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White Paper: what next for government’s Teaching Excellence Framework?

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The higher education White Paper, published yesterday, provided more information on the government’s proposals for higher education in England. In particular, it included further detail on proposals for a Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF), intended to give prospective students more information about the teaching they will receive on courses, and to incentivise excellent teaching.

To coincide with this, government has published the technical consultation dealing with the second phase of the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF 2).

To date, the TEF proposal has encouraged a sector-wide conversation about teaching and learning and has the potential to make a positive, long term contribution to practice. For this to happen, however, it is essential that the assessment framework supports a constructive conversation, rather than trying to create a hierarchy within higher education providers.

There are a number of areas where the White Paper has responded to the university sector’s concerns. The TEF will comprise three, rather than four levels, and for TEF 2, inflationary fee increases will be linked to baseline expectations. We also welcome the fact that the government is approaching TEF 2 as a ‘trial’ and will build in evaluation before subsequent iterations. A TEF 2 awards will be in place for 2017/18 admissions cycle – with the associated fee increase from 2018/19 – and would last for three years.

Subject to lessons learned, the White Paper also sets out proposals for TEF 3 to inform the 2018/19 admissions cycle (entering 2019/20). TEF 3 would split the fee increase with 50% of inflation for the baseline award and 100% for the upper levels. Notably, under this approach, prior increases would not be ‘banked’, opening up potential for reductions in fees which will need close scrutiny, given the potential for destabilisation. There is also a proposal to conduct discipline-level pilots.

The technical consultation represents an evolution of the broad assessment framework set out in the Green Paper. Assessments will be based on a combination of a core set of quantitative outcome metrics, allied to supporting evidence provided by the institution. There is the addition of commendation categories for different areas of practice. There is also further detail on judgement criteria, types of supporting evidence and the panel judgement process.

There are a number of issues and questions set out in the consultation that the sector will want to consider carefully and the document sets out 12 specific questions for feedback.

Some of the specific issues that Universities UK will be looking at closely include:

  • The relationship between TEF descriptions of excellence and quality assessment. There are some areas of helpful crossover between the TEF and new quality assessment system; for example, the reuse of similar quantitative metrics by the TEF and annual provider review. However, even with their different emphases, it is important that descriptors of excellence avoid conflict with the quality code.
  • Ensuring that judgements can deal with diversity based on transparent and robust criteria. For example, the consultation proposes to depart from benchmarking model used by the UK Performance Indicators. This would produce a greater spread in outcomes but will risk undermining statistical confidence in the measure.
  • The introduction of the TEF in England will likely have cross border impacts on the reputation of institutions in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Consideration may need to be given to how the assessment framework can take into account the differing contexts, particularly where cyclical review is retained given the additional burden of TEF.
  • The calibration of panel judgements, including the interpretation and weight attached to core quantitative metrics, any variations within the student population and different types of supporting evidence. Notably the technical consultation anticipates that the core metrics will produce a bell curve distribution with 20% meeting expectations, 20% outstanding and the remaining classed as ‘excellent’. The appointment of the Chair and judging panels will also be an important part of ensuring that the sector has confidence in judging the process.
  • The schedule also looks particularly challenging – with little scope for slippage – if the judgements are to be available in advance of the full 2017/18 admissions cycle. Notably there is currently no process for appeals which may be risky given the complexity of the exercise. Consideration will also need to be given to how awards will be presented and explained to students and their advisors to avoid causing confusion with other types of information.

The technical consultation itself is the main opportunity for the sector to shape the practical implementation of TEF 2. Following the response to the technical consultation in September, the call for applications will be published in October. As a result this consultation should be read with care by any institution considering applying as it sets out the broad assessment framework and types of evidence that will need to be collated as part of a supporting case.

We will also be working with our members to assess the proposals and provide feedback to the consultation.

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