The Teaching Excellence Framework: take two

The White Paper contains revised proposals for the TEF which BIS see as a key means to drive up quality in the sector through informing student choice. The core metrics are largely unchanged since the Green Paper’s original proposals although new metrics will be piloted, and this will all be subject to outcomes of the Technical Consultation also published today.

The key changes from the first version of the TEF we saw relate to the financial incentives that will apply, which were always the most contentious part of the TEF proposals: the link to fees will be delayed until year three of the new system. The government also clarify changes to scope and how use of metrics will evolve over what will now be a four year period of development.

Scope

The White Paper makes a number of revisions in relation to the scope of TEF proposals. In year one, the TEF will now be available for all providers delivering undergraduate courses that are designated for student support, including part-time courses. The Green Paper had previously stated that only providers with at least 50% of their students on HE courses would be eligible for TEF. From year four, the government will look to include postgraduate courses.

BIS has also confirmed that the devolved administrations have given their consent for institutions in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to participate in the first year if they want. BIS will continue to work with the devolved nations as the TEF develops to ensure that it is compatible. In year four BIS will look to include postgraduate taught courses, although this is the earliest point at which this will be considered.

Indicators and metrics

The metrics will evolve over the course of the four years of the TEF’s development. Much of this is in line with the proposals in the Green Paper and Budget, although a number of pilot phases will be introduced:

  • In year one: all providers with a positive QA award will receive a ‘meets expectations’ award, and will not have to apply to be considered.
  • In year two: new metrics will be trialled on a voluntary basis. Any provider who opts to apply will be guaranteed to receive ‘Meets Expectations’ providing they still have positive QA outcomes. Those wanting to apply for higher ratings will be assessed against against three core areas: – teaching quality; learning environment; and employment outcomes and learning gain. In addition to assessment against the original set of metrics (NSS scores, proportion in employment/ further education from DLHE, and retention rates) providers will also be able to submit quantitative and qualitative evidence to a panel.
  • In year three: the government will pliot further metrics such as measures of contact hours and teaching intensity and a ‘highly skilled’ employment metric (the Technical Consultation proposes that this is SOC codes 1-3). Providers receiving a meeting the baseline QA threshold will continue to receive a Meets Expectations award.
  • In year four: new metrics will be added, subject to findings from the pilot.

The Government also sets out a number of measures designed to ensure that those doing the most to support widening participation are recognised for this, a concern that came through heavily in the consultation. To protect against BIS propose that:

  • All providers will need to have an Access Agreement or publish a short statement setting out their commitment to widening participation and fair access.
  • Metrics will be benchmarked against a number of factors including prior attainment, subject and age, and will be split by POLAR quintiles.
  • The Director for Fair Access will make the TEF panels aware of any providers who he believes are actively gaming the TEF by reducing their intake of disadvantaged groups.

Ratings

Ratings will be awarded at the level of the institution until year four, and pending the findings of a pilot in year three, when disciplinary-level ratings will be introduced. The White Paper also announces that, contrary to the original proposals, providers will be rated on a three rather than four point scale: Meets Expectations, Excellent and Outstanding. From year two onwards ratings will last for a maximum of three years. Ratings in year one, based on QAA outcomes, will last for a maximum of one.

Incentives

The big change in the White Paper relates to incentives and the pace at which these will be brought forward.

In year’s one and two, financial rewards will be based on inflationary increases, depending on whether the providers is eligible to charge a £6,000 or £9,000 fee cap. However, contrary to some previous expectation, BIS has confirmed that this will be calculated on the more generous RPI (currently at 1 per cent compared to CPI of 0.3 per cent). This will mean that there is much greater incentives on providers to apply.

Variable fees will not come into play until year three at which point there will be two fee rates: those ‘Meeting expectations’ will be eligible for 50% of the inflationary uplift, while providers with a rating of Excellent or Outstanding will be eligible for 100% of the inflationary uplift. The government will shortly announce the fee caps for 2017/18.

The White Paper also clarifies that the TEF will be a history-blind system meaning that a provider’s loan cap is solely dependent on their current level and does not take into account track-record. This means that there is scope for fees to vary significantly over the period of a cohort. For example, where a provider’s TEF level drops for an academic year they will have to lower their fees for all existing students. Conversely, this also means that providers can increase fees mid-course where their TEF rating increases, but the White Paper states that this would only apply where universities have been explicit about the possibility of this in their terms (in line with consumer law).

Timeline for reforms

 Year 1Year 2Year 3Year 4
Unit of analysis:InstitutionInstitutionInstitutionDiscipline
Scope:U/GU/GU/GUG + possible PGT
Prerequisites:Satisfactory QA judgementSatisfactory QA judgementSatisfactory QA judgement + CMA complianceSatisfactory QA judgement + CMA compliance
Metrics:NoneNSS scores, DLHE 6m outcomes, RetentionNSS scores, DLHE 6m outcomes, Retention (contact hours/highly skilled employment metric piloted)All agreed metrics
Rating:Meets Expectations Meets Expectations, Excellent, OutstandingMeets Expectations, Excellent, OutstandingMeets Expectations, Excellent, Outstanding
Incentive:Inflationary increaseInflationary increaseVariable inflationary increaseVariable inflationary increase

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