The Teaching Excellence Framework, or TEF, is a scheme launched by the government. At its core, it should be trying to do what it says on the tin – measure and define what makes excellent teaching.
But what IS it?
It’s a voluntary scheme that universities enter into, and they all get awarded a ranking of bronze, silver or gold based on ‘teaching excellence’ and student outcomes.
Why did you put ‘teaching excellence’ in quotation marks?
Because the metrics used to measure teaching excellence are hotly debated In Students’ Unions and elsewhere. Some people believe they aren’t a valid measure of what excellent teaching actually is.
Okay, so what do they measure?
There are a few metrics. They include continuation rates (i.e. how many students progress into their next year of study) and employment outcomes (i.e. how many students are getting jobs after graduation, and what kind of work it is).
Previously, they’d also used National Student Survey (NSS) data. The NSS is a survey filled out by final year undergraduate students to provide their feedback on teaching, assessments and their overall satisfaction with their course.
Okaaaaay, so why is it controversial?
Graduate jobs aren’t really a good method of measuring what the teaching quality was like at university. It could be related, sure, but is it wrong to go into a job that doesn’t require a degree just because you, well, have a degree? Choices like this, and other issues that are at least partially caused by the job market shouldn’t have a say in something that measures teaching quality.
In addition, things like continuation rates hit some universities harder than others. If your university has a great widening participation agenda (like ARU does) to bring in students from minority or less well-off backgrounds, they’re also more likely to have students drop out. Students don’t always leave because the teaching’s not great, it’s far more likely to be because of health issues, financial issues, or other problems. The scores in the TEF are benchmarked against other similar institutions, but this is one that’s hit ARU heavily.
In addition to all of that, the government was planning on using TEF to raise tuition fees. The higher the award your institution got, the more money they were allowed to raise their fees by. In a world where fees are already monstrous, that wasn’t something a lot of people were keen on. Students’ Unions launched boycotts of the NSS survey mentioned above, as it seemed wrong to many people to use student feedback as a means to raise their fees.
It's also really important to note that all these metrics can have really big influences on the mental health and wellbeing of academics - they can end up spending a lot of their time making sure their teaching can be justified as being 'excellent' rather than actually planning what they're doing with their classes. There's also the argument that students get treated as numbers rather than people - and it's not hard to see why that's a problem.
Does that clear things up? If not, feel free to get in touch, or have a look at HEFCE’s guidance.