Integrity of TEF ‘depends on speedy appeals process’

Stringing out the numerous challenges could risk influence of Teaching Excellence Framework declining across the sector, experts fear

October 6, 2023
Taxi cab with advertisement on the side that adds body to driver's head, humorously
Source: Alamy

Universities that have appealed their ratings in the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) should have their cases dealt with “speedily” by the English regulator in order to maintain the value and integrity of the exercise, experts have said.

The Office for Students (OfS) has faced a raft of challenges to TEF ratings awarded to universities, with a fifth still “pending” when results were published on 28 September.

It is understood that it might take two to three months to resolve the appeals and settle the final ratings, which will then be valid for the next four years.

“Clearly a system that has so many appeals against it suggests the people involved are concerned about the legitimacy of the judgements,” said Paul Ashwin, professor of higher education at Lancaster University. “If the system was seen as working, you’d expect far fewer appeals.”

He said the introduction of the “requires improvement” category had “clearly increased the risk” for universities and appeared to be a “primary driver” of the challenges. The OfS has declined to release data on how many of those institutions appealing were given this rating initially, but it is understood that more representations have been received from those that got bronze or silver.

Professor Ashwin said the new version of the TEF was also seen as more complicated – requiring both a provider and student submission and with the overall award based on student outcomes and experience – and this could have added to the uncertainty about why a university ended up with the award it did.

One of those institutions appealing, the University of Hertfordshire, was on the cusp of achieving a better award, according to its vice-chancellor, Quintin McKellar. He said it was felt that there were a “couple of interpretations that they [the OfS] put on some of the material we submitted which we thought were unduly negative”.

Liz Jones, pro vice-chancellor for education at the University of Leicester, also downplayed its review. She said the university had “decided to seek clarity around one or two small elements through the representation system”.

The OfS had initially intended to deal with representations before publishing the results, but having cleared only the minor issues it now faces a time-consuming – and potentially fractious – process to decide if any awards should be changed.

“What I’d like to see now is a speedy resolution to the outstanding reviews, with a second TEF results day soon that includes dozens of the remaining results,” said Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, who warned that “stringing out the process for months on end” could make the TEF “less influential than it is meant to be”.

The exercise was originally intended to help students look beyond the traditional university hierarchies and find quality teaching across the system. However, Mr Hillman said, despite being more sophisticated, the new TEF was unlikely to hold much more sway than the previous iteration.

Where the results could matter, he added, is if there were a harder link between them and tuition fees, particularly if the suggestion from former universities minister Lord Johnson of Marylebone that institutions that do well be allowed to implement inflationary rises is followed through.

Professor Ashwin said the scores were still of little use to prospective students because they only “offer an indication of quality at an institutional level rather than at a course level” and all institutions will have courses of varying quality.

“There has been a great deal of effort gone into telling us something that we already knew; overall in the sector, there is some particularly good stuff, there is some problematic stuff but generally the quality is good.”

Register to continue

Why register?

  • Registration is free and only takes a moment
  • Once registered, you can read 3 articles a month
  • Sign up for our newsletter
Please Login or Register to read this article.

Related articles