TEF results… some shake ups…

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The results of the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) are now out and there are some interesting shake ups. A guardian article has the heading ‘Top UK universities miss out on gold award in controversial TEF test”. The London School of Economics, Southampton, and Liverpool universities only achieved a bronze award. The article quoted the Russell group as saying that the TEF was not a measure of “absolute quality”. The group has raised concerns about the process used to arrive at the decision to award institutions gold, silver or bronze. Oxford and Cambridge were both awarded gold but so too were a significant number of new universities, such as Coventry, Northampton and Nottingham Trent.

The TEF was introduced by the Government because it was felt that institutions were focusing too much on research and because there had been complaints from students that their degrees were poor value for money. The aim of the TEF is to provide a picture of teaching quality and learning outcomes in Higher Education to help prospective students make better-informed choices about which university to attend. The results are expected to have a significant impact on student recruitment, particularly international recruitment. Of the 134 universities and specialist higher education institutions that were given ratings, 32% (43) scored gold, 50% (67) silver and 18% (24) got bronze. The rankings for the TEF are based on statistics including: dropout rates, student satisfaction survey results and graduate employment rates.

Proponents of the TEF argue that it provides students with more transparency to inform their choice of institutions. They also state that it recognises excellence in teaching and rewards innovation.  Finally, given that students invest significant time and money in their Higher Education, proponents argue that they have a right to a high-quality academic experience.

There is significant controversy around the TEF. Concerns about the TEF include: its subjective assessment, its lack of transparency and with different benchmarks for each institution, removing any sense of equity and equality of assessment.

TEF chair Husbands argues that universities shouldn’t rest on their laurels and should use the TEF to improve what they are doing. He argues:

The teaching excellence framework (Tef) results give us a unique insight into teaching quality and student outcomes across what is now an extraordinarily diverse higher education system… No higher education system in the world has hitherto released such a fabulous resource for understanding teaching. Universities should use the results creatively to help them ask tough questions about what they do.

It is too early to assess what the impact of TEF will be, but it is likely to have a significant impact on institutions strategic priorities and the ways in which they support learning and teaching, in the way that the sister Research Excellence Framework (REF) has for research. Criticisms are likely to continue for a long time and no doubt many of them are true, any league table has fundamental flaws. However if TEF helps to make institutional offerings more transparent, and if it forces them to really think about what the student experience will be that their institution, surely that is a good thing…

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