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Food for thought: takeaways from the 2023 Teaching Excellence Framework

  • 5 March 2024
  • By Helena Lim

The 2023 Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) outcomes were announced on 28 September 2023, figure 1. At that time, just over 20 per cent of provider ratings were still ‘pending’ as they were being finalised by the TEF panel.  The OfS website advised that these ratings will be updated when the assessments are concluded. There has been a decrease in the number of institutions awarded Gold: 22% compared to 35% in 2017.

So, what early takeaways can we glean from the 2023 process? The TEF has been criticised for its focus on short-term metrics, such as student satisfaction and graduate employment rates, which can lead institutions to prioritise these metrics in the interim, even if it means sacrificing long-term quality. However, it has also been praised for helping students make better choices of where to study.

A 2018 survey by the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) found that 73% of students said that the TEF had influenced their decision of where to study. Of these students, 52% said that it had made them more likely to choose a university with a higher TEF rating.

Another study, conducted by the University of Bristol and published in the Journal of Further and Higher Education, found that the TEF had a positive impact on students’ engagement and learning outcomes. The study found that students at institutions with higher TEF ratings were more likely to be satisfied with their courses, to feel that their lecturers were supportive, and to believe that they were learning new things.

However, it is important to note that the TEF is not a perfect measure of teaching excellence. It is based on a limited set of data, and it does not consider all the factors that contribute to a student’s overall experience. Additionally, the TEF has been criticised for its lack of transparency. The methodology used to calculate the TEF ratings is not publicly available, and this makes it difficult for institutions to understand how they are being evaluated.

Chris Husbands, Chair of TEF, believes that results have the potential to push the boundaries of thinking around teaching, student experience and student achievement.  He suggests that the results:

  • can stimulate discussions about the connection between strategic improvement initiatives and outcomes for all students;
  • can prompt discussions regarding institutional strategies aimed at enhancing educational gain and how these strategies are assessed and evaluated;
  • can shift the focus towards the whole student life cycle, emphasising the relationships between student experiences and student outcomes, while also highlighting instances where these may diverge, particularly for specific groups of students.

The TEF process could and should inspire various educational institutions to look beyond what they are doing. After all, there is excellence to be found in every part of the sector and Husbands correctly emphasises that ‘we all have a moral responsibility to ensure that we open our minds to learn from institutions which are very different’, which is perhaps the most useful element of his perspective.

TEF results are important for institutions because they can impact on their reputation, attract students and secure funding. Institutions with high TEF ratings are more likely to be seen as being ‘good at teaching’, which can give them an advantage in the competitive market for students. And while there are certainly no silver bullets and no magic formulas for success, here is a list of takeaways for both institutions and the OfS to digest before the next TEF iteration.

Recommendations for institutions:

  • Diversify and verify data collection: Gather a variety of evidence, including qualitative data from surveys, focus groups, and learning outcomes assessments, as well as quantitative data from external sources like the National Student Survey (NSS) and the Graduate Outcomes Survey (GOS).
  • Connect data sources: Integrate the external data with internal institutional narratives to demonstrate the impact of teaching excellence on the overall learning experience.
  • Implement longitudinal analysis: Follow student progress over time to gain insights into long-term educational gains and assess the impact of institutional teaching practices on the entire academic journey.
  • Benchmark educational gain: Compare institutional progress with peers using benchmarking tools, such as the Being, Belonging, Becoming Survey to obtain a more comprehensive understanding of institutional performance.
  • Focus on employability and career outcomes: Monitor graduate employment rates, job placements, and industry partnerships to evaluate how well institutions prepare students for the workforce.
  • Integrate student engagement and satisfaction metrics: Highlight student engagement and satisfaction as key indicators of effective teaching and learning. Emphasise that learning is a collaborative process and encourage students to articulate their growth and development.
  • Co-create and co-evaluate: Involve students, alumni, employers, and community members in defining and evaluating educational gain to achieve a shared understanding and strengthen relationships between stakeholders.

Recommendations for the OfS:

  • Maintain flexibility: Adopt a broad and adaptable approach to evaluation that accommodates diverse teaching methodologies, disciplines, and student demographics to ensure fair assessment across different contexts.
  • Prioritise long-term outcomes: Focus on long-term student outcomes rather than short-term metrics, acknowledging that institutional initiatives take time to mature, and that learning is a continuous process.
  • Explore alternative measures of gain: Incorporate measures of student engagement, critical thinking, and practical application of knowledge alongside traditional metrics like student satisfaction and employment rates.
  • Utilise the TEF process for professional development: Encourage institutions to invest in training, workshops, and programmes that enhance teaching skills and pedagogical approaches.
  • Adopt a broader lens: Assess teaching excellence from a wider perspective by considering factors like inclusivity, diversity, and the incorporation of student feedback. This ensures that the framework encompasses the broader educational journey.
  • Celebrate diversity and innovation: Recognise that the strength of the higher education sector lies in its diversity and encourage the use of innovative teaching methods, technology integration, and interdisciplinary approaches to foster experimentation and the development of teaching practices that cater to evolving student needs.
  • Enhance transparency and communication: Provide clear and timely information about TEF methodology, results, and feedback to institutions and the public to promote understanding and trust in the process.

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