Category Archives: HESA

Who decides if I am a qualified teacher in UK Higher Education?

Disclaimer: This post outlines my personal thoughts on the issues discussed.

In October 2015 I wrote the post ‘Am I a qualified teacher in UK Higher Education?’. The focus of that post was on the inconsistencies of the Higher Education Statistics Agency’s (HESA) categories of ‘qualified teachers’. Everything I wrote in that post is still applicable and the ‘percentage of qualified teachers’ (based on the HESA statistics) is used by universities to set internal targets and to benchmark themselves in the sector. Although not a metric in the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) it was widely cited in university narratives concerning the quality of  teaching.

The more fundamental question however is who decides who is a qualified teacher in higher education? (I’ll avoid any distinction between ‘qualified’ and ‘recognised’ here). At one level the HESA categories are accepted by the sector simply because universities have to supply this data. However, anyone on the inside understands that not all the qualifying categories are created equal; in my view this entirely reasonable—after all why should someone who trained to teach 3-year olds in France (for example) be considered as much a qualified teacher in UK higher education as someone who has completed a Postgraduate Certificate in Learning and Teaching in HE? Eventually, the comparisons get more problematic; we estimate that it is about 30 hours work for an experienced teacher to put together an application for Fellowship of the Higher Education Academy (FHEA), whereas the PGCert in Learning and Teaching in HE for our ‘inexperienced’ lecturers is 600 hours work (3 x 20 credits at Level 7), but both qualifications tick the ‘yes’ box on the HESA return. Although the FHEA (experienced teacher routes) are focused on higher education, is it a more appropriate qualification for teaching in HE than a Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) for teaching in a secondary school which is 600 hours work (if 60 credits at Level 7)? It is clear the secondary school teacher must have evidenced a greater understanding of teaching and how students learn than the experienced HE lecturer, albeit for a younger age group.

Part of the reason this discussion takes place is simply that there is no authority on the subject. University senior managers can (and do) make different judgements about what teaching qualifications a university lecturer ought to have. Some will insist on the HEA Fellowship and others will be satisfied at anything that ticks the HESA qualified box. The degree to which such requirements are enforced varies too.

In some respects ambiguity on the subject might be welcome. After all, why should the Higher Education Academy (now Advance HE though the FHEA nomenclature will remain for the time being at least), have a monopoly on HE teaching qualifications? Why shouldn’t other agencies set up alternative schemes which have an official stamp of approval as HE teaching qualifications? Some professional bodies already require teachers to have professional certification in the teaching of their subject (can be recorded in HESA under 08: Accredited as a teacher of their subject by a professional UK body.)

In other areas of life qualification is straightforward. I have a full UK driving licence issued by the DVLA in Swansea following a practical examination. Nobody else is permitted to issue licences in the UK. I can’t set up my own vehicle licensing agency or look for an agency with lower fees or easier standards. I can’t self-declare than I am a qualified driver on the grounds I have experience of driving a car unlicensed, or that driving a go-kart at a karting centre is the equivalent of being a licensed driver. Should I wish to drive a lorry or a bus I’ll have to take further tests –I can’t make a case that driving a 40 tonne articulated lorry is basically the same as driving a family hatchback. If I am caught abusing the the privilege of my licence , e.g. through speeding or dangerous driving my license (and thereby my qualification) can be taken away. A similar fate would await me if I’m caught driving a bus or riding a motorbike as I don’t have any right to these vehicles.

In some professions a list of qualified practitioners is publicly available. For example I can go to the General Dental Council website and look up my dentist. I can see his GDC number, the job he is licensed to do (dentist), where he trained and when he qualified. If he is found negligent or unfit to practice dentistry at at any time in the future he will no longer be allowed to practice.

So where does this leave HE teaching qualifications? Will we continue in the current ambiguity of the HESA categories? Will we have a licensing system where there will be a definite judgements or who ‘is’ and ‘is not’ qualified? Will we end up with a system of rival organisations offering their own licensing and accreditation as has happened in boxing over the past 60 years? 

Irrespective of the way forward a number of issues remain:

1. Most universities (though not all) require new inexperienced teaching staff to undertake a Postgraduate Certificate in Learning and Teaching in HE. At some point in the distance future, we may reach a point where most teachers in HE have this qualification.

2. ‘Grandfathering’ of unqualified experienced staff. Not everyone will agree with me here, but in a sense the FHEA regularises staff who do not otherwise have a qualification. Some (probably not anyone who does a job like mine) might argue that those in post before a certain date should be automatically regularised in some way, but I think it is completely reasonable to expect all teaching in HE to undertake an HEA Fellowship. Could the HEA Fellowship for experienced staff eventually disappear as it ceases to be needed? Will it remain, but cease to be a ‘normal’ route in about 20 years time?

