After much expectation, the Teaching Excellence Framework results are finally out. The government-led initiative is an official attempt to give universities and other higher education institutions a score based on student satisfaction, experience, academic tuition and student outcomes. From the outset, the TEF had a unique proposition. It was intended to do something different to that of the traditional rankings – instead of looking into academic research and scientific production, it delved into what most students ask themselves when choosing a place to study: am I going to have the support I need? Will I get a job at the end of it?
Obviously the TEF doesn’t take away the merit of traditional and long-established rankings and league tables. They are and will continue to be very useful to those students who intend to pursue a career in academia. Nevertheless, it is refreshing to see things from a different perspective – in this case, the student perspective. The TEF’s strength lays precisely on the fact that it has a wider scope than traditional rankings and includes smaller and specialised institutions as well as private sector universities, instead of only research-led and publicly-funded providers. This broader scope and level-playing-field approach benefits not only niche institutions, but also students – whose options become vaster – and the sector as a whole.
While research-led universities are at advantage with long-established rankings which focus on academic production, the TEF is an opportunity for smaller, specialised, teaching-led institutions to demonstrate their strengths in areas such as tailored support, course design, and career advice, which many of these providers are traditionally good at. The TEF also addresses old inconsistencies in traditional league tables, such as the fact that the longest established law school in the country didn’t appear in any of them.
In some particular cases, the TEF also suggests that it may be harder for multi-departmental universities to sustain their student experience, support, and employability at consistent levels across all departments. From our experience of working with and delivering e-learning solutions to specialist institutions, this is an issue that is much easier for smaller providers to manage, leading to higher student satisfaction rates.
The TEF is an opportunity for smaller, specialised, teaching-led institutions to demonstrate their strengths in areas such as tailored support, course design and career advice, which many of these providers are traditionally good at
It will be interesting to see how the results impact students’ choices and, most importantly, how universities who haven’t been awarded a gold will try to compensate their score with more robust marketing initiatives and the adopting of more innovative learning solutions. While online learning is not one of the criteria featuring in the current TEF methodology, adding that flexibility to the student experience would certainly help universities score a few extra points on that front. And I wouldn’t be surprised if e-learning ends up becoming a standalone area for evaluation in the future.
If campus-based students are likely to increase their demand for a more flexible, interactive, and blended learning experience, distance learning students, who are naturally more career-focused, will look at the TEF results as a valuable source of information on graduate employability and student outcomes. Even though their expectations about student experience are different to those of on-campus students, distance learners shouldn’t dismiss the TEF results, as the data also covers programme design and syllabus, which are areas of relevance when you are choosing an online course.
The impact the TEF will have on universities’ applications figures is likely to be clearer during the 2017/2018 recruitment cycle than this autumn. This is simply because domestic students have already indicated their top choices in their UCAS applications. What is really important right now is for HEFCE or the government to release guidelines on how students should interpret those results to ensure they make the best decision based on their professional and academic ambitions.
The TEF is the first step in the right direction. While its methodology may not please all – especially those who are used to featuring on top of research-led league tables –, the TEF represents an important acknowledgement of the areas which the great majority of students consider important. This is not to dismiss traditional rankings nor to devalue to importance of academic and scientific research, but to recognise that universities are the ones who need to invest and adapt to students’ needs and expectations, and not vice versa.
Vitaly Klopot is Chief Operating Officer at StudyInterActive
InterActive partners with colleges and universities to deliver outstanding educational outcomes. From the creation of new e-learning or blended programmes, to taking an existing campus offering online, our services allow you to scale your brand on a global basis.