The TEF: One year in


As the dust settles from the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) year one and universities completing their next intake of students, we take a look at the impact it has had.

If you work in Higher Education, you will be very familiar with the TEF. Set out in 2016, the TEF is designed to link the funding of teaching to quality and not just ‘contact hours’, as a way to improve social mobility. By recognising excellent teaching, universities that flourish can increase the fees they charge students; and on the flipside, students have access to even more information when making choices of where or whether to study.

Almost 300 providers of degree-level qualifications opted in to the TEF (which is still voluntary in its participation). But how important are the TEF results? Should institutions be worried about their rating? Does it really matter and who really cares? From student services to international student recruitment, our post will respond to some of the most common questions/myths around the TEF, to help you and your university decide if it’s worth ‘going for gold’.

"Students have access to even more information when making choices of where or whether to study".

What are the Teaching Excellence Framework results?

TEF awards are decided by an independent panel of experts including academics, students and employer representatives looking range of measures centred around 'teaching quality', 'learning environment' and 'outcomes'. All major industry ‘data sources’ are used to provide the best possible picture of a universities teaching quality such as DHLE and NSS as well as HEFCE, HESA, and HESPA.

To break this down further, the actual measures include:

  • How courses are designed and assessed.
  • The amount of contact time students typically spend with tutors.
  • How academically stretched students are.
  • How well students develop their knowledge throughout a course.
  • Official statistics around drop-out rates, student satisfaction and graduate employment.

A gold rating tells you that the university has consistently scored highly across the board, whereas a silver or bronze rating indicates the institution hasn't scored top marks in one - or more - areas.

"How important are the TEF results? Should institutions be worried about their rating?"
What do the Gold, Silver and Bronze awards mean?

A provider taking part in the TEF is awarded:

  • Gold for delivering consistently outstanding teaching, learning and outcomes for its students. It is of the highest quality found in the UK.
  • Silver for delivering high quality teaching, learning and outcomes for its students. It consistently exceeds rigorous national quality requirements for UK higher education.
  • Bronze for delivering teaching, learning and outcomes for its students that meet rigorous national quality requirements for UK higher education.


Do students use the TEF results?

The TEF is effectively another resource for students, both domestic and international, to help them decide where to go to university in the UK. The main difference is that the TEF is a government-endorsed resource and some prospective students may consider that to be very important when choosing a university. As universities are classified according to a series of metrics focused on teaching quality, the TEF offers students a resource to see which institutions excel in this area, as well as determining which universities are good for graduate prospects and student satisfaction.

Eight of the 21 English Russell Group universities achieved a gold rating with three members landing a bronze rating. The remaining 10 universities in the Russell Group were awarded silver. In contrast, universities such as Robert Gordon and University of Huddersfield (not traditional high-rankers), also awarded gold. This could mark a sea-change in the way students view a potential place of study – even more so if tuition fees are linked closely.

"The TEF is effectively another resource for students, to help them decide where to go to university in the UK"

University Partnerships Programme surveys found that 84% (2016) said that a good rating would influence their choice and 70% (2017) said the TEF would influence their choice. It is interesting that - according to this survey, at least - the influence of the TEF has diminished in the space of a year.

One further thread to note is the National Union of Students (NUS) recent semi-boycott of the National Student Survey (NSS), which aimed to show that students don’t [tacitly or otherwise] support the link between the TEF and fees. The decision by Minister of State for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation Jo Johnson to halve the weighting of the NSS in the TEF appears to further reduce the student voice with a new emphasis on salary data generated by Longitudinal Educational Outcomes (LEO) not something likely to reverse this.

70% (of students in 2017) said "the TEF would influence their choice"
What does TEF mean for Student Services?

As the data was collected for the first TEF there has been significant variation in who owns the process within an institution, with student services often been called on to produce content such as additional data for the provider submissions.

The TEF, in its current form at least, stretches far beyond a narrow definition of ‘teaching’ to cover other aspects of the student experience. As such, those working to support students’ learning through study skills,

disability services, careers and employability, and many other areas, have valuable contributions to make to students’ success along their learning journey. This means tying notions of value to the metrics used can greatly assist a young person with a high number of universities to think about.

What could TEF mean for international recruitment?

Recent research by UUK highlighted that the reputation of a university is the most important factor in determining where an international applicant will choose. It also found that international students rank UK universities top for student satisfaction.

TEF is a reputational challenge for universities who have lost out. Gold universities are only too proud to showcase their achievements, adding their gold ‘badges’ to marketing materials, and even undertaking rebrands to reflect their new status. It’s reasonable to anticipate that bronze universities will not be so eager to highlight their ‘below benchmark’ status. This represents a considerable marketing challenge. Although this shouldn’t change enrolment levels significantly in the short-term, a prolonged length of time at bronze or even silver may start to impact on a university’s ability to attract high-quality international students.

"reputation of a university is the most important factor in determining where an international applicant will choose"

To summarise, TEF is here - TEF isn’t going away. As year one gives way to year two we will see more and more degree awarding providers opt-in to the TEF and see less and less appealing their awards. There is a real sense of ‘just get on with it’ and working towards giving each and every student (and parent to some extent) real value for money.

The aim of the TEF has not changed although the measures it uses may in time develop and delve deeper into the student experience to include a pilot scheme which will assess and grade at the subject-level; something which will no doubt add complexity to student’s decision-making rather than just offer ‘more information’.

More about us:

With over 100 collective years of experience, our benchmarking consultancy team can show you, in unrivalled detail, how you compare to your peers. We analyse every area of activity from your overall teaching pay costs and the number of guidance and support staff right down to your spend on stationery and telephones - over 750 objective measurements. What’s more, our new web reporting tool makes it easier than ever before to use the data for strategic planning.

To talk to one of the benchmarking team or arrange a meeting to discuss how we can help you, please contact Nick Pidgeon on 0115 934 7378 or