3. Good standing in HE Teaching-- at present there is no mechanism or requirement for demonstrating continued ‘good standing’ in HE Teaching. Similarly it is not possible to be stripped of an HEA Fellowship for misconduct, incompetence, criminal behaviour or other misdemeanours.

4. Does there need to be a sector wide agreement about who is and who is not qualified teacher? It might be argued that the HESA categories already do this, albeit in an inconsistent way. However, while HEA Fellows can be readily checked, there is no systematic way to check the validity of other things colleagues might claim to be teaching qualifications. These vary from the ‘a PhD in my subject makes me a qualified teacher’ argument to ‘I took a 2 day course in 1990 and wrote an essay about my lecturing’. Do we need to have ‘uncertain qualifications committees’ which rule on individual cases?

5. How can HE teaching qualifications be monitored and regulated to maintain standards in the longer term?

6. What is the exact nature of the relationship between teaching qualifications and student learning experience? What does it mean for a student to be taught by qualified as opposed to unqualified teachers? This question needs substantial treatment and I’ve just noticed this is just the second time in this post I’ve mentioned ‘students’!

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Am I a qualified teacher in UK higher education? Bog snorkelling through the swamp of HESA recognised teaching qualifications

Universities throughout the UK are trying to increase the numbers of academics who hold a teaching qualification. There are many good reasons, but the expectation that the Teaching Excellence Framework will use this as a metric has focused minds on the subject.

As universities our provision is usually based around PGCert in Learning and Teaching in Higher courses and Higher Education Academy Fellowships. This is where clarity ends as far as recognised teaching qualifications are concerned and there is whole bunch of other stuff that 'counts', even if it is not directly related to teaching in higher education. This is not an opinion piece of the strengths and weaknesses of various teaching qualifications, but an opportunity to put on your wet suit, snorkel and face-mask to travel through the swamp of Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) recognised teaching qualifications.

What follows is purely my own work. It is not authorised by the University of Brighton, the Higher Education Statistics Agency, the Higher Education Academy or anyone else.

Am I a qualified teacher in UK higher education?

As someone who teaches on a PGCert in Learning and Teaching in Higher Education and supports staff preparing their HEA Fellowship applications, I am increasingly asked 'Am I (already) a qualified teacher in UK higher education?' Does my X certificate count as a teaching qualification? Does my accreditation as a Y count? I was a secondary school teacher; does that count? I'm an accredited member of the pedagogic branch of the Guild of Advanced Basketweavers- does that count?

The Higher Education Statistics Agency collects data on the numbers of academic staff at each university who are qualified HE teachers.

Some universities publish their data online. I've rummaged extensively around the HESA website and as far as I can see there is no place where all data is published. Moreover I can't even find a copy of the actual definitions of HESA teaching qualifications on the HESA website. The only places I can find them are on individual university websites (example from Newcastle here).

So the categories which 'count' as a qualified teacher are as follows.

01: Successfully completed an institutional provision in teaching in the higher education sector accredited against the UK Professional Standards Framework.

This includes PGCerts and similar university provision for new lecturers which in most cases leads to accreditation at D1 or D2. At Brighton completion of a PGCert will also give you D2 (Fellow of the HEA-- category 03)

02: Recognised by the HEA as an Associate Fellow (AFHEA, D1)

03: Recognised by the HEA as a Fellow (FHEA, D2)

04: Recognised by the HEA as a Senior Fellow (SFHEA, D3)

05: Recognised by the HEA as a Principal Fellow (PFHEA, D4)

These are the Higher Education Academy (HEA) Fellowships. A higher fellowship supersedes a lower one. I received my Fellowship in 2008 and my Senior Fellowship in 2014, so my category is just 04 (rather than 03 and 04)

06: Holder of a National Teaching Fellowship Scheme Individual Award.

This is competitive Scheme scheme which has run since about 2000. According to the HEA website there are 643 fellows as of 2015. I don't know whether this includes those who have retired or died, but there will be only a handful of these in each university anyway (there are currently 132 members of UniversitiesUK).

Categories 01-06 are clear. You have them or you don't. Moreover, they are all designed for the purpose of teaching in UK higher education. Now for the bog-snorkelling where we head into the realms of other sectors, equivalences and interpretation.

07: Holder of a PGCE in higher education, secondary education, further education, lifelong learning or any other equivalent UK qualification.

Now we are into the territory of teaching qualifications designed or other sectors/ age groups. Note that primary PGCE does not appear in this list. Is it 'any other equivalent UK qualification' though? If it was it would be in the list though, surely?

