Universities and those who work in them care about teaching. Like me, they believe passionately in the value students get from their education.
The teaching excellence framework will build on the existing high standards of learning and teaching in universities and help drive up positive outcomes for all students, in particular those from disadvantaged backgrounds. For the first time, it will give a clear signal to those of us in the sector that the quality of our teaching is as important as the quality of our research. And I’m delighted that the UK’s devolved administrations have agreed that universities in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland can choose to take part in the TEF in its second year, making it genuinely UK-wide in its application.
We all know that the task of recognising great teaching isn’t easy. As teachers, we know when students are engaged and as educational leaders we tend to know when we’re looking at a great teacher, but developing a framework that recognises excellence across the diversity of the sector is more challenging.
That’s why the TEF will assess teaching not by a single, universal definition but instead by focusing on the consequences of great teaching – good, strong responses to the National Student Survey, high levels of progression and retention, and success in going on to further study or securing highly skilled employment.
I’m encouraged at the way the UK government has taken on board the feedback from the sector as to how this will operate, ranging from benchmarking the highly skilled employment metric by area (based on the proportion of the young population that participates in higher education), to setting out with much more clarity how the metrics and the additional evidence will work together. And I’m confident in the high calibre of the panel members – selected by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (Hefce) from more than 1,200 applicants – who will be making these decisions alongside me.
I also recognise, as does the government, that the framework published today is just the beginning. The metrics we have, although they focus on some of the things that matter most to students, are not the end of the story. Whether it’s getting a better sense of employment outcomes over a longer time frame than six months, getting a better understanding of learning gain or moving the TEF to subject level, there is more work to be done – and we in the sector will need to play our part in this.
I’m delighted that Jo Johnson, the UK minister with responsibility for universities, has written today to some of the major representative groups in the sector inviting them to play a role in the collaborative design of both the provider-level and subject-level TEF and I look forward to playing my part in those discussions.
Nevertheless, the TEF in its second year is a critical milestone. It is the first year that we will see genuine differentiation, with institutions receiving one of three possible ratings based on a robust process of assessment. And these ratings – gold, silver or bronze – will provide clear information to prospective students looking to make their applications a year from now.
I also believe that the new category names better convey the truth of our world-class higher education system: that we have a genuinely high-quality system, within which there are some truly outstanding providers.
This is both a challenging and an exciting time for UK higher education. I encourage higher education providers across the UK to take part in the TEF in Year Two and feed back their experiences at the end of the second year. Designed properly, and managed effectively, the TEF gives us an opportunity to celebrate excellence and a common way to think about how it develops.
Chris Husbands is vice-chancellor of Sheffield Hallam University, and chair of the teaching excellence framework.