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Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF)

The government is introducing a ‘Teaching Excellence Framework’ (TEF) to the higher education sector in England. It will have significant impact on all providers of undergraduate degrees and in time it will also affect postgraduate taught education. The TEF will use a combination of data (referred to as ‘metrics’) and a written submission from the HE provider to assess the teaching quality of individual HE providers. This assessment will lead to providers being awarded a ‘TEF rating’ which in turn is linked to an institution’s ability to raise tuition fees in line with inflation.

This document outlines the main features of the TEF in a straightforward, easily accessible way, drawing on extensive technical documentation and other information published by the government and the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE). The hyperlinks can be used to navigate the content and cross-references are inserted where relevant. Additional questions that you would like to see answered in a future version of this document should be sent to g.molyneaux@salford.ac.uk.

Note that the contents of this page largely concern the ‘TEF Year 2’ assessment process which occurred in the 2016/17 academic year and affects the tuition fees applicable in the 2018/19 academic year. This is because the TEF is being introduced in phases and the first year of TEF was ‘light touch’ in terms of the criteria that needed to be met. See What is the timetable for implementing the TEF? for further details about TEF in Years 1 and 2. We do not yet have the full details of how the TEF will operate in Year 3, although we are expecting changes as signalled in the Lessons Learned report published in September 2017.

FAQ

The Teaching Excellence Framework, commonly referred to as the ‘TEF’, is a government system to monitor, assess and rate the quality of teaching in Higher Education providers in England. It is intended to differentiate the quality of teaching over and above the threshold, or baseline, setby national quality assurance frameworks. See What is the relationship between the TEF and quality assurance?

Universities and other HE providers that participate in the TEF will receive a rating of Gold, Silver or Bronze.

The Government is introducing the TEF as a way of:

  • ‘Better informing students’ choices about what and where to study
  • Raising esteem for teaching
  • Recognising and rewarding excellent teaching
  • Better meeting the needs of employers, business, industry and the professions’

No. The TEF applies to all HE providers in England, although those in the devolved nations can choose to participate if they wish. Participation for English providers (universities, FE colleges, specialist and private organisations) is voluntary, and free, but organisations that do not take part cannot raise their tuition fees abovecurrent levels: £9,000 for those with an access agreement; £6,000 otherwise. See also How is the TEF linked to tuition fees?

The TEF will be introduced in phases, with the results being announced in time to inform student choices about going to university, e.g. Year 2 awards were published in summer 2017 to inform students applying in autumn 2017 to start an undergraduate degree in autumn 2018.

Detailed metrics were not used in Year 1 (2016) of the TEF and providers are able to charge the full inflationary tuition fee uplift (£9,250) from autumn 2017 if they:

  • have a successful quality assurance award;
  • have an approved Access Agreement; and
  • offer programmes that are eligible for finance in the form of student loans.

In Year 2 (2017), a range of metrics were used in combination with a written submission made by the HE provider to determine the TEF award. The rating applies to the whole organisation. Pilot assessments will take place at subject level in Year 3 (2018) and Year 4 (2019), with a view to subjectbased assessment being rolled out in Year 5 (2020).

See also What will be assessed by the TEF and How is the TEF linked to tuition fees?

The TEF uses a broad definition of ‘teaching excellence’ and uses a combination of metrics and a 15 page written submission made by the HE provider to form a ‘holistic’ view of the provider’s teaching quality. Together these elements form the ‘assessment framework’which is shown in Diagram 2.

The assessment framework looks at three aspects of quality: Teaching Quality, Learning Environment, and Student Outcomes and Learning Gain. Proxy indicators will be employed to evidence the extent to which excellence is demonstratedby HE providers, using data generated by existing processes:
  • the National Student Survey (NSS);
  • student non-continuation (retention) data as returned to HESA; and
  • the Destinations of Leavers from Higher Education survey (DLHE).

These datasets are collectively referred to as TEF ‘core metrics’. Additionally, each core metric is provided at a more granular level by certain student groups - called ‘split metrics’ – which reflect the government’s widening participation priorities. See What are TEF metrics? for further information about core and split metrics.

TEF assessors will look at the University’s core and split metrics, together with our provider submission, and make an assessment about the extent to which we meet the TEF criteria for each aspect of quality. There are ten criteria in total, four each for Teaching quality and Learning Environment, and three for Student outcomesand learning gain. The TEF criteria are shown in Appendix 1.

The Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) is responsible for implementing Year 2 of the TEF on behalf of the government. A pool of TEF assessors comprising academic and student representatives has been appointed. Assessors will work in teams to review participating providers’ metricsand their written submission, and make recommendations on TEF awards to the TEF Panel which is responsible for deciding the assessment outcomes. The Panel is chaired by Professor Chris Husbands, Vice-Chancellor of Sheffield Hallam University, and membership includes students, academics, widening participationexperts and employers. Panel membership can be found on the HEFCE website at: http://www.hefce.ac.uk/lt/tef/tefprocess/tef2/.

