Another pause for TEF, more consultation on regulation

News on TEF and regulation suggest that the quality framework in England remains up for grabs.

David Kernohan is an Associate Editor of Wonkhe

In the bad old days, we used to get policy decisions communicated via a Circular Letter from HEFCE (OfS’ predecessor).

The Office for Students equivalent appears to be the “letter to accountable officers” or a blog post from Susan Lapworth, and it is through these means that we learn about the machinations regarding the Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework (TEF).

Though TEF has effectively been furloughed since 2018-19, holding a TEF award remains a condition of registration (B6) for all providers registered with England’s HE regulator. For this reason it is necessary to extend those 2018-19 awards for another year while OfS prepares the next iteration (that’s four different mechanisms with the same abbreviation so far, and yes we’ve been counting).

The catch is that these are 2018-19 awards that refer to data on the destinations of leavers in higher education who graduated nearly a decade ago. For this reason, providers are asked not to use their TEF awards in marketing or promotional materials from September 2021 – so bad news if you’ve just signed off on 80,000 copies of your prospectus for the year.

Also – and this is genuinely startling:

TEF awards will be removed from the Discover Uni website in September and UCAS also intends to remove them from its course pages, at our request. We will continue to publish the extended awards on the OfS website, which we will update in September to explain their historical nature

From Jo Johnson’s great hope as an intervention in information, advice, and guidance – to quote the Green Paper “prospective students will be able to use the TEF results to help inform their decisions about which institution to attend, and employers can consider it in their recruitment, rather than relying on the more imperfect proxies for teaching quality such as research success” – TEF has become the excellence framework that Must Not Be Named.

There are still attempts afoot to reanimate it – there will be a publication in July setting a direction of travel, and a full consultation in November, putting the next iteration of a possible TEF in 2023 – five years after the last attempt. Let’s hope that Shirley Pearce’s sound and evidence-based recommendations (and those of the ONS) are taken into account.

The usual policy saws on grade inflation will get another go round, and – intriguingly – there will be movement from OfS on essay mills and questions of rigour (for some reason OfS needs to be seen to respond to that daft story about spelling from a few weeks back).

Meanwhile, we are in the middle of an ambitious reform of the regulatory conditions that deal with student choice. The responses to the quality and standards consultation are still being digested, but we are told to expect a consultation relating to conditions relating to academic experiences, support and learning resources, assessment, and standards (B1, B2, B4, B5) in July, with the ever-contentious outcomes measure (B3) expected in November. This latter will be the basis of the baselines, with the use of absolute measures now written into proposed legislation (the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill).

Though the TEF is an entertaining distraction, it is these measures that we need to keep an eye on. The pandemic – and ministerial concern about the lack of personalised monitoring of teaching quality – has not halted the regulatory appetite for risk-based and data-led processes. The established, and internationally respected, UK Quality Code has formed the basis of a consensual yet intensive system of monitoring and assurance – will the new English process build on that experience or take the sector in the opposite direction?

5 responses to “Another pause for TEF, more consultation on regulation

  1. Prospectus production schedules are traditionally built around the spring UCAS Fairs, so would be months ago in a normal year, or at the latest for summer open days. It’s possible that some went later this year but I wouldn’t count on it.

    We’re gonna need a lot of tippex…

  2. ‘…(for some reason OfS needs to be seen to respond to that daft story about spelling from a few weeks back’ – Can someone enlighten me as to the spelling story please – I somehow seem to have missed that one! Thanks

    1. This was an April moral panic of the week regarding a decision by the University of Hull to assess the actual knowledge and skills of students rather than hold them to formal grammar and spelling rules.

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