Back in December Selina (Jobson) and I thought we’d try and get to grips with the latest educational acronym ‘TEF‘ and find out what on earth its all about. Spoiler alert – there are a quite a few acronyms coming up! We attended a briefing event in London at which representatives from the Dept. of Education (DofE), the Higher Education Academy (HEA), and the National Union of Students (NUS) explained what TEF is, how it will operate and what it’s meant to achieve. The day also included presentations from two University administrators on how their Institutions are preparing for TEF, a presentation from the Vice Chancellor of the University of Greenwich and a general discussion.
So… what is TEF?
It’s a scheme introduced by the government with the aim of measuring the quality of teaching at Higher Education Institutions (HEIs). Universities will be given a rating to indicate the level of teaching quality they provide and as the scheme moves forward it will cover teaching at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels and then move on to give subject /discipline level ratings. There are three areas (criteria) against which Universities are rated – Teaching Quality; Learning Environment and Student Outcomes & Learning Gain - which then produce one overall rating. The ratings will be Gold, Silver and Bronze. This year it’s a voluntary scheme but the vast majority of HE Institutions have decided to participate (299 in total).
The government’s aim is that TEF will be used to:
- Provide clear information to students about where the best provision can be found
- Encourage providers (i.e. Universities) to improve teaching quality to reduce variability
- Help drive UK productivity by ensuring a better match of graduate skills with the needs of employers and the economy
- It will also be used as a mechanism to allow Universities to raise the level of tuition fees charged to students (more on this later!) and to promote quality, choice & greater competition.
How will it work?
TEF ratings will be mainly assessed by metrics – what are those I hear you cry? Metrics are large sets of data and statistics which Universities already coordinate and provide to bodies such as the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE). It will also be important that all academics involved in teaching have recognised Teaching Qualifications – here at Bath there is likely to be a major push to ensure this happens. Three years-worth of metrics will be used for TEF and they are
- National Student Survey (NSS) - for info on students’ perceptions of the quality of teaching, assessment, feedback, academic support
- Destination of Leavers from HE (DLHE) – the annual survey of recent graduates which provides info. on what our graduates are doing e.g. are they in ‘graduate’ employment or further study or unemployed!
- Higher Educations Statistics Agency (HESA) data – the annual return which is prepared by SREO and which covers recruitment and retention (in broad terms the number of ‘student bums on seats’)
- In the future TEF might also include additional metrics e.g. Longitudinal Earnings Outcome (LEO) data (what type of employment graduates have 5 years after graduation).
Each University also submits a written report (limited to 15 pages – the font and margin sizes have also been specified). This written report should explain or comment on any anomalies in the metrics (contextualise the data) but primarily focus on the impact and effectiveness of teaching. The ‘student voice’ is also supposed to be clear within the written report. Ultimately each University’s written submission will be published.
The metrics and written submission are then considered by the TEF Assessment Panel, chaired by Prof Chris Husbands, VC at Sheffield Hallam University (appointed by the government for 2 years). The TEF Panel will announce the outcomes and award Universities Gold, Silver or Bronze ratings which are valid for 3 years. If a University has been awarded a ‘bronze’ it could choose to reapply to TEF in subsequent years to try and raise its rating but otherwise you keep your rating for three years.
What’s the timeline?
We’re in the first ‘proper’ year of TEF (elements of the process were kick-started in 15/16 TEF year 1 which is why 2016-17 is referred to as TEF year 2).
The University submitted its written report at the end of January, the TEF Panel will now start reviewing all the metrics and reports from all participating Institutions and the outcomes will be announced in late May. We’ll find out whether we’ve got GOLD!!
Next year (2017-18) the TEF approach will applied to subject level pilots and in the following year (2018-19) taught postgraduate programmes will be included.
Not surprisingly there’s a lot of discussion and debate about TEF. Here’s a potted summary of views and opinions about TEF,
- There’s a general welcome for the focus on teaching and the quality of student’s learning experience, as it’s considered to be long overdue.
- There are hopes that the esteem and profile of teaching will be raised (compared to research).
- However there’s concern that the metrics themselves don’t actually tell you how ‘good’ or ‘excellent’ a University’s teaching is and in any case no-one really seems to be able to define what ‘Teaching Excellence’ is (although apparently everyone knows it when they see it). What for example can the metrics on post University destinations and employment tell us about the quality of teaching a student received?
- TEF ratings (gold, silver etc.) will be directly linked to the level of fees a University can charge its students. From 2018-19 those Universities with a gold or silver rating will be allowed to increase undergraduate fees at a higher rate than those Universities with a bronze rating. Over time this will lead to a widening gap between higher and lower fee charging Universities. The NUS is particularly unhappy about the link between TEF and fee levels and has voted to boycott the National Student Survey (NSS) in protest. As the NSS scores are one of the key TEF metrics it’s not entirely clear what impact the boycott will have.
- The NUS is also concerned that the reliance and focus on metrics will drown out the ‘student voice’
- There are significant reputational implications for Institutions awarded a bronze or even a silver award. Who wants to go to a University that’s not got gold?
- Subject level TEF will be a whole new challenge – what happens if at a subject level you’re rated bronze but at a university level you're rated gold (already being referred to as medal clash)?
What’s been happening here at Bath
The University’s written report went in to the TEF Panel at the end of January. I don’t know what went into the report or who was consulted but I should think the Students’ Union was involved. There’s a real drive towards getting all academic staff involved in teaching to have formal Teaching Qualifications, which you may have heard discussed in various fora. The Bath branch of the NUS is formally participating in the boycott of NSS (more details can be found here: https://www.nus.org.uk/Documents/Boycott%20the%20NSS%20Flyer_.pdf.
And if you’re interested in finding out more…
Come and have a chat with me (Rachel Summers) or Selina - we most definitely do not have all the answers but might be able to point you in the right direction to find them.