Since the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) was introduced in 2017, there have been growing debates about the efficacy and subjectivity of such a metric.
The government introduced TEF to not only provide students with a resource to assess teaching quality, but to also raise the standards of teaching excellence in the UK. The classifications of gold, silver and bronze are awarded to universities based on six metrics relating to teaching, academic support and progression to employment.
There is some contention that the focus on post-graduate employment is unfairly biased towards more privileged graduates, some of whom might obtain roles due to a wealth of personal industry contacts. Alongside this, top-tier universities provide a brand image which can be a huge stepping stone into the employment market.
On the other hand, a lack of understanding about the teaching quality of an institution can represent a huge grey area for prospective students when deciding where to invest their money, thus making such a metric highly appealing. Moreover, students consistently stress the importance of teaching quality in the QS UK Domestic Student Survey 2019.
We spoke to students to get their views on TEF and to determine its ongoing reach and impact in the third year since it was launched. Most of the prospective undergraduate students we interviewed had never heard of TEF. This suggests that there is a lack of awareness, which could be attributed to TEF’s relative novelty in the UK’s Higher Education sector. This is also consistent with the QS UK Domestic Student Survey 2019, which found that only half of the 1,700 prospective students surveyed were aware of TEF, indicating that its impact has been moderate so far.
Students’ views on TEF
“Rankings are definitely something that I look at when I’m thinking about which universities to choose but teaching efficiency is definitely really important as well, so I’d say a mixture between the two is ideal,” says Theodore, who is 17 and looking to study biological sciences in the UK. Sean, who is 17, from Switzerland and looking to study in the UK, agrees with Theodore that TEF is a positive addition to university rankings: “I think it needs to be somehow middle ground between the two. It needs to have the ranking but the at the same time it also needs to be at least pretty well received by the students, so as long as it’s a balance between the two then I think that would be the best.”
Sean feels positively towards TEF because he thinks it is more representative of student perception: “I think that’s (TEF) quite a good idea because then you get to hear the opinion of students, rather than just the just the professional’s opinion of how the universities are.”
Precious is 17 and looking to study criminology in the UK. She places great importance on teaching quality and suggests she would prioritize TEF over research impact: “The teaching standards (are more important) because the teacher can affect your grade a lot. If you don’t have a good relationship, or if the teacher doesn’t teach in a way that you would understand, then it can affect your grades. So, I think I would be more interested in the teaching side than the research side.”
Ester, who is also 17 and looking to study Law, agrees with Precious: “There are a lot of universities you could go to where you know the research is really good but if you’re not actually at the university you wouldn’t know how the teaching is. So, if we are offered something to let us know how the teaching standards are, I think it would be better than just knowing the research.”
Whilst many students are still not aware of TEF, it appears that prospective students are preoccupied with teaching quality and so generally receive TEF positively when they are educated about it. In addition to university rankings, TEF can help students make better informed decisions about where to study.
Find out more about students’ views in the QS UK Domestic Student Survey 2019.