A focus on…Consultations

The need for EPC to represent the views of the entire engineering community within HE has never been more crucial. One way we do this is through consultation responses to policy issues. Click on each of the tabs below to see some of our consultation highlights:

 

Engineering Council: Compensation and condonementOfS: Quality and standardsOfS: Student outcomes and teaching excellence consultationsJisc: Design of the UK’s future research assessment system
The Engineering Council’s incoming changes to compensation and condonement rules have been subject to sustained criticism from some pockets of the EPC community. Following an EPC member consultation, we have presented a paper to the Engineering Council which outlines the reasons for this and provides member examples to help them understand why the (unintended) consequences are problematic in some engineering departments.

Key concerns include the impacts on students and particular groups of students; the extended use of parallel unaccredited exit routes with lower thresholds; the constricting effect of the rules on university processes and innovation and ultimately, the weakening of the accreditation route and engineering pipeline. The work has also highlighted that some members are not fully aware of why the changes themselves have been implemented and on the basis of what evidence and if their feedback on the impacts has been fully appraised.

The last academic year saw the emergence of a new era for OfS who pitched the need for stability (and integrity) as a requirement for extending their own powers through regulatory changes for new and existing providers. Coupled with “tougher minimum standards”, to be exercised at a subject level, these could allow OfS to exert direct or indirect pressure on an HEI into closing a department whose metrics looked like underperformance.

Our members were overwhelmingly critical of OfS’s approach, so the EPC highlighted engineering as a subject area where there is already a clearly defined set of standards – in terms of learning outcomes – governed across the UK by the Engineering Council and assured by Professional Engineering Institutions. We suggested that the OfS should focus its attention on standardising outcomes in those subjects where there are no PSRBs and where universities therefore have total control over both processes and outcomes. (Or give serious consideration to how it intends to tie in provider standards set within sector standards with professional body requirements without leading to contradictions, conflicts and bureaucracy). Read our full response here.

In January 2022, the Office for Students (OfS) issued three related consultations with detailed proposals on their approach to regulating quality and standards in higher education. The EPC produced brief summaries (here and here) of each of the consultations’ key points to help distil the detail for our members and introduce the general policy implications for engineering.

The EPC responded to the consultations focussed on the proposed changes to Student Outcomes and TEF. Regarding Student Outcomes – we highlighted concerns that the proposals will damage access and diversity in engineering, may lead to grade inflation, estimate the value of HE too narrowly, value outcomes that are beyond universities’ direct control and may discourage educational innovation. For TEF – our response highlighted the following key points: the distinctive purpose TEF serves in spotlighting teaching excellence is not clear; we are unconvinced that a system of badges is a sufficiently nuanced representation of an institution’s reputation; and we are unconvinced that the proposed fourth band – “requires improvement” – will serve a positive purpose, it would simply undermine reputation without providing any information about what improvement might be required. The EPC called for the OfS to abandon its regulation plans for student outcomes and to instead adopt measures of ‘learning gain’ and ‘value added’.

Find out more and / or read the EPC’s full responses here.

Research experts on the EPC’s RIKT Committee responded to Jisc’s consultation – on behalf of the four funding bodies (Research England, Scottish Funding Council, Higher Education Funding Council for Wales, Department for the Economy, Northern Ireland) – on the design of the UK’s Future Research Assessment Programme (FRAP). Every few years, the research assessment system (currently REF) is reviewed before a new exercise round begins, and this consultation asked specifically for views on the purposes of a future exercise; principles that should guide its development; and assessment criteria and processes.

Our response recommended that a future exercise should focus on assessment of the quality of research in particular and highlighted that the current system made it difficult for smaller institutions and/or pockets of research excellence to achieve appropriate recognition. The response additionally highlighted the lack of clarity on engagement beyond academia and how it differs from societal impact in the assessment and stressed that the choice of metrics used in a future research assessment exercise should not disadvantage small institutions.

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