England’s universities to have medal-style ratings for teaching

New measures to ensure universities are ‘not penalised’ for taking poorer students also outlined for next stage of TEF

September 29, 2016
Italy's gold medallist
Source: Reuters
Going for gold: medal ratings thought to be less confusing than the hard-to-gauge ‘outstanding’ and ‘excellent’

England’s new assessment of university teaching will award institutions with ratings of “bronze”, “silver” and “gold”, it has been announced. 

Changes unveiled for the next stage of the teaching excellence framework (TEF) will also include extra benchmarking of graduate employment data to ensure that universities are “not penalised” for taking on poorer students.

The UK government today released its response to a consultation on stage two of the TEF, which will eventually be used to determine what level of fee increase English universities are allowed – up to a maximum of a rise in line with inflation.

It was also announced today that universities from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will be able to participate in the TEF should they wish to do so – although the exercise will not affect their funding.

The TEF will assess universities and colleges based on metrics of graduate employment, student retention and student satisfaction, as well as taking into account additional evidence submitted.

Ratings from stage two of the TEF will be announced in May 2017. But that will be a trial year, as all institutions meeting basic standards will be allowed to raise fees in line with inflation. Differential fee uplifts could be introduced the following year.

After consulting on its plans, the Department for Education has outlined several changes to the proposals.

The rating names – originally “meets expectations”, “excellent” and “outstanding” – have been changed to “bronze”, “silver” and “gold”.

Some respondents thought “excellent” and “outstanding” were “potentially confusing and misleading as they are similar in meaning”, the consultation response says. Others thought that “use of ‘Meets Expectations’ was a risk to the international reputation of UK HE”.

The consultation response says that the highly skilled employment metric – reflecting the proportion of a university’s graduates who have gone on to work in high-skill jobs – “will need to be benchmarked to ensure it takes account of the students taught by that provider. 

“This will ensure that providers are not penalised for offering certain courses, or for taking on students from disadvantaged areas or with characteristics associated with less successful outcomes.”

Dave Phoenix, London South Bank University vice-chancellor and chair of MillionPlus, the association of modern universities, said: “The decision to include additional benchmarking criteria such as socio-economic background and disability is a step in the right direction.

“However, we remain concerned about the timetable for implementation and the link with fees. As with any new framework, rapid implementation without proper evaluation and reflection also risks unintended consequences, and the TEF has implications for universities in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland as well as in England.”

Maddalaine Ansell, chief executive of the University Alliance mission group, said that “the merits of a highly skilled employment metric and a medals-style ratings system will need to be tested. The trial year will be vital to getting this right.”


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Reader's comments (3)

In my view, benchmarking could be considered for all three aspects of this evaluation and not only for graduate employment. This is because some factors like the entrant profiles and location can well have potential impact on the retention rates and student satisfaction as well.
Gold, silver and bronze is stupidity incarnate. Consider a university that is 1% over the gold/silver boundary and another that is 1% below it. No person in their right mind would consider that there is any meaningful difference between them. Nonetheless, the impact on recruitment will be severe for the loser. Still, given that UK universities have persisted with 1st, 2:1, 2:2, and 3rd for donkeys, perhaps they deserve an equally stupid grading system for teaching quality?
Ha! the 3rd isn't for donkeys. They persisted with 1st, 2:1, 2:2, and 3rd, for donkeys **years**. An amusing lesson in when to insert a comma.