Much Teaching at University is Poor

A narrative is taking shape.  In September Jo Johnson confirmed that the Teaching Excellence Framework is designed to tackle poor teaching: He said:

This patchiness in the student experience within and between institutions cannot continue. There is extraordinary teaching that deserves greater recognition. And there is lamentable teaching that must be driven out of our system. It damages the reputation of UK higher education and I am determined to address it.

His evidence?  It was two-fold.  Firstly there was a quote from a book, from the distinguished pairing of Palfreyman and Tapper – he quoted a “disengagement contract”:

This goes along the lines of ‘I don’t want to have to set and mark much by way of essays and assignments which would be a distraction from my research, and you don’t want to do coursework that would distract you from partying: so we’ll award you the degree as the hoped-for job ticket in return for compliance with minimal academic requirements and due receipt of fees’.

Except, as Hugh Jones quickly pointed out – this section was about US higher education.  Thankfully we had a second source: the minister had spoken to a worried parent.

But, lack of evidence need not deter Government.  Helpfully Sir Antony Seldon is trying to attract some attention to the start of his term at Buckingham University. Today he confirmed to the Times that it was a ‘fact’ that ‘much teaching at university is poor’ and wouldn’t pass an Ofsted inspection.  The evidence for this is his ‘talking to students who go there’.  There may be many differences between teaching at school and university, but imagine that we’d expect HE teaching to do pretty well at the first of Ofsted’s criteria for outstanding teaching:

Teachers demonstrate deep knowledge and understanding of the subjects they teach. They use questioning highly effectively and demonstrate understanding of the ways pupils think about subject content. They identify pupils’ common misconceptions and act to ensure they are corrected.

If Johnson’s solution is the TEF, then Seldon’s solution is teacher training.  The article perhaps undersells how far we’ve come as a sector since Dearing in 1997, but Buckingham will apparently offer a full-time PGCert in HE teaching (a Teaching Excellence Qualification)- as a better option than the part-time versions offered by universities to their new staff.  Here his assumptions that universities should copy schools goes a bit awry.  There are lots of routes into teaching in universities – but the most common now is through a research degree (with teaching featuring) into a job (hopefully fairly soon after) with a PGCert as part of the first stage.  Different universities will have different rules as to how compulsory these are; but this model seems a better bet than a newly minted PhD taking a stand-alone course (with teaching practice?) and then applying for a job. What happens to their research in that year isn’t clear either.  Maybe there are qualified people with access to a year’s worth of maintenance and the ability to pay fees who want to become university teachers – but it seems a very risky route.

Bogus Colleges (5) Analysis of the ‘Nearly 900’

The Home Office has very kindly supplied me with the list of the ‘nearly 900’ providers who have been removed from the UKVI Tier 4 list.  Excitingly, there are 890 entries in the list, so that clearly satisfies the ‘nearly 900’ that James Brokenshire  included in his defence of immigration policies

“We have slashed student fraud, struck off nearly 900 bogus colleges, and toughened access to welfare and housing. But with nearly 100,000 non-EU students remaining in the UK at the end of their courses and British business still overly reliant on foreign workers in a number of sectors there is much more to do”.

However, looking through the list confirms that it has the same issues as before: duplicates; providers returned to the register; and perfectly respectable education providers not now on the register.  So, if the list of ‘nearly 900’ is cited just for the turn-over on the register, that’s accurate.  If it’s cited for ‘bogus colleges’ then its not.

The Home Office has refused to provide data on which providers have been removed ‘against their will’ – which would at least provide a category of places that were failing to meet their sponsor obligations.   Even this subset will not tell us which were ‘bogus colleges’: as we know, that will include places that consider themselves unfortunate to have failed UKVI’s tests.

The data that the Home Office has supplied makes full analysis complex – I only have the names of providers – but it is possible to discern some trends.


The list of ‘nearly 900’ includes a number of providers with duplicate entries.  I cannot be absolutely certain, but 15 are certainly duplicates and at least another 15 are very likely to be.   There are entries for both  Grenville College London and Grenville College London Ltd – possibly the second entry was just for the inclusion of ‘Ltd’ – but it has been removed twice from the register.  I cannot tell where a provider has changed business name – but UKVI will know.


