Royal Historical Society Responds to TEF Review

First introduced by the government in England in 2017, and open to all UK higher education providers, the Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework (TEF) is designed to:

  • better inform students’ choices about what and where to study;
  • raise esteem for teaching;
  • recognise and reward excellent teaching;
  • better meet the needs of employers, business, industry and the professions.

Section 26 of the Higher Education and Research Act (2017) provided for an independent review of the TEF.  The Secretary of State for Education appointed Dame Shirley Pearce of the LSE to conduct this review, supported by an advisory group, and she issued a Call for Views on 18 January 2019, with a closing date of 1 March 2019. The Royal Historical Society submitted a response, and this is now available in full on our website.

As our response to the review (and indeed our own commitment to rewarding excellent teaching within the history profession) makes clear, the Royal Historical Society welcomes initiatives which raise the status of teaching and reward teaching excellence. However, we remain unconvinced that TEF  should be used to inform students’ choices or that, as it is presently configured, it is best suited to enhance teaching and learning provision.

In particular we have concerns about:

  • whether Subject-Level TEF will provide meaningful information to prospective history students;
  • the absence of any engagement with “learning gain” acquired by students studying history at university;
  • the use of NSS core metrics which, by indicating student views on teaching rather than assessing teaching itself, are inadequate proxies to assess ‘teaching excellence’, particularly in the light of studies that identify substantial levels of bias in student evaluations;
  • the bunching of History with other disciplines (such as Archaeology) which have their own disciplinary norms in terms of teaching, underpinning premises and conceptual framework. To conflate these disciplines will not provide accurate information for potential students, a central purpose of TEF;
  • the impression of competition in the same ‘race’ implied by the award of Gold, Silver and Bronze evaluations, notwithstanding the use of benchmarking in TEF evaluations (which mean that institutions are not ‘competing’ on the same ground);
  • statistical flaws in TEF as identified by the Royal Statistical Society.

As ever, we welcome feedback from our members and the wider historical community on this response and any other policy issues.

RHS Race Report

Royal Historical Society report highlights need for greater diversity in UK History

A new report published today (18 October 2018) by the Royal Historical Society (RHS) highlights racial and ethnic inequalities in the teaching and practice of History in the UK. It draws attention to the underrepresentation of ‘Black and Minority Ethnic’ (BME) students and staff in university History programmes, the substantial levels of race-based bias and discrimination experienced by BME historians in UK universities, and the negative impact of narrow school and university curriculumson diversity and inclusion. The report, a key component of the Society’s 150th anniversary programme, draws on a year of research and a survey of over 700 university-based historians. It offers advice and guidance for academic historians on taking positive action to address and diminish barriers to equality in the discipline.

History is a popular subject in UK schools, but evidence suggests BME pupils are less likely than their peers to choose History in examinations and university applications. History student cohorts are less diverse than most other university subjects, with only 11% of History students coming from BME backgrounds, compared to nearly a quarter of all university students. Research and focus groups conducted by the RHS highlight the need for more diverse content of curriculums in schools and universities to engage a wider pool of students, and the need for historians to articulate more clearly the benefits of studying for a History degree to prospective and current BME students.

Academic staffing in UK university departments is even less diverse.  Among UK-national staff, 96.1% of university historians are White, a figure again higher than in most other subjects. Underrepresentation is particularly stark for Black historians, who make up less than 1% of UK university-based History staff. One third of BME respondents to the RHS survey reported witnessing discrimination or abuse of colleagues and/or students based on race or ethnicity during their academic employment, and 29.5% reported having experienced such discrimination themselves.

Urgent attention by universities and History departments to BME students’ and colleagues’ experiences of exclusion, bias and discrimination is clearly needed.  If History in the UK is to attract and train the best intellects—thereby enriching both academic and public understanding of the past—significant improvements on our discipline’s existing record is imperative.

The report concludes with tailored advice and guidance for Heads of department, teaching staff, research supervisors, journal editors and conference organisers.  Building on the significant achievements of BME historians in the past decade, the RHS seeks to broaden recognition within and beyond university departments of the extent to which racial and ethnic inequalities detract from the quality, practice and experience of History in the UK.  Addressing this unacceptable situation will require substantial structural and cultural change within the discipline.  This report provides essential data and guidance intended to expand and accelerate these reforms.

