Universities UK response to the Teaching Excellence Framework technical consultation for year two

The Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) is being introduced in England following a Conservative manifesto commitment during the 2015 General Election. Universities UK welcomes the government’s commitment to encouraging excellent practice in teaching and learning through the TEF.

The UK higher education sector’s longstanding commitment to improving and developing teaching and learning practice has consistently translated into high levels of student satisfaction and attainment across the sector and in positive comparisons to our international rivals. 

Developing and introducing a new initiative such as the TEF is a complex exercise. For it to be workable and helpful to students and university teaching it must be well designed and properly implemented. To ensure the TEF is effective in achieving this aim, we believe that it should be developed in line with the following principles. The TEF should:

  • support institutional improvement of teaching
  • give students useful information about teaching to inform choices
  • respect the institutional diversity of the sector
  • encourage pedagogical diversity and innovation
  • preserve and promote the international reputation of the UK sector
  • minimise bureaucratic processes and costs
  • avoid perverse incentives or unfair market distortion

To support this objective we work with our members, government and sector agencies to shape the development of the TEF. We also work to inform our members about developments and the potential implications for their institutions. Our work on the TEF is led by the Student Policy Network, Chaired by Professor Cliff Allan, Vice-Chancellor of Birmingham City University.

Our response to the Teaching Excellence Framework technical consultation

Our response sets out a number of areas that would benefit from further consideration or clarification. In summary, we make the following recommendations.

1. Future iterations of the TEF, including piloting of discipline-level assessments, should not proceed until lessons about the costs and benefits of TEF 2 have been learned.

2. The baseline ‘meets expectations’ award should be relabelled as ‘good quality’.

3. A programme of communications and engagement work should be developed with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, UK Trade and Investment, the British Council, the UK Higher Education International Unit and the Quality Assurance Agency.

4. The UK Higher Education Public Information Steering Group should lead testing and research to ensure that the TEF makes a valuable contribution to student decision making.

5. The sector, through the assessment panel and the chair, should own the criteria of excellence and associated award judgments.

6. The TEF should use a criteria-based approach to grading, and guidance to the assessment panel should avoid ‘anchoring’ judgements against predetermined distributions.

7. The relative weighting and interpretation of the different components, including the core metrics, contextual evidence and institutional submissions, should be established by the assessment panel and made clear to applicants.

8. The TEF should not attempt to make judgements based on procedural and non-comparable forms of evidence, such as:

  • weighted contact hours and class size measures
  • proportional measures of investment in teaching and learning
  • details of experience and contractual basis of staff who teach
  • learning gain and distance travelled by students

9. There should be a process for clarification of institutional submissions prior to judgements or a mechanism for appeals against judgements built into the schedule.

9. The benchmarking methodology used by the TEF should follow the model developed by the UK Performance Indicators.

11. The relationship and delineation between the evolving quality assessment system across the UK and the TEF should be kept under review, including:

  • identifying opportunities for streamlining and focusing the TEF assessment framework
  • clarifying the relationship between TEF judgements and annual provider review

12. Consideration should also be given to the role of the Higher Education Data Landscape Steering Group to ensure alignment with wider changes in the data landscape that will affect future iterations of the TEF.

13. There should be agreement between the relevant national authorities to ensure a coherent UK-wide approach to the TEF that is responsive to the different national contexts.

14. A full evaluation should be conducted on completion of TEF 2 that includes consideration of the costs and benefits of the exercise and its contribution to student decision making.


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