Two-thirds of applicants who have heard of the UK’s teaching excellence framework mistakenly believe that the ratings are based on Ofsted-style inspections of universities, new research has revealed.
The survey of 2,838 students who submitted an application to enter higher education in 2018 or 2019, commissioned by the Department for Education, found that only 43 per cent of respondents were aware of the TEF at the time they applied and only 15 per cent used it to help their decision-making, despite “better informing student choice” being one of the assessment’s stated objectives.
Significantly, 66 per cent of respondents who had heard of the TEF wrongly believed that awards of gold, silver or bronze were allocated following official inspections of providers and their teaching, and only one in 50 (2 per cent) correctly stated that this was not the case. Thirty-one per cent of respondents said that they did not know.
TEF awards are actually based on data relating to student satisfaction, retention and graduate employment, as well as institutional submissions that are considered by expert panels.
Misconceptions about the assessment’s methodology continued in interviews conducted for the DfE, in which applicants referenced lecture observations and reviews of course content and student progress. “I imagine it’s an Ofsted for universities,” one student said.
Andrew Gunn, a researcher in higher education policy at the University of Leeds, said that a lack of public understanding was not surprising “given that many [people] working within universities don’t actually understand the complex scheme or how it’s being rolled out”.
“The TEF isn’t informing student choice on the scale the government wished,” Dr Gunn said. “If the TEF isn’t providing useful product information, as part of the ‘food labelling’ of degree courses, it’s not delivering one of its own objectives.”
Paul Ashwin, professor of higher education at Lancaster University, said the fact that most applicants who had heard about the TEF had learned about it from institutions suggested that it was “mainly used by institutions as a way of marketing their provision”.
“As a whole, the evaluation paints a picture of the TEF as having very little to do with teaching quality or excellence,” he said. “Instead, it is about institutions managing the TEF process to maximise their TEF outcome and then, providing they do not get bronze, using this as a way of marketing their provision to prospective students who generally are not aware of what the award means.”
It also includes a survey of senior teaching staff and university colleagues who coordinated their institutions’ participation in the TEF, which reveals that 40 per cent of respondents at bronze-rated institutions said that it was responsible for a drop in staff morale, while 29 per cent of respondents at gold providers reported an increase.
Seven to 8 per cent of respondents said that their university had closed courses or departments because of TEF-related metrics.
A spokesman for England’s Office for Students, which operates the TEF, said that the research “followed the first year of TEF results in summer 2017, so the level of awareness and understanding at that point is not surprising”.
“We would expect these numbers to grow as the TEF becomes more embedded and is used increasingly on student information websites,” he said.
Register to continue
Get a month's unlimited access to THE content online. Just register and complete your career summary.
Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 3 articles each month, plus:
- Sign up for the editor's highlights
- Receive World University Rankings news first
- Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
- Participate in reader discussions and post comments
Or subscribe for unlimited access to:
- Unlimited access to news, views, insights & reviews
- Digital editions
- Digital access to THE’s university and college rankings analysis
Already registered or a current subscriber?Sign in now