Later this morning this year’s teaching excellence framework (TEF) results will be published. This will be the third set of institution-level results to be published, with 282 universities and colleges currently holding TEF awards – whether new this year or continued from a previous year.
These results are also the last to be published under the current version of the TEF. Over the next few months, the exercise will be revised in response to the independent review of the TEF being carried out by Dame Shirley Pearce and the outcomes of the subject-level TEF pilots, as well as the learning from the three cycles of institution-level TEF.
Over these three years the TEF has found examples of excellence in every corner of higher education, in all regions, for all types of provider serving all types of students. For all the challenges inherent in the TEF, this has been the overwhelming experience of the exercise.
As chair, I’ve probably read more TEF submissions, and worked through more TEF metrics, than anyone else, and I never cease to be moved by the quality of work which is undertaken across the sector, whether in large multi-faculty universities, specialist institutions, further education colleges or newer entrants to the sector.
Three years on, the world is in a different place
Over the three cycles of institution-level TEF, of course, the sector has been changing. The 2017 Higher Education and Research Act has brought all higher education providers into a common regulatory framework. The institutions assessed for TEF year four – this year’s TEF – were certainly more varied in type than those assessed for TEF year two, the 2017 assessment. But the underlying approach and methodology has remained the same, and has now been used across what is an increasingly diverse sector. Multi-faculty institutions are now the minority of providers, albeit they still teach the overwhelming majority of students.
In total 64 institutions were assessed for and received a full TEF award this year, of which 13 were entering the TEF for the first time. Each was different, and the panel were impressed by the quality and diversity of applications. The TEF process allowed us to explore the different ways in which higher education institutions focus on teaching excellence and student outcomes, on ensuring they do the best they can for their students. Once again, we found excellence across the whole range of the sector.
Throughout the TEF, assessors and panel members worked with exceptional professionalism and sophistication, drawing together the evidence from core, split and supplementary metrics and institutional submissions to reach rounded and robust overall judgements. It has been a real privilege to work with the assessors, panel and the Office for Students (OfS) team, all rapidly maturing in their experience of the TEF and all working together to create as robust a set of assessments as they can.
Benchmarking best practice
There are, for me some key lessons from the TEF, which after three years now constitutes a valuable bank of information both for students and for universities and colleges.
I’m clear that the TEF has shifted the dial on the way institutions think not just about student experience but also about student outcomes and, especially, outcomes for different groups of students. I have noticed that institutions are now much more clear-sighted in the way they talk about differential outcomes and the TEF has stimulated a wide range of institutional initiatives to drive student success for all. The TEF assessors, panellist and team can be hugely proud of this.
A major contributor to this development has been the way the TEF has focused attention on benchmarked performance, looking at what institutions do for the students they recruit, and comparing, as far as possible, like with like. Again, this has been a powerful shift, and has highlighted outstanding practice in previously overlooked parts of the sector.
Shirley Pearce’s review of the TEF reports in the summer. I look forward to its findings, and to the response of the government and the OfS in working towards the next phase of the TEF. There will be changes to the TEF, of course, and so there should be. Just as the RAE and REF have evolved through experience and in the light of changing demands, so should the TEF. But we have laid the foundation for a powerful driver of change and improvement across the sector.
It has been a fabulous privilege to once again guide the TEF assessment process. As research has shown – even in its early years – it is having a beneficial effect and helping to further improve, for the benefit of students, what is already a world-leading higher education sector.