TEF ‘set to reshape hierarchy of UK higher education’

THE analysis of core metrics suggests small campus universities and post-92s could outperform Russell Group institutions

June 23, 2016
Students walking past sculpture, Loughborough University
Source: Alamy
Ready to shine: Loughborough hopes the TEF will ‘challenge’ the Russell Group’s message

The teaching excellence framework (TEF) could radically reshape the hierarchy of UK higher education, with small campus universities and post-92s outperforming many of the elite Russell Group, an exclusive Times Higher Education analysis has indicated.

Modelling of the core TEF metrics by THE’s data team suggests that the top performers could be Loughborough and Aston universities, with modern institutions such as De Montfort and Coventry universities also achieving highly alongside smaller research-intensive universities, including Swansea and Kent.

The University of Cambridge, 12th out of 120 institutions in THE's modelling, is the highest-ranked Russell Group institution, while the University of Oxford is 28th, seven places below its neighbour, Oxford Brookes University.

Other members of the Russell Group fail to live up to their top-tier status, with the University of Bristol 87th and two other institutions, the London School of Economics and King’s College London, 81st and 83rd, respectively.

John Gill, editor of THE, said that the analysis suggested that the TEF could offer a “dramatically different interpretation of university performance” and could significantly impact on student recruitment.

“While many in higher education have doubts about the TEF proposals, the fact is that the government is pressing ahead with its plans, and our analysis shows how challenging it could be for universities that have built their reputations on research strength alone,” Mr Gill said.

“This has the potential to impact on universities’ ability to raise fees in line with inflation, but perhaps more importantly on the perception of students – both domestic and international – as they decide where to study.”

THE’s analysis is based on the three metrics that will be at the heart of the TEF: retention, student satisfaction and graduate employment. While the Russell Group and some select pre-92 universities remain pre-eminent when raw scores are considered, once these are benchmarked for factors such as student entry qualifications and ethnicity – as will happen in the TEF to mitigate the impact of selectivity – the hierarchy changes significantly.

The analysis is unable to take account of qualitative evidence, which in the TEF will be submitted by institutions alongside the metrics in order to reach a decision on an institution’s rating.

However, if the metrics alone were considered, THE's modelling shows that as few as five of the Russell Group’s 24 members could gain the top “outstanding” ranking in the TEF, with Oxford among several institutions on the borderline. None would fall into the “meets expectations” category though, a rating that would limit a university’s fee cap increase.

Robert Allison, Loughborough’s vice-chancellor, said that he hoped that the TEF would “challenge the message that the Russell Group gives out that ‘we are the country’s elite universities’”.

But Wendy Piatt, the Russell Group’s director general, said that it would be “wrong to attach any weight” to the THE data because it would take time to develop “robust and credible” measures of teaching quality.

“A huge amount of time, effort and resources have been devoted to improving the education and student experience our universities provide,” Dr Piatt said. “This is reflected in feedback from employers and our students who year-on-year express above average levels of overall satisfaction with the quality of their course.”

The TEF will be piloted in 2016-17 and 2017-18, before formal assessments begin in 2018-19. 


THE mock TEF results: Top 10

Benchmarked TEF rank Absolute TEF rank University
1 5 Loughborough University
2 13 Aston University
3 45 De Montfort University
4 15 Swansea University
5 =22 University of Kent
6 34 Coventry University
7 =10 Keele University
8 12 University of Surrey
9 =2 University of Bath
10 7 Lancaster University


Print headline: TEF is ‘set to reshape academic hierarchy’

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Reader's comments (1)

This is wonderful news for Swansea University!