A new HEPI report Going for Gold: Lessons from the TEF provider submissions by Diana Beech, HEPI Director of Policy & Advocacy, provides the first detailed analysis of the information submitted by universities for the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF).

The TEF ranks universities on teaching quality using data and 15-page ‘provider submissions’. In 2017, 46 leading higher education institutions achieved a Gold award, 67 secured Silver and 25 only managed Bronze. One-quarter moved up or down according to the evidence they submitted.

HEPI Director, Nick Hillman, said:

‘When the Teaching Excellence Framework was announced, the Government promised it would not be “big, bossy or bureaucratic”. It has become all three because universities don’t want to be measured on data alone.

‘Most institutions submitted a wealth of information, although a handful did not engage properly, with one submitting just four sentences out of a maximum 15 pages. It was worth engaging properly because many institutions jumped a category and one leapt from Bronze to Gold during the process. The best prepared submissions delivered success comparable with the famous “incremental gains” of the British Olympic Cycling team.

‘Jo Johnson, the Universities Minister, wants the TEF to be his legacy and it is not going to disappear any time soon. So this analysis is essential reading for any university seeking to move up our world-class higher education sector.’

Diana Beech, HEPI’s Director of Policy and Advocacy and the author of the report, said:

‘The TEF was especially challenging this year – its first full year – because institutions were not able to learn from earlier rounds. Although it is a constantly moving beast, the provider submissions are set to remain constant. So it is vital higher education institutions understand what worked this year if they want to do even better next time around.

‘My report is designed to crack the code for success. Getting the tone, style and content of the submissions right is key. This means listening to students, emphasising staff development and learning from shortcomings. Above all, it means focusing on the individual strengths of each institution. If the TEF had a motto, it would read: “Be true unto yourself”.’

In a Foreword to the report, Professor Chris Husbands, Vice-Chancellor of Sheffield Hallam University and Chair of the official TEF Panel, writes:

‘In the TEF methodology, metrics generate hypotheses and anchor initial judgements, but they do not determine outcomes. It is for this reason that this report makes a valuable contribution to the sector by highlighting some of the most influential elements of the accompanying provider submissions.

‘As chair, I was, and remain, determined that the role of assessment is to make a judgement across a range of data, drawing the various TEF sources into analytic tension. In this context, the best provider submissions did not describe initiatives – of which no institution is short – but systematically demonstrated the difference they had made. Change initiatives carried conviction when part of a coherent strategy for improvement which commanded support across the institution, and assessors were able to deploy a range of techniques and tools to interrogate the consistency, coherence and conviction of submissions.’

Notes for Editors:

The report examines around one-third of the provider submissions for institutions identified by Times Higher Education as having moved category during the assessment process.

The paper recommends universities’ TEF submissions:

  • adopt a clarity of tone, whether it is confidence, pride or humility;
  • convey a commitment to research-led teaching;
  • consider factors beyond the lecture hall that contribute to learning;
  • give examples of student union co-operation and other student input;
  • show investments made in facilities, including digital, and their impact;
  • emphasise the accessibility of facilities for disadvantaged students;
  • keep any quotations from staff and students concise and to the point;
  • use quantitative evidence from a range of sources to support claims;
  • refer to partners, investors and employers and any relevant awards;
  • employ visual aids to highlight key facts; and
  • convey individuality by mentioning concepts that define the institution.