As described in What will be assessed by the TEF? existing data sources comprise the TEF metrics: certain NSS categories, HESA non-continuation (retention) data and the Destinations of Leavers from Higher Education survey (DLHE). Three year averages will be used for each metric as shown in Table 1. Notethat the data that will be used to determine the University’s Year 2 award has already been collected.

Each core metric will be further split according to the categories shown in Table 2 so that TEF assessors will be able to see if there are differences between widening participation groups.

TEF metrics form the basis for arriving at a provider’s rating which is described in How are providers rated?

Universities and other HE providers that participate in the TEF receive a rating of Gold, Silver or Bronze. Assessors follow a three step process in forming a view about which rating to recommend to the TEF Panel. The process is described below and illustrated in Diagram 3.

Step 1

TEF assessors start with the core and split metrics which lead to an initial ‘hypothesis’ or judgement. Assessors are also provided with contextual information about a provider, for example, size, location and student population, and maps to aid interpretation of the employment/graduatedestination metrics. The purpose of this contextual data is to help the assessors understand the University’s nature and operating environment, but this information does not contribute to the TEF rating awarded.

The metrics are judged by reference to an institution’s benchmark for each to take account of ‘factors that have an effect but which are not under the control of a provider, specifically students’ characteristics and the subjects they study’ (TEF Technical Consultation for Year Two, p.23). Factors that are taken into account inthe benchmarks are shown in Appendix 2.

The institution’s table of metrics provided to TEF assessors are marked with flags to indicate whether the actual value is considered significantly better or worse than the benchmark. Significantly means at least two standard deviations and at least 2 percentage points away from the benchmark.

  • If there are three or more positive flags and no negative ones the initial judgement is Gold
  • If there are two or more negative flags the initial judgement is Bronze, regardless of the number of positive flags
  • All other cases are initially Silver

Step 2

The evidence presented in the provider submission is used to decide whether the initial judgement based on metrics should be changed. The more clear-cut performance measured by the core metrics, the less likely it is that the initial hypothesis will change in either direction in light of further evidencein the provider submission.

Step 3

A holistic view of both the metrics and provider submission is taken to arrive at a judgement, using the TEF rating descriptors for Gold, Silver and Bronze. Notification of our TEF rating includes: (1) a short statement of findings on why a particular rating has been awarded; and (2) the institutionalTEF rating. Note that we receive a rating for the University overall, not in each aspect of quality.

Institutions that are participating in the TEF are invited to provide additional information in a written submission of up to 15 pages. Apart from the overall length limit the provider submission is not prescribed. A provider may use it, for example, as an opportunity to add further context-specificinformation, support or explain the reasons for performance against the metrics or make specific reference to particular groups based on the split metrics. The emphasis should be on demonstrating the impact and effectiveness of teaching on the student experience and outcomes. It should avoidfocus on descriptions of strategies or approach but should focus on impact, across the entire provision, not pockets of excellence. Assessors will be looking for evidence of excellence against the TEF criteria that may not be fully apparent from consideration of the metrics alone. Thetype of evidence that may be used in the provider submission is shown in Appendix 3.

The TEF Panel award ratings of Gold, Silver or Bronze if, based on the evidence considered by the Panel, it seems that the teaching provision is:
Gold: ‘consistently outstanding and of the highest quality found in the UK Higher Education sector’
Silver: ‘of high quality, and significantly and consistently exceeds the baseline quality threshold expected of UK Higher Education’
Bronze: ‘of satisfactory quality’

Of the 134 providers that participated in Year 2, 33% achieved Gold awards, 49% were awarded Silver and 18% received Bronze.
Ratings awarded in Year 2 are valid for three years, as long as the provider continues to meet the eligibility requirements (i.e. successful quality assurance award, approved Access Agreement and courses that are eligible for student loans).
A successful quality assurance outcome is a pre-requisite for entry to the TEF. Historically, quality assurance visits been carried out periodically, typically every five to six years, by the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA). Various forms of quality assessment that have been applied to English higher education providers and so there isno single term for the review process. The University’s last QAA visit took place in 2013 in the form of ‘Institutional Review’ and had a successful outcome. Different assessments operate in Wales and Scotland, and for different types of providers, e.g. Further education colleges and private providers.In relationto TEF, a successful quality assurance outcome indicates that a provider has achieved the required baseline quality threshold for entry to the TEF. The TEF aims to build on this by identifying systematic teaching excellence that exceeds the baseline requirements. So TEF and quality assuranceare two separate processes and providers that participate in the TEF will not be retested against the baseline quality threshold.
Providers in England that currently have a TEF award have been able to increase their fees in 2017/18 in line with inflation - to £9,250. The measure of inflation used is the Retail Price Index or RPI. The Higher Education and Research Act (2017) requires a major independent review of the TEF to takeplace before provider ratings are linked to differential tuition fees. This review is due to report by the end of 2019 to inform tuition fees in 2020/21. However, the Prime Minister’s pledge on 1 October to freeze tuition fees at £9,250, means that it is now unlikely that TEF will belinked to tuition fee increases in the way originally intended.