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TEF results: the challenges of evidencing Educational Gain

  • 28 September 2023
  • By Emily Pollinger
  • This blog was kindly authored by Emily Pollinger, Policy and Programmes Manager (Education) at the University of Bath.
  • For more on the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF), see this HEPI report by Diana Beech on the lessons learned from its 2017 round.

Up and down the land in 2022, Word documents were opened, “Educational Gain” typed at the top, then the authors paused for a careful think.

How to distil the purpose and value of higher education into this definition? How to differentiate our definition so that what makes our educational offering distinctive is brought to the fore? How to articulate our definition to reflect our priorities as an institution? These were the issues we faced as we embarked on our TEF submissions.

The Educational Gain element of the TEF exercise was a stimulating exam question as it came with relatively little guidance as to how to approach this section of the submission, how to weigh it and how to evidence it (see p.31 of Regulatory Advice 22). Unlike other parts of the TEF assessment, it was not connected to the student outcome and experience measures used in OfS regulation – although providers could draw from these measures as part of their evidence base.

Interestingly, there was no penalty for not tackling this aspect of the Features of Excellence ‘a provider will not be prevented from being awarded higher TEF ratings solely based on an absence of developed educational gain measures.’ The proportion of providers that did and did not include a definition of Educational Gain in their TEF submissions will become clear once the provider submissions are published by the OfS in November.

It is an intimidating prospect to put forward a definition of Educational Gain to be judged by TEF panels and then made publicly available on the OfS website. However, at the University of Bath we know our strengths, our emphasis on practical ‘real world’ experiential learning based on our founding principles, and the ambitions and expectations of our students.

For several years we have worked hard to improve and refine the Student Experience at Bath in the broadest sense, not least with the appointment to a new post of Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Student Experience) in 2021. This focus is embedded in the four pillars of our University Strategy 21-26.

Bath is known for its culture of employability and the ethos at Bath is described in our Vision for Education.  Evolving from the Strategy and the Vision and reflecting our progress as an institution we produced what we hope is a meaningful and measurable statement.

Given the high quality and levels of ambition of our students, our courses are designed so as to be intellectually bold and academically stimulating with a strong emphasis on preparing our students for the leadership opportunities they will later encounter in their careers. We believe that what makes our educational offer distinctive is our strong emphasis on gaining the high-level skills needed to be able to apply advanced knowledge and sophisticated understanding, leading to strong prestigious employment opportunities.

Our students are engaged with education that is high quality, empowering and innovative, and our curricula address key challenges faced by people, organisations, and societies around the world.

Our definition was co-created with our Students’ Union as a shared understanding and common goal between students and staff allows the University to assess itself and the students to hold us to account as to the excellence of their education.

In the words of our Students’ Union Education Officer 2022/2023, Julia Kildyushova: ’To define the essence of Educational Gain, it was essential that we worked in partnership to really tease out the benefits to our students from studying at the University of Bath. Our students are ambitious, creative and determined and it’s important that their learning environment is set up in a way that allows them to fulfil their potential. It was therefore important that the definition of Education Gain captured how the university strives to create an educational experience that prioritises the future ambitions of our students.’

However, whilst the TEF exercise gave us the platform to set out our position, the constraints of the exercise meant that each provider’s definition was written in isolation. Indeed, this blog is being written, in a sense, blind as I have not had sight of any university’s provider submission or definition of Educational Gain other than our own.

Once the excitement of ratings day 28 September has died down, the real work will start when the provider and student submissions are published. It will be fascinating to see the commonalities and range of definitions across the piece and an opportunity for us to come together and share and learn from each other’s definitions.

Our combined statements of Educational Gain go to the heart of the ongoing debate regarding the purpose and value of Higher Education. The sector can use these statements to contribute to wider discussions regarding its political future.

And finally, an honourable mention to the TEF widows and widowers, partners, children and friends of TEF submission contributors who may have felt a little neglected as the 23 January deadline drew near. Speaking for myself, my grateful thanks to you.

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