TEF gets ‘requires improvement’ badge for ‘absence of excellence’

Label would apply to providers failing to get a rating and in England would limit the fees they can charge, according to consultation

January 20, 2022
Tef, results, gold, silver, bronze, teaching excellence framework
Source: iStock

Universities found to have an “absence of excellence” in their undergraduate provision will be marked as “requires improvement” in the UK’s proposed new teaching excellence framework and in England will be unable to charge the highest undergraduate fees.

Those are among the key proposals being put forward in a consultation on the new TEF, which, if given the go-ahead, would be launched later this year and would report in the spring of 2023.

The long-awaited TEF proposals, which follow some three years of wrangling over the future of the exercise, suggest sticking with the existing ratings of gold, silver and bronze for providers despite the misgivings of an independent review of the TEF finally published last year.

But in a bid to make clear that bronze “requires excellence above the baseline” of standards that universities require, rather than being the lowest category, a new badge of “requires improvement” – where a provider has failed to achieve a TEF award – would be introduced.

According to the Office for Students document on the proposals, which will be consulted on over the coming weeks, an institution receiving such an assessment would, like current providers without a TEF award, be limited to charging a “sub-level” undergraduate tuition fee, currently £9,000 instead of the full £9,250 cap.

As well as an overall award for universities, the proposed new TEF, which as previously suggested would run every four years, would also give each institution one of its four ratings for two different “aspects” of provision: student experience and student outcomes.

Each area would be evaluated separately by a panel of assessors using a basket of metrics and submissions from universities and students, with metrics making up no more than half of their final decision.

Other elements of the proposals include:

  • That metrics underpinning the student experience aspect of the new TEF will be taken from the currently under-review National Student Survey, while the student outcomes aspect will use Higher Education Statistics Agency data on dropout rates, course completion and progression to professional jobs/further study
  • For such data to be published on providers every year even though the full exercise and awards will happen only every four years
  • Although plans for a subject-level TEF were scrapped, metrics will be broken down by course type and subject to aid assessors’ overall decisions and, similar to the previous iteration of the TEF, benchmarks will be used
  • The TEF is to be aligned with the OfS’ minimum standards requirements for registration, especially in regard to student outcomes, proposals for which have also been published
  • Each “aspect” of the new TEF will mark providers on different “features of excellence”, and ratings will be based on how much of their provision is of “very high quality” or “outstanding quality”
  • TEF participation will be mandatory “for a registered provider in England with more than 500 higher education students, provided it is eligible to take part”
  • Data and submissions on international undergraduates will be included in the TEF where applicable, and the proposals suggest that transnational education could be included in future, too
  • Data on students taught by providers who are subcontracted to carry out teaching on behalf of a different institution would be included in the new TEF, with the results impacting their “parent” university.

The consultation, which closes in March, also proposes that Sir Chris Husbands, the vice-chancellor of Sheffield Hallam University who oversaw the last TEF in 2019, chair a panel to oversee the next exercise if it launches, as planned, this autumn.

On the timing of the new TEF, which would have only six months after the consultation closes before launching, the OfS adds that although it recognises “the ongoing impact of the coronavirus pandemic”, it did “not think it is desirable for the TEF to be delayed further”.

It also says that “data used to produce TEF indicators will begin to cover the years affected by the pandemic” by this autumn, and “providers and students will be able to reflect on this performance in their submissions”.


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Reader's comments (3)

Oh dear. More rubbish from the moribund 'office of students' seeking to jusitify its existence and merely demonstrating what a worthless bunch they are. These sort of antics have wrecked compulsory education, and need to be resisted from intruding into higher education before that too is ruined by small minds who don't understand what education is actually about - replacing an empty mind with an open and enquiring one, able to think and to learn for itself.
So, Ofsted by the back door
The first and foremost thing to do would be to stop the TEF from being used for marketing purposes. While I balk at the idea of some civil servants drawing up the rules of game but on the other hand universities have agency problems of a kind that has no parallel in the corproate world. It is only right that the principal monitors the agent. But there needs to be a better way of doing this, some coarse metrics are not the answer.


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