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Mary Leishman

undergraduate education
m.leishman@uea.ac.uk

The Trouble with TEF

You may have heard about the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) and how UEA is a 'gold' university. The news hit the headlines earlier this year, as UEA appealed against its initial 'silver' rating and was upgraded. But what does this rating actually mean and is it telling prospective students anything useful? 

TEF was introduced by the government this year to 'measure and benchmark' universities based on the quality of their teaching. Before tuition fees were capped at £9,250, TEF data was also going to be linked to how much universities would be allowed to raise their tuition fees by (it remains to be seen if this will happen in future.)  

However, national research released today has uncovered evidence that the TEF is riddled with problems.  

Through consultation with  students, the research has found that  the ranking system is widely misunderstood, not measuring the right things, and is creating a culture of elitism that puts off students from backgrounds underrepresented in Higher Education. 

The research, commissioned by a consortium of students' unions, has shown that students want to know about the teaching they'll receive when applying to University, but that this ranking system is creating more confusion than clarity.  

For example, due to the 'gold, silver, bronze' ranking system, all the students interviewed for the research assumed (quite understandably) that one 'gold' university would be comparable to another. However, this isn't the case: the TEF doesn't actually compare universities to each other, but to themselves and how they 'should' be performing based on certain criteria. Half of this criteria is not even linked to  the quality of teaching – so how can the rankings claim to display teaching excellence? The data also revealed that a disproportionate amount of BAME students would be put off applying to a 'gold' university – fearing they wouldn't fit on or be welcome. 

As a result of this research, we will be consulting with the University about the results – particularly regarding the UEA-specific data. We'll also be taking part in a national consultation about TEF and the new Office for Students. If you'd like to find out more about the research, you can read the report here 

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