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Teaching Excellence Framework: Year Three

  • Thursday, 28 June 2018
  • The Studio, Manchester
  • 08:30 - 16:00
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  • Overview

Timed to coincide with the publication of TEF Year Three outcomes, this event will review the present structure of the Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework; reviewing the changes made to the grading criteria as a result of lessons learnt from Year Two, as well as assessing the Framework’s accuracy in assessing a university’s capability to support, retain and improve the career trajectory of its student body.

According to UCAS figures, UK universities are seeing a decline in domestic (5%) and EU (7%) enrollments for the 2017 cycle. As such, attracting international students has become more important than ever to higher education providers.

Last year, institutions awarded gold from TEF assessments accounted for 19.1% of all global searches of UK higher education providers on Hotcourses, the UK’s leading educational guidance website used by universities to estimate the volume of applications and enrollments for the coming academic year. Data indicates significant increases for gold-standard institutions in countries such as India, where the universities increased their share of searches from 23.7% to 36.9%.  

With gold TEF grades proven to result in a surge in overseas attention, it stands to reason that attaining the premier TEF ranking is an investment in global prestige and attracting the higher bracket of tuition fees paid by international students.

In addition to reviewing the influence of TEF grades on international students and providing practical guidance in helping higher education Institutions achieve higher TEF grades, Year Three will reflect on the nuanced elements of the framework. Such as:

  • The inclusion of non-continuations in the grading criteria.
  • Whether the monitoring and incentivization of academics will lead to a sidelining of less easily measured aspects of university such as academic freedom and culture.
  • The likelihood of ‘gaming’ through data manipulation infiltrating the TEF, similar to concerns pertinent to the Research Excellence Framework.

Despite the growing pains endured by the Framework, few can deny the sensibility in wanting to measure a university’s performance by the excellence of its teaching, learning environment and student outcomes. Teaching Excellence Framework: Year Three will address whether the TEF is now a more accurate representation of a university’s capability to support, retain and improve the career trajectory of its student body; what are the incentives for participating higher education providers, given the government has pledged to freeze tuition fees in contrast to initial indications that gold and silver universities in England could increase their fees in line with inflation?

The TEF was originally introduced as a means of redressing what the government saw as an over-reliance on research when assessing the efficiency of higher education providers, as well as addressing the failure of the 2012 tuition fee rise to foster a competitive higher education market. Critics of the framework were inclined to believe emphasis was on the further marketisation of the sector.

The ideologically driven pursuit of competition and differentiation may work within a system geared towards making a profit, however, in creating and circulating knowledge, they are likely to foster an environment that reduces trust and cooperation between academics; potentially damaging the UK’s world-leading standard of higher education.

The framework has been disparaged as a vehicle for raising tuition fees; as the incentive for institutions meeting gold or silver standards of teaching was the opportunity to raise fees in line with inflation.

Following the government’s decision to freeze tuition fees in 2017, a TEF gold or silver award will no longer influence the amount a university can charge its students for tuition.

Despite the criticism levied at the framework’s market-driven approach to assessing the sector, few disagree with the pursuit of holding universities to account by their quality of teaching alongside the research it produces. This upheaval has seen a fresh hierarchy emerge, one that sees the University of Cambridge, Imperial College London and the University of Oxford ranked alongside less established institutes such as De Montfort University, The University of Huddersfield and Middlesbrough College.

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  • Confirmed Speakers

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Registration and Coffee in the Networking Area


Chairs Opening Address


Keynote Address

"Raising Teaching Quality and Effectively Preparing for TEF Year Four"

The provider submissions of the Teaching Excellence Framework are intended to provide a case for teaching excellence and to demonstrate the impact and effectiveness of teaching on student experience and outcomes. As such, they comprise a unique and rich source of evidence for both teaching excellence and impact evaluation practice. In recognition of this, the Higher Education Academy commissioned a trends analysis of all TEF2 provider submissions.


This research, published in November 2017, maps the patterns within the submissions, as well as common themes within findings to so-called upgraded providers, and explores the evidence mechanisms and evaluations of impact found within. In so doing, it establishes a picture of current practice in relation to teaching excellence (as represented by the submissions) and makes suggestions for future practice in relation to both teaching excellence more broadly as well as the TEF.