08: Accredited as a teacher of their subject by a professional UK body.

The definition of professional body is important here: "A professional body is a group of people in a learned occupation who are entrusted with maintaining control or oversight of the legitimate practice of the occupation."  For example, the Higher Education Academy describes itself as a 'professional institution', rather than a professional body. It might have some degree of oversight into teaching in higher education, but it does not have control.

The University of Newcastle's guidelines offer 'Subject-discipline accreditation of any kind (e.g. Member of the Academy of Medical Educators (MacadMED)'. While the example may be correct, the 'subject discipline accreditation' description  may not be as HESA intended.

In terms of subject discipline a holder of CELTA, DELTA or MA TESOL (or teaching English to speakers of other languages would be a qualified teacher), but as far as I can see there is not a professional body that regulates and controls the teaching of English as an additional/ second language, but there are professional organisations in the field of English teaching. I'm not a lawyer(!), but there seems to be a clear legal distinction between a professional body and a professional organisation. However, it may be that those who wrote the original guidelines were not using a legal framework. I suspect the spirit rather than the letter of the law was intended here, but I may be wrong abut this.

We were unsure whether our primary school teachers could fit into category 07, but they would definitely fit into this category 08 if they were teaching primary education as they would be members of the General Teaching Council (in England), the professional body for teachers… but wait... the GTC was abolished in 2012! The Teaching Agency took over some functions of the GTC, but is the Teaching Agency a professional body? The Teaching Agency has “...responsibility for the supply, quality and regulation of the education workforce”.  The phrase 'professional body' does not appear, but looks like a duck, waddles like a duck etc. Perhaps the definition of a professional body is not important after all. Does your head hurt? To confuse matters further the Teaching Agency is England-only, so the answers may be different for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

So if we accept primary school teaching qualification in this category, this would only apply if the qualified primary school teacher was teaching primary education and not if the qualified primary school teacher was teaching French. But if a qualified secondary school teacher were to teach primary education, they would qualify as an HE teacher under category 07.

09 Other UK accreditation or qualification in teaching in the higher education sector.

I'm not sure what goes into this category. There might be some older (pre-late 90s) qualifications or accreditation out there. I suppose the English Teachers might come into this category if they are ruled out of Category 08, but only if their qualification was primarily concerned with teaching in higher education as opposed to other sectors/ age groups.

10 Overseas accreditation or qualification for any level of teaching.

This could mean anything as long as it wasn't done in the UK. My wife is qualified as a pre-school and primary school teacher in the Province of Quebec. She's not entirely sure the extent to which the accreditation is recognised in other Canadian provinces but were she to get a job in a UK university her Brevet d'Enseignement places her firmly into the qualified HE category, whatever subject she was teaching. Some while a UK-qualified primary school teacher might not be recognised under 07 or 08, with a non-UK qualification there is no ambiguity whatsoever.

Additional questions.

So what should I do if I can't work out if I'm a qualified teacher in HE?

Do your fellowship of the Higher Education Academy

I am a qualified teacher under HESA, but I don't think my qualification has prepared me well for teaching in a university. What would you advise?

Do your fellowship of the Higher Education Academy

I'm not a qualified teacher in higher education. What should I do?

Do your fellowship of the Higher Education Academy

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Using UCAS data to identify language trends 1

Late last year I wrote about the difficulties involved in calculating how many students are studying languages, by using HESA data. An alternative source of data is from the UK’s University and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS). One of the great advantages of the UK centralised admissions system it does mean access to some good data. It is possible to find out which courses are in the highest demand (by looking at application to accept ratios), details about the socio-economic profile of students, school grades etc. Arguably, UCAS data is presented is much more user friendly way than HESA data.

Caution about UCAS data

The case may be different for other subjects, but UCAS data is not very reliable for tracking trends in individual languages. The subject data presented by UCAS is based upon an applicant’s primary choice—in short UCAS staff look at an application form to see which subject the applicant is primarily applying which then forms the basis of the subject choice

Despite the clarity of the layout, there are at least two reasons why UCAS data is not particularly reliable for mapping trends in individual languages.

  1. There is very little allowance for joint and combined honours combinations to be recorded. Where they are reported, it will be where the applicant has expressed no clear preference for a subject—these students are recorded in Y Combinations of Languages with arts and humanities, social studies, combinations of languages. We do not know what combinations they are actually doing. Unspecified combinations of languages attracted 9,589 application and 1,652 accepts. Add to this the combinations of languages with arts/ humanities (another 7,623), languages with social studies, business and law another 2,589. This is considerably more than the 4,678 studying European languages (Group R) and the non-European languages and languages (1,485).
  2. For individual languages ‘trends’ are extremely volatile, probably not because demand is volatile, but because classification practices vary year on year. This is especially the case of ‘less widely taught languages’. Taken at face value it seems that only two students applied to study Portuguese last year.

