TEF isn’t terrifying

January 12, 2017

The teaching excellence framework should be seen as a welcome addition to the information landscape for prospective students. This is a tool that can assure students about teaching quality. It will never replace the gut instinct felt at an open day or the opinion of a trusted peer – and it’s not designed to. It should, however, provide students with assurance about what can be expected from institutions in terms of teaching quality and what this might mean for their future prospects.

The TEF is not a two-dimensional exercise. It combines metrics with an important 15-page written submission. This submission is an opportunity for institutions to evidence the quality of their provision and add context to their metrics. Most heartening is that students and their representatives are encouraged to be involved in drafting this submission. Furthermore, the metrics are “split” by widening participation priorities – whether students come from areas where there is low participation, student age, ethnicity, gender and disability. This means that the quality of provision is being tested from different perspectives on behalf of all students.

The recognition that the TEF brings to the highest quality institutions gives the opportunity to enhance provision further through linking tuition fees to inflation. In the current academic year, because of inflation, the £9,000 tuition fee in England is worth only about £8,200 in real terms, compared with its value in 2012, and the value is falling in real terms each year. The link between the TEF and tuition fees not only provides a very real incentive to institutions but will maintain world-leading quality for our students.

It is right and proper that any system that affects the decision-making of future generations of students should be subject to scrutiny. The recent House of Lords debate is ensuring that these are being fully considered. We can be assured that the TEF is not simply a device to raise fees – it is about rewarding excellence in teaching, just as we do in research.

Fundamentally, the TEF is designed to aid students, and to recognise teaching quality. This is something we should all be supportive of; and for this reason the TEF shouldn’t be daunting. All of us in the sector are already joined in partnership with students in their investment in the future. The TEF will ensure that high-quality teaching receives the merit it deserves, just as the research excellence framework does for our world-class research.

Janice Kay
Provost and senior deputy vice-chancellor, University of Exeter, and TEF panel deputy chair

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