Few applicants to UK universities know what TEF is, survey finds

Only 17 per cent of Ucas questionnaire’s 85,000 respondents understood government’s flagship exercise designed to improve student choice 

June 21, 2018
Head in sand

Fewer than one in five applicants to UK universities knows about the teaching excellence framework, the government’s main initiative to help would-be undergraduates decide where to study, according to a survey that attracted more than 85,000 responses.

The survey of people who applied by the main January deadline this year, conducted by admissions service Ucas, found that only 17.1 per cent of respondents understood what the TEF was. The first results of the exercise, which judge universities on their performance in areas such as student satisfaction, retention and graduate employment, were published in June 2017.

A further 17.7 per cent of the 85,690 respondents had heard of the TEF but did not know what it was. Nearly two-thirds (65.2 per cent) had never heard of the TEF.

The findings, published on 21 June, represent a major challenge to ministers as they bid to improve student decision-making and “value for money” in the English sector. The latest round of TEF results, published earlier this month, left 27 per cent of institutions with the top “gold” rating. Fifty per cent were rated “silver”, while 23 per cent were classed as bronze, including world-renowned institutions such as the London School of Economics and Soas, University of London.

The survey found that understanding of the TEF was best among UK-domiciled applicants, at 18.8 per cent, but fewer than one in 10 applicants from the European Union and from further afield knew what it was (9.4 per cent and 9.8 per cent, respectively).

However, applicants who were aware of the TEF did appear to find it useful: 18.8 per cent of these respondents said that it had been “extremely important” in deciding where to apply, and 39 per cent said that it was “important”. A further 27.2 per cent said that it had been “slightly important”, while 15 per cent said that it had been not very or not at all important.

Similar proportions of applicants who did not know about the TEF said that the results would have been important for their decision-making had they been aware of them.

Analysis by Ucas backs this up, revealing that applicants who knew what the TEF was were more likely to make applications to “gold” providers. Controlling for a range of other factors, students who said that the TEF was an important factor in their decision-making were 12 per cent more likely than expected to have applied to two or more “gold” institutions, and 27 per cent more likely to have applied to at least three.

Clare Marchant, Ucas’ chief executive, said: “While awareness of the TEF among applicants is relatively low, it seems to be emerging as a factor in influencing students’ decision-making.”

The Ucas findings coincide with research released by the UK’s Department for Education on 21 June, based on survey responses from about 3,800 applicants and students. This indicated that about 60 per cent of respondents had heard of the TEF, and about 40 per cent knew what it was.

However, only about 15 per cent of respondents said that they had used or intended to use the TEF to inform their application choice.

chris.havergal@timeshighereducation.com

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