The upside

However, as each individual is only counted once we can work out how many people might be studying for a language degree in higher education whihout worry are tenths, third and halves of students. If we add up the Group R total, the Group T totals and the Y language combinations for 2010 we get 18,027. Multiple that by 4 (assuming all these students are doing 4 year courses) and we get 72,108. This may be an underestimate as I have not included the sciences with languages/ arts and humanities, but it could also be an overestimated as I this 72,000+ assumes four-year degrees, so if I was to multiple by 3 we get 54,081 not especially close to the 42,444 I estimated from the HESA data.

UCAS is about admissions and applications to study, not statistics per se. It tells us nothing of the numbers of students who enrol on language courses in Institution-Wide Language programmes or change to (or from languages on arrival), though some of the these students are recorded in the HESA data (it depends though on how institutions report their data to HESA.

The data on which this post is based is on the UCAS website. I will post the past five years of data from the individual languages in the next day or two.

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What is a 'course' in higher education? It depends who you ask.

HESA has published an interesting document on the definition of the word ‘course’. The report outlines the differing definitions of ‘course’ used by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA), the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS), The Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) and other players in higher education. As I noted in my previous posts, this poses many difficulties for those us seeking the answer to the basic question—how many people are studying ‘X’?

Only last week the Times Higher Education ran an article under the headline ‘1 in 4 new undergraduate courses fails to attract any students’. However, the truth here is that courses are certain combinations of modules and subjects, not distinct entities. A university can offer a ‘course’ in Criminology, Accountancy and Canadian Studies on the grounds that it is a feasible combination in terms of the timetable. The question of whether or not students choose this ‘course’ is a different one to the question of whether programmes in Criminology, Accountancy or Canadian Studies departments and courses are viable.

In May this year, it was reported that London Metropolitan University was cutting 400 courses. Whilst it should be acknowledged that departments and jobs have been threatened at the institution, it is quite a different issue to the question of the number of subjects on offer and the number of staff there will be to teach them.

Interestingly, the collection of data for the Key Information Set (KIS) could lead to the end of certain offerings – not because they are bad courses, are expensive to run or even that they have low numbers of students – but because of the extpense of reporting on each combination. It appears that each ‘course’ will require its own KIS (which will report on employability, salary outcomes etc. ). So a BA (Hons) ‘course’ in Criminology, Accountancy and Canadian Studies would require its own KIS which would be different than those for each of those subjects as a single honours subject or in combination with other subjects. If this is indeed the case then Malcolm Gilles, quoted in the THE sums up the situation poignantly:

…the new student information requirements would also have an impact on decisions about which courses to keep. Why keep running courses that don't attract many students, especially now that you will have the cost of producing a Key Information Set for every course you offer? If you have only one student or even zero enrolment, [how will you record employability] for that course in the KIS? Such requirements would force universities to weed those courses out.

Could an unintended consequence of the KIS the death of joint and combined degrees or at least the end of ‘non-cognate’ combinations? Working in languages where joint and combined courses are particularly common this could become a new threat to the subject.

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Top 20 joint degree combinations taken by language undergraduates in the UK

Top 20 combinations (Source: HESA 2009/10).

Programme                                                 Number of students

1                French and Spanish                                                     2681

2                French and German                                                     1750

3                French and English                                                      998

4                *American Studies and English                            850

5                French and Italian                                                      785

6                French and Business Studies                                  662

7                Spanish and Business Studies                                  623

8                French and Law                                                            572

9                French and Politics                                                   554

10              Spanish and English                                                 520

11              Italian and Spanish                                                   453

12              Spanish and Politics                                             452

13              Portuguese and Spanish                                    382

14              German and Business Studies                         333

15              Other European Languages and Business Studies  326

16              German and Spanish                                      312

17              French and Russian                                      274

18              German and English                                     261

19              French and Linguistics                               238

20              Management and French                       229


*American Studies will include some students studying Latin American Studies as well as US studies. If you wish to exclude this then Russian and Politics comes in 20th place with 212 students.

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How many people are studying for a languages degree in higher education? Why it is hard to know.

How many people are studying for a degree languages in higher education? Does it really matter? Of course it matters a great deal to people who work in language departments. It also matters a great deal if we are to increase the number of students choosing to study languages at university.

