An Analysis of Teaching Excellence as a Policy Object in  English Higher Education Policy from 2010 to 2019

  • Halina Harvey

Student thesis: Doctor of Education


Abstract The English higher education sector has become the focus of intensified policy attention in recent years. The late 1990s saw a move away from the state-funded model of higher education with the introduction of student fees. In the new system, students covered the cost of fees through income contingent repayment loans. Between 2010 and 2019 a number of policy documents argued for systematic change.   In 2012, fees rose significantly from £3,225 to £9,000. This rise followed the proposals from the 2010 review of higher education funding called, Securing a sustainable future for higher education: an independent review of higher education and student finance (Browne, 2010). The proposals from this document are viewed as a demarcation point in the policy environment which inculcates competitive differentiation into the sector. The significant rise in fees, along with explicit policies on competition, was aimed at disrupting the sector. In 2017, the Higher Education and Research Act altered the architecture of the university sector through the establishment of the Office for Students as the new regulatory and funding body. Throughout these policy documents a discussion arose around the quality of teaching in English universities. This culminated in the implementation of the Teaching Excellence Framework in 2017. This thesis explores policy discourses on teaching quality in English universities through the analysis of six significant policy texts. I have analysed the texts in order to answer the research questions which are: how is teaching excellence represented as a policy object? and to what extent and in what ways does the policy discourse privilege an ideological agenda? I have used both critical discourse analysis and critical policy analysis as conceptual tools to inform my methodological approach. I carried out the research through a qualitative data analysis framework which is adapted from O’ Connell’s (2017) Analytical protocols for textual analysis.      The key findings of the research are that the policy environment from 2010 to 2019 seeks to impose a neoliberal-informed structure on the English higher education system. The arguments for reform are located in a marketised conceptualisation of the university system. This conceptualisation does not allow for alternative conceptualisations of the sector and an economic argument is privileged in the policy discourse. In particular, the policy narrative seeks to establish a deficit discourse around teaching in the sector in order to substantiate claims for reform. Students are constructed as consumers in the policy data. This is a limited portrayal of students which circumscribes their learning in economic terms and ignores other potentially important impacts of university. Teaching excellence is presented as a lever for student choice in a competitive higher education sector. The Teaching Excellence Framework is used to validate and operationalise economic reforms in the sector; however, there is no negotiated understanding of excellence in higher education teaching and learning.  
Date of Award31 Dec 2023
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorSylvie Lomer (Supervisor) & Steven Jones (Supervisor)


  • higher education policy

Cite this