The ‘Triple Chocolate’ University

I will try not to over-bake the use of metaphors in deciding the right ingredients for successful universities! However, I am asking you to consider what makes the best recipe for a top higher education institution – top in terms of research, teaching and engagement.

For far too long we have considered only two dimensions when ranking universities – namely, research and teaching. However, added value from research and teaching is increasingly being seen as resulting from engaging with wider society for cultural, economic and social impact.

Indeed, in the most recent assessment of research outputs from over 52,000 UK academics (REF2014) nearly 7,000 cases of sustained impact contributed 20% to the overall assessment of quality. This was the first time impact of research was reported and linked to funding. Last month’s ‘Success as a Knowledge Economy: Teaching Excellence, Social Mobility & Student Choice‘ White Paper proposed the introduction of a Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF), which seeks to establish a similar link between teaching quality and funding. It also proposes new regulators – the Office for Students (OfS) for TEF and UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) for REF. Details are still to be agreed. However, in addition to measuring teaching quality, TEF will also reflect graduate employment. Perhaps the ultimate measure of success –  at least from the students perspective!

Interestingly, Times Higher Education has published a Mock TEF, which produced a Top 10 (REF quality ranking) of:

  1. Loughborough University (49)
  2. Aston University (35)
  3. De Montfort University (75)
  4. Swansea University (26)
  5. University of Kent (49)
  6. Coventry University (75)
  7. Keene University (57)
  8. University of Surrey (45)
  9. University of Bath (14)
  10. Lancaster University (18)

(Only Bath and Lancaster are in the Mock TEF top 10 and REF top 20)

This trend towards increased engagement, as part of achieving excellence in both research and teaching, requires the sector to rethink the recipe for success. The days of engagement being described as third mission or third leg are rapidly disappearing. After all, if we are to make the ultimate chocolate cake, we need three types of chocolate. So, the debate now needs to move to what proportion of each is needed to achieve the different flavours of universities we want.

Professor Nigel Lockett
Associate Dean for Engagement and Professor of Entrepreneurship at Lancaster University Management School