01 Mar 2019
The response restates our long-standing concerns with the TEF – namely that it does not take into account students with multiple or overlapping characteristics, its use of factors outside of the control of institutions, the way the information gathered is skewed towards the traditional, 3-years’ study, away from home student, and its reliance on salary data. None of the criteria in the TEF directly measure excellence in teaching, which is the aim of the TEF. They are, as widely acknowledged, proxies. They do not measure teaching excellence, or even excellence in learning. They measure satisfaction, perception, facilities within universities and a range of personal trajectories that occur after graduation. These are assumed to be proxies for excellent teaching, but in the renaming the exercise in 2017 to include “Student Outcomes” the government implicitly concedes it is not able to measure teaching excellence as such. Any other metrics and criteria will face the same challenges – they are going to be proxies and are likely to have the same sorts of issues if used in the TEF. An alternative solution could be to explain the criteria and metrics in a clearer way, focusing on what they are assessing and avoiding any implication that these are about teaching excellence or the quality of courses. They say important things about the higher education experience that should be heard, understood and engaged with.
Reshaping the TEF into 2 steps may address some of these concerns. Step 1 would be a submission that combines benchmarked metrics data drawn from central sources by the Office for Students with a statement from the provider that includes institutionally sourced data and evidence. Step 2 would be the holistic judgement where, as now, assessors review all of the evidence and make a best-fit judgement against the rating descriptors. The metrics data will still be available, but the TEF would benefit from each provider receiving an overall judgement at the end of the exercise, based on all of the available evidence rather than an interim judgement based on partial evidence that can prompt incorrect assumptions.