French, A. and M. O’Leary (editors). Teaching Excellence in Higher Education: Challenges and the Teaching Excellence Framework. Bingley: Emerald

This book will interest you if you are teaching and/or researching in higher education. The book combines the talents of four experienced academics who work in a variety of University settings (Dr Amanda French; Dr Matt O’Leary [Birmingham City University]; Professor Sue Robson [Newcastle University]; and Dr Phil Wood [University of Leicester]). The content of the book explores the nature of higher education in England. Wood (2017, 39) argues that ‘teaching’ and ‘universities’ experience a ‘relationship of change and uneasiness’. The contributions from the authors reflect on a game that is being played out by those who want to measure ‘quality’ and have a suggested methodology to measure the presence of quality teaching in higher education. Robson (2017) makes reference to the neoliberal forces that are shaping this agenda. There is the intervention from governments in England in higher education with the express wish to make higher education become a place of consumers and products.

The book is well organised and the content is useful if you wish to understand some of the implications of the TEF (Teaching Excellence Framework). O’Leary (2017) explains that the TEF is very like the REF (Research Excellence Framework) in attempting to measure the enigmatic term ‘quality’. In this respect, the attempt to measure quality can be problematic. Analogies that come to mind include attempting to ‘knit fog’ and the Geertzian (1988) reference to the conjuror’s trick of ‘sawing the lady in half’. This ‘is done’, but of course ‘it is never really done at all’. The authors reflect on the challenges that are subsumed within the TEF and this makes the content relevant to higher education in England today.

The book has been planned most effectively. The four authors work well together and they deserve praise for managing to reveal the complexities of the higher education landscape. Too often, it seems, the policymakers who intervene in higher education refer to this form of education as if it is an entirety. The authors reveal the differences that exist in higher education. There are the research-intensive Russell Group Universities who operate in different ways to the teaching focused post-92 Universities. The policymakers tend to refer to ‘higher education’ and thus miss the complexities of this educational landscape. The book is well-organised into four thoughtful reflections that complement each other in their choice of topic.

The book will also interest philosophers of education. As I was reading the content, I thought about the work of Bernstein (2000) and his interesting phrase that so many of our educational problems stem from ‘the dislocation between the trivium and the quadrivium’. Bernstein (2000) reflects on the tension that exists within education in the West and argues that the curriculum is a combination of Christian and Greek influences. The Trivium (rhetoric, grammar, logic) can appear to be at odds with the Quadrivium (arithmetic, astronomy, geometry and music). Bernstein (2000) argues that what is subjective and impressionistic may be associated with the Trivium and that the objective scientific world can be seen as a representation of the Quadrivium. In higher education in England in 2017, the triumph of the Quadrivium is evident. There is a wish to measure and define quality of teaching. The authors of the book explain how this situation has occurred and they reflect on the associated tensions and the implications for those who are within this environment. The book provides a helpful reflection on pedagogical processes in higher education in England today and anyone who is teaching/researching in higher education will find the content most thought-provoking.


Bernstein, B., 2000. Pedagogy, symbolic control and identity. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield.

Geertz, C. 1988. Works and lives: the anthropologist as author. Harvard: Harvard University Press.


Dr Ewan Ingleby, November 2017

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