The subject TEF journey continues

People who work and study in higher education relish the opportunity to challenge and test ideas, and to think through how they can be applied in the real world for the benefit of society as a whole.

So for me it is fascinating to be involved in the Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework (TEF) – and particularly in piloting how it can work at subject level, rather than just provider level.

Maturity and ownership

Rightly, the TEF has generated plenty of robust debate and over the last year I have observed two emerging, complementary narratives.

Firstly, the TEF has been recognised as having the potential to become an accepted and valuable feature of the UK higher education landscape, with the ability to support higher education providers to produce and inspire the very best of learning, teaching and student outcomes.

The provider-level assessments culminating in the 2017 and 2018 TEF awards ran smoothly, and I have been struck by how the exercise has developed a sense of maturity in just two years. Most importantly, when I speak to colleagues throughout the sector, I hear more and more about how the TEF is continuing to focus minds on genuine and meaningful improvements for students.

Secondly, people are starting to look at TEF longer term as a powerful mechanism for raising esteem for teaching and ensuring that the higher education sector continues to meet the needs of prospective and current students, whatever their backgrounds. I can see the sector and its students increasingly taking ownership and responsibility for its development.

The TEF must stand for far more than simply being a good, technically sound process. To succeed, it has to recognise, reward and drive enhancement across the sector and underpin good quality information for students. Looking forward, it is right that we ask, as Universities UK has done, “what should the TEF look like in ten years’ time?”

Rigorous testing

So as we move towards a full subject-level TEF exercise in 2021, it is essential that we test rigorously and encourage debate on key aspects which will inform its final shape – and that is why for me it has been a huge privilege to lead the first pilot which concluded this year, and to be embarking on the second.

We have made great progress already. Following the first pilot, for the significant majority of higher education provision we have a workable way forward, drawing on the best aspects of the two models tested.

This week, we publish the guidance for the second year of the subject-level pilot, which marks the next step on this journey of collaborative development. The guidance clearly shows the influence of all the lessons learned from the first year, as well as from the Government consultation which concluded in the summer.

At the same time it is clear that some important aspects remain exploratory; there is more to unpick, challenge, clarify and simplify. We also need to ensure the process works well for the widest possible range of higher education providers. So I am looking forward to working with the fifty or so organisations of all types who will take part in this next pilot year, as we ask ourselves how best to achieve a subject-level TEF that will have the most value for students, universities and colleges, industry, employers and taxpayers in the future.

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