VC Voice | Thursday, 22nd June 2017

Proud of Silver. Ambitious for Gold.

Vice-Chancellor Professor Malcolm Press discusses Teaching Excellence Framework and its impact

We have just achieved a Silver award in the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF). This means that we deliver high quality teaching, learning and outcomes for our students that consistently exceed rigorous national quality requirements.

The concept of the TEF dates back a couple of years and stems from concerns of some in the last government that university teaching wasn’t consistently strong, didn’t always deliver work-ready graduates and, with low contact hours in some subjects, sometimes failed to justify the tuition fee.  Whilst this perception can be criticised for being over-reliant on anecdote, it is only fair to acknowledge that no single data set existed to counter it.

The TEF is a way of ensuring that good teaching is recognised, as the Research Excellence Framework (REF) does with research.  The REF has existed for more than three decades in one form or another, and has had a profound effect on driving up the quality of research in our universities.  The TEF is likely to be equally influential, but it is going to be a long game.

The idea of student choice has been an important principle behind higher education reform.  The National Student Survey’s (NSS) original purpose when it was introduced in 2005 was to provide students with information to support their choice of course and university.  Today, prospective students have access to these data along with a wealth of other information intended to support choice.  The TEF is the latest addition to this family. 

The TEF was also intended to lead the way to allowing tuition fees to rise in line with inflation on the back of excellent performance.  The debate about whether taxpayers or students should fund university education has re-emerged and the full implementation of the link between fees and TEF outcomes has been delayed. 

So how are TEF ratings determined?  A panel of experts scrutinised six indicators: three from the NSS (teaching, assessment and feedback, and academic support scores); two employability metrics; and completion rates. The TEF is made more complicated by the fact that the educational and social capital of students entering universities differs markedly among institutions. This complexity is accounted for by comparing performance against the characteristics of entrants, including factors such as age, ethnicity and subject of study, giving each university a benchmark against which it is measured. Universities also submitted a statement to explain deviations from benchmarks and what’s being done to address them.

TEF results are categorised by the award of gold, silver or bronze status.  Our Silver award recognises the innovation and dedication of members of the University - a collective determination to inspire and support students.   The rating reflects the improvements that we have made over recent years and I am confident that the work that we have in train will propel us towards gold. 

But why am I confident?  First, the student voice is strong.  I am pleased that we have a positive working relationship with the Students’ Union: they helped us prepare our TEF submission; they sit on key bodies (the Board of Governors, Academic Board, and the University Education Committee); their voice is heard and their priorities make a difference (e.g. recent projects on assessment bunching, feedback, and timetabling).

Second, the environment is strong, both on campus and in the City, providing a range of opportunities that benefit teaching and learning. For example, students in the School of Art work with our partners in industry and the cultural sector to carry-out real world projects, and students in professional programmes in business and law, health and social care, and education, have similarly outstanding opportunities.

None of this would be relevant though if it were not for the capability and commitment of staff. TEF seeks to boost the status of teaching in universities, and it is only right to apportion credit for our achievement to our dedicated academic staff, as well as to those in professional services who support our learning environment.

When it comes to medals, we can learn from sport: investing in excellence, focusing on strengths, recognising and rewarding high performance, and creating a strong team spirit.  All are key to success and lie at the heart of our strategy.  Every encounter with a student is significant.  Every marginal gain matters.  And everyone can make a difference.  We should be proud of silver but ambitious for gold.

Read more about TEF and find our submission statement at

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