The paradox of student engagement and policy-led measures of teaching excellence

Ian Pickup


The level of student engagement is often seen as an indicator of quality in discourses concerning the higher-education student experience.  This opinion piece explores the inherent tensions in promoting and facilitating student engagement within the evolving Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) landscape.  Many institutions expend energy - and in some cases significant resource - upon the development of student-engagement projects, whether through ‘partnership’, ‘change agent’ or ‘producer’ models.   But what happens when the level of student engagement is high, yet runs in direct opposition to the form of student engagement best suited to blunt measures of ‘quality’ within prevailing policy frameworks?    The TEF, with its reliance on National Student Survey (NSS) data, assumes that engaged students will comply with requirements to complete a survey without critiquing the principles on which the survey and its central link to the TEF-based judgement of teaching quality are founded. The present National Union of Students boycott of the NSS is provided as an example of student engagement that runs counter to the intentions of national policy and to some institutional necessities. In the face of such challenges, institutions could decide to eschew their commitment to student engagement. However, a strengthening of commitment to student engagement is called for, in keeping with constructivist approaches to teaching and learning and in valuing the worth of reflexive deliberations of all those involved – including those who express dissatisfaction. 


Student Engagement; TEF; policy; activism

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