Teaching excellence framework (TEF): higher education sector reaction

Key figures from the world of higher education respond to the publication of the TEF results. This page will be updated regularly – please refresh the page for latest response 

June 22, 2017
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The results of the teaching excellence framework 2017 have been published, and have sent shock waves through the UK higher education sector.

While around a third of higher education institutions assessed received gold awards (the top rating), there were some surprises, with several members of the “elite” Russell Group of universities being rated “bronze. Just under half of those institutions ranked received a “silver” rating. 

You can find all the latest TEF news and analysis, including the results in full, here.

Below, you can read how key figures from higher education have been reacting to the results. 

Jo Johnson, universities and science minister

“These results, highlighting the extraordinary strengths of our higher education system, will help students to choose which university or college to study at. The teaching excellence framework is refocusing the sector’s attention on teaching – putting in place incentives that will raise standards across the sector and giving teaching the same status as research. Students, parents, employers and taxpayers all have a shared interest in ensuring that higher education equips the next generation of graduates for success.”


Chris Husbands, Chair of the TEF assessment panel and vice-chancellor of Sheffield Hallam University (awarded silver)

“The teaching excellence framework results offer – for the first time – an overview of teaching excellence across the entire UK higher education sector. It has been a privilege to chair this ambitious and ground-breaking assessment. Alongside the headline results, we are publishing all the data and submissions, and statements of the assessors’ findings. Taken together, this is a set of material on teaching excellence that goes further than has been possible for any other university system in the world.” Read more from Professor Husbands.


Dame Julia Goodfellow, president of Universities UK and vice-chancellor of the University of Kent (awarded gold)

“Universities in the UK have a well-deserved international reputation for high-quality teaching and learning. They are all required to make sure that their provision meets high levels of academic standards and quality as set out in the Quality Code. These new teaching excellence framework ratings are based on a number of publicly available data and are intended to complement the range of other information available to students. They are not a comprehensive assessment of a university’s academic quality. 

“This is a trial year and remains voluntary. It is important that the data used are appropriate, robust and take account of the considerable diversity within our university sector. The challenge will be to develop the system to ensure that the information is properly communicated and helpful to students in the decision making process. The scheme will now be subject to a full, independent review in 2019-20 to assess whether it is fit for purpose and helping students.”


Julia Black, interim director of the London School of Economics (awarded bronze) 

“LSE fully supports the drive for teaching excellence and we are pleased that the TEF panel recognises the resources we have committed to improve our student experience, including devoting an additional £11 million to education over three years...The TEF panel recognises that we have a curriculum taught by world-renowned experts providing choice and stretch for students and it is right to have done so.

“Rigorous academic standards and independent critical analysis are an essential part of undergraduate education at LSE. We are proud of the School’s exceptional graduate record, as evidenced by our students’ high attainment and outstanding performance in highly-skilled job markets, which unfortunately are not captured by the TEF metrics. 

“We recognise that we have work to do but we are confident that the education initiatives that we have underway will lead to improvements for our students. However, the challenges around TEF and the limits to the measures it employs are also well-documented. We look forward to working with the government in reviewing and revising the TEF in the near future.”


Sir Christopher Snowden, president and vice-chancellor of the University of Southampton (awarded bronze), previous president of Universities UK 

“It is hard to have confidence in a teaching excellence framework that appears devoid of any meaningful assessment of teaching. I know that I am not alone in having deep concerns about its subjective assessment, its lack of transparency, and with different benchmarks for each institution removing any sense of equity and equality of assessment. Our own student satisfaction metrics, including satisfaction with teaching, are better than some of those universities that have been awarded silver and gold today. This was a pilot scheme and there are serious lessons to be learned if the TEF is to gain public confidence.”

Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute

‘The teaching excellence framework would have comprehensively failed if it had simply replicated existing hierarchies. It was always designed to do something different to other league tables and rankings - namely, to show where there are pockets of excellence that have been ignored and to encourage improvements elsewhere. So the fact that some of the results seem surprising suggests it is working. I visit around 50 universities a year so know the gold ratings have been hard won by committed staff and students and are very well deserved. 