This keynote will provide highlights of the research, illustrating what the sector chose to use as evidence for teaching excellence, what categorised high-achieving and upgraded providers’ submissions, and areas where the sector can improve in its pursuit of teaching excellence. It will explore the implications of the research for institutions and the sector as a whole, in particular in light of the changes to the TEF in year three and beyond, the financial uncertainties of institutions owing to Brexit and the independent review, and the suitability of the TEF for the diverse constituents of the HE sector. In so doing, it aims to support institutions to prepare not only for TEF4, and eventually subject-level TEF, but also to further develop teaching excellence independent of the TEF framework.

"TEF Year 3 and Subject Level TEF: A Dual Perspective"

From the perspective of TEF year 3 panel Deputy Chair and TEF Subject Level Pilot Chair, Professor Janice Kay will reflect on both exercises and their place in the new regulatory framework. It is increasingly important for all institutions, including those rated Gold, to build upon their performance at institutional and at subject level. The dual perspective of both exercises provides valuable insights which can be used by institutions to inform student engagement and co-creation and to consider how best to support student choice.

  • Dr Eylem Atakav, Senior Lecturer, School of Art, Media and American Studies, University of East Anglia (confirmed)
"Achieving Teaching Excellence"

The University of East Anglia was one of two institutions to successfully appeal its initial ranking subsequent to the release of TEF results from the 2016/17 academic year. The UEA had its silver award overturned and raised to reflect a gold standard of teaching following a successful appeal.


The institution credited Dr Eylem Atakav with significantly contributing to the teaching culture at UEA. In her presentation, Dr Atakav will review the techniques she has implemented in the process of being appointed a National Teaching Fellow and raising the level of teaching excellence at UEA.


Teaching is inspirational when it has a positive impact on policy and social and cultural life, within and outside a university, and at national and international levels. Focusing on two empirical case studies Dr Atakav aims to critically reflect upon the ways in which the discipline of Film Studies uses active learning strategies to create national and international level impact and public engagement opportunities for students. Eylem's presentation will detail the following learning and teaching journeys while offering colleagues ways in which they may engage with the Parliament and non-academic communities while using these connections for the benefit of students.


The first example focuses on using teaching to create impact on national policy. It will critically reflect on the journey of students taking the Women, Islam and Media module and how, in 2015, they contributed to the House of Lords’ Commission on Religion and Belief in British Public Life report. The second case study is on the Golden Island International Film Festival. Students from the University of East Anglia worked at the festival in Cyprus in 2014 and produced a documentary entitled Film Beyond Borders as a result. It is through this project that students were provided with innovative and international level learning opportunities which enabled them to develop transferable skills; confidence necessary to succeed in a competitive employment field; and skills to run an international level film festival.



"How Module Benchmarking can Support TEF Outcome Improvements "

Surveying and benchmarking at programme level is familiar across the sector – from NSS to PTES to ISB. However, these surveys are ‘top down’ – and often with limited access to the actual underlying data. Questions such as ‘Staff are good at explaining things’ reflect overall impressions from teaching across multiple modules over an extended period of time - but which modules are contributing positively or negatively to students’ overall impressions?


This presentation will explore how benchmarking at the granular module level can provide sector, institutional and quality contextual data to support targeted action by institutions to improve overall student experience – and how effective reporting on those NSS questions that contribute to TEF metrics can support improvements in the overall TEF outcome.


Question and Answer Session


Coffee in the Networking Area

  • Dr Diana Beech, Director of Policy and Advocacy, Higher Education Policy Institute (confirmed)
"Going for Gold: Lessons from TEF Provider Submissions"

Following the release of the TEF (Year 2) results, HEPI conducted the first detailed analysis of the information submitted by universities as part of the provider submission element of the TEF assessment process. In this presentation, Diana – HEPI’s Director of Policy and Advocacy, responsible for leading on this analysis – will outline the main lessons learned from the first national pilot of the TEF. She will highlight which features of the provider submissions may have proved most influential in persuading the TEF panel to grant some institutions higher awards than they would otherwise have achieved on metrics alone. She will reveal the main themes highlighted by institutions to demonstrate commitment to improving teaching quality, as well as the types of evidence used and the presentation strategies employed. She will also detail the wide range of stakeholders that proved key to TEF success, including student support staff, local businesses and alumni.

