Teaching Excellence Framework – a silver rating so far

The Higher Education Conference returns, tackling everything that comes with increased competition and choice in the sector

The Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) has been introduced by the government to assess the quality of higher education providers in England. It is designed to recognise excellent teaching and is used in addition to existing national requirements for universities. TEF’s first results, which were released in June 2017, caused mixed opinions amongst professionals as universities were benchmarked on a whole new criteria, including students’ entry qualifications, background and age. 

Despite this, universities have the option to appeal their award and any changes will be published in July 2017. The scheme awards either a gold, silver or bronze rating to a higher education institution and may also be used from 2020 to decide on the allocation of state funding. The framework was created to assist students in choosing where to continue their education. It simplifies the decision-making process as the assessment accounts for a wider variety of criteria.

Following the publication of the TEF framework, many of the UK’s top higher education institutions were left disappointed over the new grading system. Several of the Russell Group universities who had previously been rated highly by the Quality Assurance Agency, were rated ‘bronze’ under the TEF. Despite this, many have been pleased with the changes made by the government. Steve Smith, the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Exeter, part of the Russell Group, said: “I think the TEF is an attempt by the government to say that teaching matters.” Smith added that the government is ‘‘trying to rebalance the focus of institutions towards teaching.”

Others feel that first generation university students will benefit from this assessment system due to metrics being benchmarked and reflecting the selectivity of the higher education institutions. Tim Blackman, Vice-Chancellor of Middlesex University, welcomes the change as he believes that absolute scores are not the answer, citing that Russell Group universities start with a large advantage as a result of selecting their students from top schools. 

The government’s plan is to use scores from the TEF as a tool to appropriately allocate funding. The sector faces a large financial problem that needs to be addressed, although Blackman has branded linking TEF successes with the right to raise fees as a “mistake”.

The framework has caused a stir amongst students and education professionals keen to voice their opinion, with critics claiming the benchmark system is unclear and unfair. Sir Christopher Snowden, President and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Southampton, voiced his concerns regarding the new TEF especially the benchmark system in light of being awarded bronze. 

‘‘There is no logic in our result at all,’’ Sir Christopher said. ‘‘How can you have so many positive comments and exceed many of your benchmarks by a colossal margin and still get a bronze? 

“I know we have done significantly better [on metric scores] than many gold-rated institutions with a similar student profile – I can show you the evidence.’’ 

Sir Keith Burnett, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Sheffield, believes that the marketisation will break down a university’s capacity for learning. The TEF provides an incentive for learning through competition rather than a desire for learning through a strong relationship between student and teacher. He said: “The relationships that bind students and teachers inevitably exceed those of the market.” He added that the government’s proposals for HE in the Green Paper included ‘‘driving value for money both for students investing in their education, and taxpayers underwriting the system”.

The standard of teaching, however, is measured by the pay its students receive upon leaving university. The TEF uses a relatively simplistic measure of success that ignores large amounts of research showing that students with higher household incomes will go into higher paying graduate jobs. Again, however, there are those who feel that this drastic change is much needed. Nick Hillman, Director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, said: ‘‘The teaching excellence framework would have comprehensively failed if it had simply replicated existing hierarchies.’’ 

He claims that the TEF was designed to be completely different to previous forms of rankings, arguing that previous rankings ignore areas that need improvement and do not show areas of excellence. 

Professor Madeleine Atkins, Chief Executive of the Higher Education Funding Council for England, who plays a vital role in the framework, stated: ‘’The TEF measures excellence [and] we are very pleased to be working to develop and refine the TEF so that it can be as useful as possible in helping prospective students choose where to study.’’  

Professor Madeleine Atkins is a keynote speaker at the Higher Education Conference 2017, register your place today to hear her discuss the long term visions for the TEF. 


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Blended learning – Did we forget about the students?

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Wednesday, June 15, 11AM London BST

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