"Nonetheless, in this early guise, the TEF is far from a perfect assessment of teaching and learning. While it tells us a lot of useful things, none of them accurately reflects precisely what goes on in lecture halls. I hope university applicants will use the results in their decision making but they should do so with caution, not least because the ratings are for whole universities rather than individual courses."


Tim Bradshaw, acting director of the Russell Group

“Our members provide an outstanding student experience where teaching is enhanced by access to world-class research and facilities. This is a trial year. We need to recognise that developing a robust TEF that is truly reflective of the UK’s excellent higher education sector will take time. 

“The announcement earlier this year of an independent review of the TEF process was welcome. We want applicants to have all the information they need to take the right choice for them but there is more work to be done here. TEF does not measure absolute quality and we have raised concerns that the current approach to flags and benchmarking could have a significant unintended impact. Applicants need clear guidance about what TEF results mean and how they should be interpreted to aid decision-making.”


Madeleine Atkins, chief executive of the Higher Education Funding Council for England

"Students invest significant amounts of time and money in their higher education. They rightly expect a high-quality learning experience and outcomes that reflect their potential. The UK already has a high bar for quality and standards, which all universities and colleges must meet. But the TEF judges excellence above and beyond this, clearly showing the highest levels across the sector. The TEF measures the things that students themselves say that they care about: high-quality, engaged teaching and a supportive, stimulating learning environment that equips them with the knowledge and skills that they need to achieve their potential, and then to progress to a good job or further study.”


Stephanie Marshall, Higher Education Academy (HEA) chief executive

“These result show that there is much to celebrate in teaching in UK Higher Education. There are many examples of innovative teaching strategies and outstanding practice. It’s apparent that institutions with particularly well-developed and coherent educational philosophies that translate into positive impact on student outcomes have done especially well. The qualitative assessment that the HEA argued for from the outset has provided institutions with the opportunity to articulate their distinctive approaches to teaching and done much to contextualise the metrics that have been hotly debated. Detailed analysis of the lessons learned will highlight areas and opportunities to make the student academic experience even better, and, in the autumn, the HEA will make an important contribution to the evidence base when we publish our findings from research we have commissioned into these results. 

“I believe that the TEF will have increasing influence in raising the profile of teaching and the contribution teaching staff make to UK HE. The nature of this exercise demonstrates the sector’s confidence and ability to be self-critical and its willingness to continually seek improvement. It has also highlighted the vital role of leadership in shaping and defining institutional teaching strategies. It’s very early days for TEF, and we will continue to work with our network of PVCs to help the sector further shape and strengthen it, reinforcing its robustness and validity in informing student choice. We continue to propose teaching qualifications and a commitment to CPD as measures of teaching excellence.  And we are confident in our case for measures of ‘student engagement’ rather than ‘student satisfaction’ as a much more rigorous basis for TEF metrics." 


Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union 

“The teaching excellence framework is opposed by both staff and student organisations and these results will have little credibility within higher education itself. The fear is that students, beyond the UK in particular, will use these results as the basis for deciding which UK university to attend, which could damage some institutions. If the government is serious about improving teaching quality it should improve the working conditions of the tens of thousands of teaching staff employed on insecure, often zero-hours contracts and the impact this has on students’ learning ”


Pam Tatlow, chief executive of MillionPlus 

“Students at the UK’s modern universities can be assured of high-quality teaching wherever and whatever they study. The TEF was introduced by ministers on an incredibly short time-scale so these first results will no doubt raise questions that will need to be considered in any future iterations. The decision to use gold, silver and bronze classifications was also controversial and Ministers need to make sure that home, EU and international students are made aware that, regardless of the TEF results, all UK universities meet stringent and world-leading quality benchmarks and indeed some universities have opted not to enter the first year of the TEF. 

“Notwithstanding the limitations of this first TEF, modern universities have undoubtedly demonstrated that their students receive excellent teaching, experience high levels of support and satisfaction and achieve employment outcomes that open up new opportunities and careers. Whether in teaching, research, innovation, or developing new partnerships with institutions throughout the world, modern universities have shown once again that they are real assets to the UK. The government should value and be incredibly proud of what these universities deliver for students, businesses and the public sector organisations with whom they work.”


