The Russell Group has warned of “unintended negative consequences” from England’s teaching excellence framework (TEF) after a survey found that a quarter of international students aware of the scheme believe that a bronze award indicates unsatisfactory teaching quality.
The survey of more than 3,000 international students, conducted by the education consultancy company Hobsons after the release of the inaugural TEF results on 22 June, found that just 21.2 per cent of respondents had heard of the TEF. And of those international students with knowledge of the TEF, 64.4 per cent felt that the operation and the aims of exercise had not been explained clearly.
Of those who were aware of the TEF, 79.5 per cent incorrectly believed that it measured the teaching quality at both undergraduate and postgraduate level.
Some 24.5 per cent of the respondents who were aware of the TEF also thought that a bronze award in the exercise meant that a university’s teaching quality was deemed to be unsatisfactory, and 55.3 per cent believed that “TEF results are based on random inspections of lectures and classes by inspectors from the Department for Education”.
The findings and comments from the students suggest that more could be done to raise awareness of the TEF and to explain how institutions are measured and ratings awarded.
One student who responded to the survey said: “Nobody says anything to international students about the TEF. It could help a lot of us to make better and more critical judgements when deciding where to study.”
Another said: “A little bit more effort should go into explaining the TEF to international students. I only recently heard about it.”
The findings prompted concerns from the Russell Group of research-intensive universities, some of whose members fared badly in the TEF.
“By introducing a simplistic medal system, TEF outcomes could have a big impact on the reputation of UK universities overseas and so affect international student recruitment,” said Sarah Stevens, head of policy at the Russell Group.
“This survey shows that international applicants might not recognise that institutions that scored bronze or silver on the TEF had already met a very high quality bar.
“We would encourage the government to work with those in overseas posts to collate evidence of the impact that the TEF is having abroad and to develop a strategy to mitigate unintended negative consequences.”
Paul Raybould, director of marketing and market intelligence at Hobsons EMEA, said: “With the motivation behind the establishment of the TEF being to help students choose a university, the higher education sector could do better at communicating what the TEF is to international students.”
He went on to say that this could be an opportunity “for lower-ranked institutions to increase their appeal to international students, especially if they have a gold TEF award”.
The survey findings also suggest that even though many international students are unaware of the TEF, the gold, silver and bronze ratings do play a role in the decisions young people make about which university to attend.
Respondents who had heard of the TEF, as well as those who had not, said that they would be more likely to choose a university with a gold TEF award above one that was ranked highly in university league tables. However, they would be more likely to choose a university with a high ranking above one with a silver or bronze TEF rating.