New TEF ‘will capture diversity of excellence’ in English HE

As deadline for submissions approaches, OfS outlines how revamped exercise will benefit sector

January 13, 2023
Source: iStock

The newly revamped Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) is a chance to “celebrate” the sector and capture more of the good practice that can be found in a range of different universities, those behind the exercise have said.

All English higher education providers with more than 500 undergraduates have until 24 January to finalise their submissions for TEF 2023, the first iteration since 2019 and now run by the regulator, the Office for Students.

Those ruing the paperwork – which includes a provider submission as well as an optional student submission – should take heart in knowing the exercise will be worth it, according to Graeme Rosenberg, head of compliance and student protection at the OfS.

“The intention is that it encourages and stimulates enhancement through a number of means,” he told a Westminster Higher Education Forum event.

“Partly there is the reputational reward and incentive of the ratings themselves and we expect many providers will want to get the best ratings they can. The process also involves self-evaluation and, we hope, deep reflection with each provider assessing its own strengths and what can be improved.”

Mr Rosenburg said the new TEF has a dual focus on both the quality of the student experience and student outcomes such as future employment and will assess how well each provider is delivering “for its own particular mix of students and courses”, embracing the diversity of student populations and different ways of providing learning and teaching.

He said it also gave institutions the chance to look beyond outcomes that can be measured and articulate “what it intends its students should gain from their education”.

April McMahon, vice-president for teaching, learning and students at the University of Manchester and deputy chair (academic) of the TEF panel, said the fact that providers will be given two ratings – one for student outcomes and one for experience – which will make up the overall gold, silver or bronze designation was “a big step forward”. This will give providers with “genuinely outstanding” practice in one but not the other the “chance to shine”, she said.

This time some providers will also be given a “requires improvement” rating if they are found to have an “absence of excellence.”

“TEF is a rigorous and important process but I certainly see it as a positive one,” Professor McMahon added. “Higher education has come in for a bit for a bashing recently…here is our opportunity to remember and demonstrate that we are a very high-performing sector.”

Professor McMahon said her experience within institutions was that the TEF succeeds in putting attention on the importance of teaching among senior leaders.

“The sector is very focused on research and research excellence, which is a good thing, but it doesn’t hurt to be reminded that teaching and students are very important for paying our bills, keeping the lights on and making sure universities are beacons for that kind of excellence in the world too,” she added

When it was first launched in 2017, many hoped the TEF would upend the traditional hierarchy of institutions and help often overlooked universities demonstrate their excellence in areas that rarely gain attention.

In reality, smaller providers have complained of facing an onerous task when participating in the exercise as they lack the dedicated teams and access to research and data that larger providers enjoy.

Professor McMahon said she wanted to reassure institutions that the panel was “looking for evidence of what providers are doing and their understanding of why they are doing it. Not evidence of having had a slick marketing team working on those submissions.”

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Reader's comments (1)

TEF needs to take into account the profile of students admitted by the HE institution and estimate the 'added value' of the institution. It is not fair to compare student outcomes for a university that takes in more students with learning disabilities with another that does not. Nor, is it fair to compare a university that takes in students with higher entry grades with another university that takes in students with lower entry grades from disadvantaged backgrounds to give them a chance for social mobility.