What next for the Teaching Excellence Framework?
Applications for the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) – the system being created by government to measure the quality of teaching in universities – closed on Thursday 26 January and there was strong participation from the sector. In total 134 higher education institutions are participating, plus 94 FE colleges and 6 alternative providers, with a further 65 FE and alternative providers opting in for provisional awards on the basis of having a shorter data history. Although participation among English universities was nearly 100%, some of the decisions not to participate highlight the complexity of developing a single assessment system that can fairly represent the full diversity of the UK sector.
The Open University's decision not to participate reflects its unique status as a distance part-time provider that is open to all regardless of qualifications. In Scotland the TEF is an additional burden on top of the Enhancement Led Institutional Review process, a different model of improving the experience for students. TEF's financial incentives also play a part: the OU charge nowhere near the maximum £9000 undergraduate fee and there was no link to funding for Scottish institutions.
As we move into the assessment phase scrutiny of the assessment framework and how it deals with the diversity of sector will increase given the potential impact on reputations. There will be many questions facing the panel over the next couple of months as they formulate their judgement. Some of these include:
These challenges are all inherent in the design of a comparative assessment framework of something as complex as teaching and learning across a diverse sector. Clearly the core metrics cover important areas in their own right but can only be interpreted as vague proxies for teaching excellence. Given this, it has always been essential that there is scope for institutions to present their own evidence of their teaching and learning excellence and impact.
However, the more the assessment framework takes into account diversity and nuance, the more scrutiny there will be of how the panel approaches these trade-offs and interpretations. This is the challenge facing the panel and the capable hands of its Chair, Professor Chris Husbands, when formulating judgements. It will also be important that the lessons learned exercise is a comprehensive and robust evaluation of the process, something UUK has been asking for from the beginning.
Just as important is that the nuances and challenges inherent in TEF judgements, including what judgements do and don't cover, are clearly articulated to the intended beneficiaries of this process – prospective students in the UK, as well as their counterparts overseas. This requires more work between now and May when we will get the results.