London HEIs and TEF: Part two.

My last blog was posted before the TEF results were made public. So this summary follows up – written in the immediate aftermath of their release. My London Higher colleagues and I will be doing a more detailed analysis over the coming weeks but here are some first thoughts.

In short, 11 out of the 24 ‘bronze’ ratings awarded nationally were assigned to HEIs in London – with LSE and SOAS probably being the two most singled out in various press articles. Overall, 1 in 3 London HEIs have been rated bronze compared with about 1 in 8 outside the capital. Conversely, Imperial College apart, any ‘golds’ have gone the way of small and specialist creative HEIs. In all, just under a quarter of London’s HEIs have come out with ‘gold’.

One or two headlines are suggesting – as previously predicted – that the global city of higher education excellence that is London could now suffer ‘reputational damage’ as a result of TEF. I suggest that the known shortcomings in what is arguably a trial TEF – well trawled even before the publication of results – make that unlikely. There are in addition many national and international rankings and league tables for people wanting to consider those sorts of measures; London (including the likes of LSE and SOAS) features strongly in many of those. And, of course, whatever the colour of the TEF medal, individual institutions will rightly go on heavily promoting the rationale as to why potential students should choose to study there rather than go elsewhere.

As mentioned above, London’s smaller and specialist HEIs as a group don’t fare badly in TEF. But potential students looking at these sorts of HEIs are less likely to consider TEF as a key factor anyway. This may be true too for many students looking to study at one of London’s modern universities – which of course are strong recruiters of BAME students and those from less advantaged backgrounds. About half the students at London HEIs (and rising) come from within the London region; it seems unlikely that this group will be rushing to study outside the region.

Everything I mentioned in my earlier blog regarding the importance of introducing location-adjusted benchmarks remains true. As does the point that POLAR3 – used as a measure for deprivation and continuation to HE studies – is acknowledged to be inadequate for London (and probably for other major urban conurbations) and needs replacing. Ethnicity should, we will continue to argue, be a factor in the non-continuation metric. London’s BAME student profile is vastly different to that in any other region. As a reminder, in 2015/16 UK BAME students made up 47% of all UK students in London, compared with 18% of UK students at all other UK HE providers. Furthermore, the impact of the growing numbers of London’s ‘commuter students’ is not yet well understood. And finally, we believe that the recognised high costs of living and of accommodation can and do impact on retention – no consideration is currently given to this.

Turning to overseas students, they (like all potential students) base their decisions on many factors. A new TEF which is known to be in need of improvement is not going to sweep those aside. Students from overseas not choosing London are more likely to look at options in other countries, arguably – and despite concerns over safety and security – other major cities in competitor English-speaking countries. If TEF results were to dent the international reputation of HEIs in capital then the beneficiaries are, I submit, unlikely to be regional clusters or metropolitan universities elsewhere in the UK (it should be noted that Scottish HEIs for the most part decided not to take part in TEF at all).

I said in my earlier blog that as CEO of London Higher I would be a tad glum if the results were disappointing for London. Actually the general picture is not as gloomy as some predicted. But I am a little frustrated as I write this. Not least because I wonder why some seem to take a sort of pleasure in London TEF-bashing. If London’s international HE standing were to be hit for instance the impact would be felt nationally not simply regionally.

As I have mentioned before, concerns about and flaws within TEF have been written about often by those more qualified to do so than me. People in various places, including in Government and HEFCE, are working hard to improve TEF. At London Higher we have prioritised in our plans for 2017-18 the need to explore the case for location-adjusted benchmarks and related issues and to advocate to HEFCE and others as appropriate on the back of this work. Our London HE Planners’ Group, which brings together representatives from over 30 diverse HEIs, has begun to look at the possible ‘London effect’. The case is there to be made and yes we plan on making it. We have already been in discussions with our colleagues at HEFCE to look at possible regional differences in NSS scores, and with DfE for the forthcoming review of TEF metrics.