The full report is available for download here.

The full results of our survey are available here.


Image: Imperial War Museum AP 14372D, 1943.

2nd Gender Equality Report

In 2015, we published a landmark report on Gender Equality and Historians in UK Higher Education, which sparked significant debate across the sector. As part of our 150th anniversary – and alongside our new Race, Ethnicity & Equality working group – we have commissioned a second report, to examine strategies to improve gender equality in history schools and departments around the country. Prof. Nicola Miller (UCL), who helped lead our first report, is chairing our new working group, and introduces its work.

Nicola-Miller-300x300.jpgThere have been several big changes affecting the whole sector since our first report on Gender Equality was published in January 2015. Gender equality has moved up the agenda of policy-makers, with the Athena SWAN awards now fully available to humanities subjects. Over the same time the latests REF (Research Excellence Framework) has taken place; the new TEF (Teaching Excellence Framework) has been piloted; and a KEF (Knowledge Exchange Framework) has been mooted. Many academic historians have been affected by structural reorganisations requiring them to locate their work in larger, multi-disciplinary units. Student feedback scores play an ever greater part in the evaluation of academics’ work. The pressures to do more, of more kinds of work, have continued to accumulate – pressures which, our last report suggested, exacerbate gender inequality.

What does not seem to have changed much is the proportion of senior roles occupied by women. The latest figures from the Equality Challenge Unit indicated that in 2016 24% of History Professors were women, compared to 21% in 2013. That 24% is the national average over all subjects. It is a single, stark indicator of the persistence of inequality. As we noted four years ago, good policies and good intentions are manifestly not enough.

But what does work? A recent BBC Radio 4 Analysis programme, ‘Why are even Women biased against Women?’, included evidence that even committed feminists can demonstrate an unconscious bias against women. They gave the example of an experiment in which senior female scientists were given a pile of applications by female applicants, but with male names on them, and vice versa. These senior women consistently rated the male-named candidates significantly higher than the female ones. The case for anonymity at shortlisting stage seems to grow stronger! But it is actually hard to determine what will improve things, with some people arguing that unconscious bias training can do more to reinforce stereotypes than to overcome them.

Times Higher Education reported in April 2017 that in one in three universities the proportion of women professors (over all subjects) was going down not up. The picture is not all bleak, however: some universities have succeeded in improving the proportion of women professors quite markedly. All such information has to be carefully contextualised, but such figures hold out hope that change for the better is both possible and potentially rapid.

In this second Gender Equality Report our main aims are to identify how much the situation has improved – if at all — and to collect evidence about which policies help, which have unexpected downsides, and which actually make things worse. So, our focus will be: What really is best practice for promoting gender equality? What actually works?

Like last time, our report will be based on a survey sent to all members and fellows of the RHS throughout the UK. We have added some new questions to reflect recent changes. This time we include questions about teaching and student evaluations. It includes an opportunity for you to tell us about any other factors you think are not covered by the questions: we are very keen to collect your ideas and views. You do not have to be a member or fellow of the RHS to complete the survey: feel free to circulate it to any historian currently employed (however precariously) in UK higher education.

Please help us to prepare the best possible report by completing this survey. It will take you 15-20 minutes. Last time we received more than 700 responses, from about 20% of the 3,500-strong profession, from early-career historians on temporary, short-term teaching contracts to senior professors. It would be fantastic to collect even more this time. The more replies we receive, the more credible the report will be. So please circulate the RHS questionnaire, discuss it, tweet about it and, most importantly of all, fill it in by 20 April 2018.

The results will be published in Autumn 2018, in coordination with a report on Race, Ethnicity & Equality written by a separate working party. We hope that both reports will contribute to much-needed debates about ending inequality and discrimination within our profession.

Prof. Nicola Miller
Chair, RHS Gender Equality Working Group

Image, top: 1907 Senior class, Oxford College for Women/Oxford Female College. Miami University (Ohio) Archives, Snyder 7861. Image in public domain.