"TEF Year Three Outcomes and Year Four Plans: An Update from the TEF Team"

TEF Year Three outcomes were published on 6 June 2018.  In this presentation, Dr Siobhan O’Malley will share an analysis of the outcomes by type of award and provider, year and patterns of participation.  She will provide an up to date look at TEF implementation, covering year on year process refinements, timelines and plans for TEF Year Four, including student engagement, communications, panel member recruitment and employer engagement.  Siobhan will also consider the role of TEF in initial and ongoing registration conditions of the Office for Students’ Regulatory Framework from TEF Year Four (TEF 2019) onward.

  • Jonah Duffin, Chief Marketing Officer, Hotcourses (confirmed)
"The Impact of TEF on Student Decision Making"

Using both historical and real-time data from over 70 million visits to the Hotcourses Group sites Jonah will look at what, if any, impact the TEF has had on students decisions on where to study.


Question and Answer Session


Lunch in the Networking Area


Chairs Afternoon Address

"A Senior Management View of the Role of the TEF and its Possible Evolution"

UK universities have probably amongst the best data sets that ‘measure’ their performance of any in the world. The recent addition of the TEF, based on its existing metrics and as it evolves further additional metrics, plus a narrative, has added a further dimension to the evaluation of UK universities.


The grading of universities under the Gold, Silver and Bronze headings cast a somewhat different perspective on UK universities, particularly those that can balance excellence in the teaching and research missions of a university. A senior management view as to the role the TEF plays and the value it adds in understanding the performance of a university, how it is being used by different audiences (e.g. prospective students, internal planning, Governing bodies, etc.) and key questions for its evolution will be examined.

"Confronting the Risks of the TEF: Key Actions to Minimise Them"

TEF has been designed to “recognise and reward excellence in teaching, learning and outcomes, and to help inform prospective student choice” (HEFCE 2018). During this evidence-based presentation, we will review how these laudable aims may not be realised due to critical issues in the enactment of the policy. These issues are well known from the learnings of classic research in sociology and public-sector management as well as from more recent studies on performance measurement and management systems in UK Universities. Paradoxically, the long-term results of TEF could actually be the opposite ones unless a set of key principles and concrete actions are taken to minimise its unintended consequences.


Specifically, Dr Franco-Santos will be discussing:


  • The intended and the unintended consequences (e.g., gaming or data manipulation) of the TEF so people in the audience are aware of the evidence and can act upon it accordingly.


  • Key principles and actions that can be taken to curtail the unintended undesirable consequences of the TEF.
  • David Robinson, Post 16 and Skills Director, Education Policy Institute (confirmed)
"Teaching Excellence Framework: Outcomes"

David will take a step back to look at how TEF sets within the overall accountability framework for Higher Education and what it’s designed to achieve. He will draw from his own experience in designing accountability frameworks for primary schools, secondary schools, 16-19 providers and education systems in developing countries; identifying where TEF can learn from the pearls and pitfalls of accountability policy in these other areas.


Question and Answer Session


Chair's Closing Remarks

The presentations in this conference provide a rich sense of how the sector as a whole, individual institutions and departments have engaged with the TEF, the impact TEF results have had on how students choose their degree courses, as well as how the TEF Year 3 operated. In these closing remarks, Professor Paul Ashwin will focus on what the presentations and subsequent discussions have highlighted about the future of TEF both in terms of how institutions might effectively engage with it and how it might be more effectively developed the future.


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The Studio, Manchester

The Studio, Manchester

Situated in the heart of Manchester's iconic Northern Quarter and just a couple of minutes walk away from the city's major transport links; The Studio is a spacious, contemporary meeting centre atop The Hive building on Lever St.     

Whatever the legendary Manchester weather has to throw at you, you’ll always find the warmest of welcomes at The Studio.

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