital itself into giving priority to the urgency of no.

Those who command live in fear of the refusal of those whom they command and spend much of their time and a very large part of their resources trying to prevent it. Refusal is at the core of the struggle for another world: strike, mutiny, boycott, disobedience, desertion, subversion, refusal in a thousand different ways. In order to make another world, we must refuse to make capitalism. We make capitalism (as Marx insists in his labour theory of value). If capitalism exists today, it is not because it was created in the eighteenth or nineteenth century, but because it was created today, because we create it today. If we do not create it tomorrow, it will not exist tomorrow. The question of revolution is not “how do we destroy capitalism”, but “how do we stop creating capitalism”?

Holloway, J. 2011. No.

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