At least 45 providers are on the ‘nearly 900’ list but also currently on the register.  In HE we all know about London Metropolitan University, but providers such as Hereford Cathedral School, Magdalen College School and The Purcell School are also on the list.  At some point they have come off but are back on.

Not ‘Bogus’

A larger group still are the places that no longer feature on the register, are on the ‘nearly 900’ list but in normal usage would not be seen as ‘bogus’.   We can’t tell whether they failed to meet the requirements to sponsor students or whether they just decided to come off the register.  Clearly since 2010 the requirements have become more onerous; a college that once sponsored a few international students could quite rationally decide that this was too much.  I counted 80 places that were on the ‘nearly 900’ list but are going about their business today – from A+ English to the Working Men’s College.  The largest group are schools and FE colleges – consistent with my hypothesis that sponsoring students is not worth their effort.

Nearly 750

Clearly many of the providers not on the list were ‘bogus’.  I wonder whether the Home Office considered whether they were actually fraudulent – quite rightly in the US some court proceedings have been brought against diploma mills and visa scams.  Here we seem content to just to close the provider.  There should be no place for the likes of the ‘Royal College of London’.

But ministers should find a way to have a proper assessment of how many bogus colleges have been closed.    It may take too long to justify my FOI request – but I think the Home Office should still invest that time to understand the ‘nearly 900’ list and then to stop ministers pretending that the  Archbishop Ilsley Catholic Technology College, Haberdashers’ Aske School for Girls, or Palmers’ College are ‘bogus colleges’.

New to the list

The following providers are 54 new entries to the ‘nearly 900’ list – places that have been removed from the sponsors register between October 2014 and October 2015.   There are providers still offering non-HE courses – but just not to tier 4 students (360 GSP College or Calvary Chapel Bible College York) and some who are designated by BIS to offer HE (St Patricks College, UK College of Business and Computing) who we must assume are not ‘bogus colleges’ as the UK Government is subsidising student loans at them.

360 GSP College
A2Z School of English
Beth Yaakov Seminary for Girls
Birmingham Informatics College Ltd.
Birmingham Management College
Calvary Chapel Bible College York
Central College of Studies
City College Nottingham
City School of Languages Limited
East End Computing & Business College
Edwards College Ltd
Essex College of Management and IT Limited
EThames Graduate School
Futures College
Gemal College
Goldsmith IBS Limited (Goldsmith International Business School)
Jamia Al – Karam
London College of Advanced Management
London College of Business Ltd.
London College of Finance & Accounting
London Learning Centre
London Premier College Limited
London School of Advanced Studies
London School Of Business Management
London School of Law
Manchester College of IT & Business
Meridian Business School Ltd
Modern Manchester Academy
motor industry training
Opal College
R260 Test Sponsor
Radcliffe College
Rose of York Language School
Select Global Learning Limited t/a Select International College Ltd
Sharp Development Solutions Ltd. T/A SDS College London
South Chelsea International College Ltd.
South London College
St Patrick’s International College
Study Solution Ltd T/A Finance & Technology Institute of London
Unipro College London
West George College
West London College of Business & Management Sciences – Manchester Campus Ltd
Zaskin College

A picture paints a thousand words 

Clearly, if you write up a complex piece of research for your newspaper, and your paper has a clear editorial line, there is a balancing act to be struck. And so the Telegraph (often the natural home of the More Means Worse argument) set to work on HEFCE’s research on students in graduate roles with this article: One fifth of graduates not in ‘professional roles’

First, I note the ‘glass is one fifth empty’ approach of the headline and opening sentence. Interestingly the link offered is not to the HEFCE research but to a previous Telegraph article that had claimed ‘almost half’ of graduates were in non-graduate roles.  Refreshing that they’re not worried by their lack of consistency.

But, in addition to the now obligatory photo of the backs of heads of people in academic dress, the most egregious part of this is the other photo they included – just to make it abundantly clear what the paper thinks of modern university education…