Teaching Excellence Framework and Student Outcomes at the crossroads?

  • Dr Geoff Stoakes
  • 15 June 2018
  • Posted in: Education & Training

This is a critical juncture for the great experiment which is the Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework.  A number of stars are coming into alignment.

Firstly, the results of TEF Year 3 (the second institution-level) TEF were published on 6 June and we can start to assess whether the refinements following the lessons learned exercise following the first assessment round have had a marked effect. For example, the halving of the weight attached to the each NSS metric was a potential game-changer throwing greater emphasis on continuation and DLHE/LEO data and perhaps benefitting those ‘high tariff’ institutions to the detriment of those with lower intake tariffs and possibly of those institutions focused on widening participation. Also, how have institutions responded to the challenge of demonstrating that they are ‘taking genuine steps to tackle grade inflation’ as part of their response to questions about the rigour and stretch posed by their programmes?

Secondly, the first year of the subject-level TEF pilots is nearing completion. Which model of assessing subjects will have found favour with the 50 piloting institutions – model A  (‘by exception’), model B (‘bottom up’)? Possibly a newly minted Model A1will emerge.

Thirdly, the DfE’s consultation on subject-level TEF closed on 21 May 2018.

It will be interesting to note how the sector has responded to the suggestion of introducing a measure of teaching intensity into the TEF. The published responses suggest that it is ill-suited to the diversity of provision and delivery across higher education. And will the results of such a measure be meaningful to prospective students?

Fourthly, on the subject of students, the results of DfE’s research into student opinion on the TEF are due to be released soon. Did current first year students and prospective students for 2018-19 make use of the TEF year 2 results to inform their choice of institution?

The results of all four processes will feed into the independent review of the TEF due to start in the autumn of 2018 and to be completed during 2019.  One wonders whether the TEF, now a condition for English institutions’ on-going registration with the Office for Students, will be difficult to turn round or stop.  And what will happen to the proposal to link TEF ratings and student fees, which has been parked because of considerable hostility from students unions and UCU, in particular? 

Into this mix one has to add the priorities of the new HE minister Sam Gyimah. Will there be row back on some of his predecessor’s seeming attempts to use the TEF as all-purpose lever to focus institutions on persistent concerns about value for money for students, which underpin the introduction of Teaching Intensity supplementary metric and about degrees losing their value via grade inflation? The new Minister’s expressed commitment to the student cause makes it unlikely that he will want the TEF to be consigned to the dustbin of history.

Assuming that this is the case, one needs to consider the consequences – intended or unintended – of having the TEF as a permanent part of the HE firmament.  Will it really lead to a significant re-balancing of institutional priorities between teaching and learning, and research? Certainly the institutional mood music and real changes in reward and recognition strategies in some institutions would indicate that change is in the air. But as REF 2021rises above the horizon will this progress stall? Furthermore will the increased emphasis on employability and LEO data about graduate salaries diminish institutional enthusiasm for trying to tackle deep-rooted problems of differential outcomes for students from different POLAR quintiles?  Small changes of emphasis in student recruitment practice might be difficult for the OfS and the Director of Fair Access and Participation to detect and to address.

Today’s conference should end some of star-gazing about the future, drawing as it does, on both recent research on the TEF Year Two provider submissions and first-hand evidence from TEF experts from the Office for Students,  the TEF assessment panel and institutional practitioners.

  • Teaching Excellence Framework
  • TEF
  • Article Author

About Dr Geoff Stoakes

Dr Geoff Stoakes joined the HEA in 2012. He has considerable experience of senior management in UK higher education.

Geoff is Head of Research at the Advance HE and has overseen the publication of a wide range of research publications, including Implications of ‘Dimensions ofquality’ in a market environment by Graham Gibbs (HEA, 2012).

He has exp…