Maddalaine Ansell, University Alliance chief executive

“Alliance universities have a long and proud tradition of excellence in teaching. By designing our courses with employers, we keep our teaching relevant. By constantly innovating, we keep it fit for a fast-changing world. By supporting students to develop their social capital on campus and beyond, we give them the resilience to succeed. We welcome the Government’s intention to use the TEF to champion success and drive improvement. As it continues to evolve, it is important that the TEF reflects the different models of teaching excellence that exist across UK higher education and supports innovation. Whether or not it becomes a useful tool for applicants, it will certainly make universities think hard about how they can improve their offer to students.

“Our members’ emphasis on teaching excellence has been well recognised in today’s awards, with five Alliance institutions achieving gold. However, we don’t want to rest on our laurels – that’s why we have launched the Teaching Excellence Alliance, a programme which will seek to develop, define and champion our distinct model of teaching excellence, sharing best practice and supporting staff development. Our aspiration is that this will make a valuable contribution for the sector as a whole, helping us better understand what makes teaching excellent.”


Gordon McKenzie, chief executive of GuildHE

"The TEF provides a welcome focus on university teaching and student outcomes - such as their employability. The results shake-up many traditional perceptions of "good universities" and excellent student experiences, which have relied too heavily on evaluating research performance. Importantly, this new government ranking bench-marks student data helps take into account the difference a university makes to a student’s progress. Other league tables reward universities for taking students with high A-level results in the first place without considering the distance the student has travelled”


Les Ebdon, director of the Office For Fair Access to Higher Education 

“I welcome the publication of these results. I have always argued that, designed well, the TEF had the potential to improve outcomes for all students. So I am pleased that the metrics have taken students’ backgrounds into account, as this will help universities and colleges to see where progress is being made for students from disadvantaged backgrounds, and where there are still unexplained gaps in attainment between the most and least advantaged. I look forward to continuing to work with those across the sector to ensure that teaching excellence means excellence for students from all backgrounds.” 


Alastair Sim, director of Universities Scotland 

“Providing high quality teaching and a high-quality learning environment is at the core of every Scottish higher education institution. Scotland has its own distinctive system for ensuring excellence in teaching, which is well-established and widely praised outside Scotland. It is a rigorous model that involves external assessment, includes students as partners in the process, and is based on the principle of continuous enhancement. We are delighted that the five Scottish universities that chose to participate in TEF have performed very strongly, receiving gold or silver medals for their teaching. We offer our congratulations on that success. These results recognise the very high quality of higher education that is delivered in Scotland.

“Scotland will remain engaged with TEF as it continues to develop in future years. At the same time, every Scottish institution remains absolutely committed to our existing system for teaching quality, which has the full support of our staff and students.” 


Douglas Blackstock, QAA chief executive 

‘All universities and colleges receiving a TEF rating have demonstrated world class quality above the threshold quality standards we expect. What TEF has done is distinguish the very best from the good and any institution achieving gold, silver or bronze deserves congratulations. One of the key features of TEF was independent assessment conducted by peer reviewers, including students, a long-standing strength of the UK quality system. As with any new system it’s important to learn and improve, and the forthcoming independent assessment will be an important aspect of TEF’s development."


Ian Myson, director of higher education partnerships at the Chartered Management Institute

“The first set of TEF results signal a watershed moment for the higher education sector. The UK’s long-standing skills shortage and productivity crisis is well-documented – now more than ever, business, professional bodies, and the higher education sector need to work together to improve the employability prospects of graduates. The introduction of new degree-level apprenticeships, for example, is helping to equip students with the necessary qualifications and experience needed to excel in the rapidly changing world of work. The TEF’s ranking system will also help businesses to recruit the highly-skilled workforces that they need – something that is vital if the economy is to prosper post-Brexit. 

“Although there are legitimate concerns in the sector about the implementation of TEF and the pace of its introduction, the increasing consensus is that improving the employability of graduates is an area that urgently needs addressing."

View the TEF results

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Reader's comments (1)

The TEF is a stupid exercise as it makes some third rate institutions seem better than they are by giving them meaningless gold medals when they should in fact be closed. Other instititutions are given a bronze when they should be given a gold simply because they are prepared to fail useless students and teach to a demanding level that will breed the new scientists, engineers, medics and other top professionals of tomorrow. The TEF was designed by third rate bureaucrats to boost third rate institutions from where they probably did their studies.

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