Usually, when we talk about numbers studying each language we are presented with a table like the below. This tells us how many students are studying each language/ area study. These are the HESA stats for 2009/10:

Table 1

(R1) French studies Total                                                           14643

(R2) German studies Total                                                         5247

(R3) Italian studies Total                                                             2386

(R4) Spanish studies Total                                                         9961

(R5) Portuguese studies Total                                                    592

(R6) Scandinavian studies Total                                                98

(R7) Russian & East European studies Total                             1829

(R8) European Studies Total                                                      1538

(R9) Others in European languages, lit & related subjects        7816

(T1) Chinese studies Total                                                         1374

(T2) Japanese studies Total                                                       1253

(T3) South Asian studies Total                                                   223

(T4) Other Asian studies Total                                                   407

(T5) African studies Total                                                           235

(T6) Modern Middle Eastern studies Total                                 1224

(T7) American studies Total                                                       3763

(T8) Australasian studies Total                                                 21

(T9) Others in Eastern, Asiatic, African, American & Australasian lang, lit & related subs Total  259

TOTAL                                                                                        52,869


Table 1 tells us the number of the individual language learning experiences. However, this does not tell us how much of the language each student is studying.

  1. Table 1 does not tell us how many of the students are studying single honours French (100%) and how many are doing the language for 75%, 50%, 33% or 10% of their time. All other things being equal (though they rarely are) and assuming a direct relationship between student numbers and departmental income a student who studies a language 100% of the time will bring in three times as much funding a student who studies a language for 33.33% and ten times as much as a student who is studying a language for 10%.
  2. Moreover it does not tell us how many students are studying languages as those studying two languages will be counted twice and those studying three languages three times.

Table 2

(R1) French studies Total                                         7410.44

(R2) German studies Total                                       2092.43

(R3) Italian studies Total                                           1296.93

(R4) Spanish studies Total                                        2593.59

(R5) Portuguese studies Total                                  280.67

(R6) Scandinavian studies Total                               73.16

(R7) Russian & East European studies Total           981.18

(R8) European Studies Total                                    1390.17

(R9) Others in European languages, literature & rel 6288.31

(T1) Chinese studies Total                                        901.42

(T2) Japanese studies Total                                     914.03

(T3) South Asian studies Total                                  163.43

(T4) Other Asian studies Total                                  221.94

(T5) African studies Total                                         154.5

(T6) Modern Middle Eastern studies Total               834.75

(T7) American studies Total                                     2551.84

(T8) Australasian studies Total                                7

(T9) Others in Eastern, Asiatic, African, American & Australasian languages, literature & related subjects Total                                                                                  194.67

TOTAL (all languages)                                                28350.46


Table 2 can deal with the how much point (I’ll provide more detail at a later date). It shows us the number of Full Person Equivalent (FPE) students. HESA collects data on the percentage of their time spent studying the language. This might be as little as 10% or as much as 100%. Therefore the Full Person Equivalent of people studying languages is 28,230. That is the figure I came to whilst adding all the wholes, halves, this, quarters and tenths.

Returning to point 2 above, some students are studying two or three languages. Therefore the total number of ‘language learning experiences’ exceeds the number of actual students studying languages. If we take away the number of students studying two or more languages our number of individual students studying languages in some way drops from 52,869 individual learning experiences to 42,444 individuals.

So there are 42,444 studying languages in higher education?

No, there are several reasons why this figure is likely to be a severe underestimate.

  1. Data from London Metropolitan University, Liverpool Hope University, and University College Birmingham are excluded. That would add a few more.
  2. Reporting data to HESA is the responsibility of individual institutions. They may report up to three subjects, but that is not to say that they do. Some institutions will report a student studying a language for 10% of their time, but others may not. These figures will include some of the 60,000 ‘non-specialist’ students reported to be undertaking some sort of language study, but not all of them (CILT, the National Centre for Languages (2009) HE students of other disciplines studying   Available from:
  3. We do know that the category (R9) “Others in European languages, literature & related subjects” is overused as institutions report all their language students in this category. In Table 1 this means that a student who is studying French and German will be reported as having two language learning experiences if they are reported for French AND German, but just one language learning experience if  they are reported under ‘Others’ (R9).
  4. Similarly some languages do not have their own category. Is a student reported as studying ‘Middle East Studies’ studying Arabic, Persian, both or neither?
  5. These figures are for students of first degrees and will not include Continuing Education students or other students on non-accredited courses run by universities. I will take a look at these figures at a later date.

This has been a longer post that I intended. Whatever we make of the figures of, it is useful to think about what we want the data for.  Whatever our interests and motives we will never truly be able to answer the question “How many students are studying languages in higher education?” with any degree of certainty.

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