So a week or so ago the TEF rankings came out here in the UK for Universities, and a lot of the big names aren’t happy with the rankings they got. In basic terms, the TEF is a government system for ranking universities based on the quality of their teaching, and is ranked on a three tier system – Gold, Silver and Bronze.
The TEF is actually a really important framework as it is the model which is used to approve fee increases for the coming years – if a University receives a bronze ranking this year than they are not able to increase their fees with inflation after 2020.
So as you probably have guessed the Universities which did not get the ranking they felt they deserved have sought to discredit the framework or attempt to distract by pointing to other rankings or polls where they performed well. London School of Economics (LSE) received a Bronze award, which from what I have heard from people who have studied there is probably no surprise.
To my surprise, King’s College London (KCL) scraped a silver (up from Bronze last year). Now I am a King’s Student and I came here because of the reputation of the War Studies Department, but I will say that I have been disappointed in the quality of teaching and facilities they had at their campuses. Lecturers were often late, poorly prepared to or disinterested in teaching, and almost impossible to contact (even if you staked out their office!). In addition to this, the student experience after admissions was terrible. Whether it be due to lack of staff, the extremely unreliable IT, the process for picking modules was poorly explained (you put in preferences and if you made a mistake the program would place you where ever you would fit – and don’t get me started on trying to fix it), information about events always came last minute (sometimes three hours before) and students had no idea who to contact if they were having issues.
So when I read in the Guardian that the Vice-Chancellor of KCL said “There is always room for improvement, but for the world-class institutions to be classed as bronze is ridiculous,” my jaw-dropped (initially) at the arrogance. Universities like KCL and LSE have great reputations, built on the work of their staff and graduates from years past, but past achievements mean nothing if you don’t seek to keep improving. Now I have worked in University administration and I know (and have seen) the people who report to the VCs and Presidents always have a way to spin or justify or discredit negative publicity to stroke their egos, so I don’t blame Prof Ed Byrne entirely. However, KCL stinks of complacency. To have amongst the lowest student satisfaction ratings in the country on a regular basis, to have facilities (IT and estate/property) which don’t work, almost no support for students in the academic and non-academic aspects of their degrees, and lecturers who are so obviously disinterested in teaching, and then claim that these rankings are “ridiculous”, is ridiculous.
Student satisfaction and teaching should be a part of the rankings criteria – while it may only be filled out by disgruntled students it should still give you a pretty reasonable idea of the issues which exist. If students complain about the inability to contact their lecturers or about the quality of teaching, KCL administration should take a step back and make an evidence based judgement on whether it is valid – not just simply discredit or ignore because it’s inconvenient, as they appear to have been doing.
It is time for KCL’s complacency to end, because after my experience I find myself wondering if I would have been better off going somewhere else.