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Next steps for the TEF

12 July 2016
William Hammonds

William Hammonds

Programme Manager
Universities UK


Universities UK today submitted its response to the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) technical consultation.

The consultation covers implementation of year two of the TEF (TEF 2) that will take place during autumn 2016 and into early 2017 with judgements available for the 2017–​18 admissions cycle. The proposals for longer-term development of the TEF and the link to fees was set out in the White Paper 'Success as a knowledge economy' with relevant powers being included in the Higher Education Bill as part of the formation of the Office for Students.

The development of the TEF from a Conservative manifesto pledge to a technical consultation on implementation in England took just over a year. During this time, it has encouraged widespread debate that reflects the sector's long-standing commitment to improving and developing teaching and learning practice. This has consistently been translated into high levels of student satisfaction and attainment across the sector and in positive comparisons to our international rivals.

However, the TEF is being implemented in a very different political and economic context.

Following the vote to leave the European Union, and with the transition to the new regulatory framework set out in the Higher Education and Research Bill, the UK higher education sector is facing a period of significant instability. The recruitment of overseas students is potentially at risk and economic forecasts are increasingly challenging, both of which have implications for the financial sustainability of the sector.

Universities UK has accepted the principle of making the link between an effective TEF and an inflationary increase in fees in order to give students and the public confidence in the value of their investment. However, given the complexity of the exercise it is essential that TEF 2 is clearly treated and presented as a test. This means that future iterations of the TEF, including piloting of discipline level assessments, should not proceed until lessons about costs and benefits of the process have been learned. In practice TEF 2 should focus on:

  • establishing what is realistic and desirable to assess through the TEF

  • ensuring judgements can be sufficiently robust and fair to justify the impact of awards

  • testing how judgements should be communicated clearly and effectively to students

  • providing a sound foundation for the future development of the TEF

In order to help achieve these objectives, UUK believes the following steps should be considered during this phase:

  • renaming the baseline 'meet expectations' award to 'good quality' to accurately communicate the good quality requirements expected in the UK

  • a role for the UK higher education public information steering group to lead work on the presentation of TEF judgements to ensure that they make a useful contribution to student decision making

  • a programme of communications and engagement work overseas to explain the TEF, its motivations and test status

TEF 2 should generate robust judgements that form the foundations for the future development of the framework.

In particular, it is essential that the panel owns the TEF's criteria of excellence and associated judgements.

There should be no assumptions about the distribution of awards and it is important that guidance to judging panels does not seek to anchor judgements in this way. Neither should judgements be based on procedural or non-comparable forms of evidence that have a contested link to excellence, such as contact hours and class sizes or the experience and contractual basis of the staff who teach students.

We are also clear that there should also be a full evaluation of the TEF to ensure that lessons are learned about the impact and costs of the TEF, on both higher education providers and from the prospective of students.

Developing and introducing a new initiative such as the TEF is complex. For it to be workable and helpful  to students and university teaching, it must be well-designed and properly implemented. We are pleased that the government has paused and is taking time to listen to the sector, and we look forward to seeing our concerns addressed and our solutions embedded in its foundations.

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