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What is the UK’s TEF and does it help international students?

28th July 2017 Posted by: Kate Istead

THE Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) is an initiative started by the UK government’s Department for Education. With a primary goal to inform prospective students’ choices about the quality of education they may receive from a particular institution, it also seeks to recognize and reward teaching excellence. An independent panel of experts, which includes academics, students and the business community, assess undergraduate teaching against ten criteria.

The TEF panel looks at both evidence from national data as well as written evidence submitted by the applicant institution to make their judgment. Awards are granted at bronze, silver and gold levels, each demonstrating a progressive level of teaching quality, learning experience and positive outcomes for students. 



Why was TEF introduced?

TEF was introduced to promote quality teaching in colleges and universities and ensure that students have the information necessary to judge the learning environment before making a commitment to further education at a particular institution. It was also designed to recognise teaching at the undergraduate level on an equal level with research, guaranteeing that students’ tuition fees are met with commensurate educational opportunities.


What does TEF actually achieve?

TEF was introduced in 2016 as a trial year, with the first results being published in June 2017, so its worth still remains to be seen. There are proponents on both sides of the debate, with some saying the scheme is pointless because TEF is completely voluntary – further education institutions decide whether or not to take part. In fact, in order to take part in TEF, undergraduate institutions must already meet robust national quality requirements. However, according to some studies, TEF will likely expose universities and colleges with previously established world-class reputations, based on their high enrollment standards and research excellence, as delivering inadequate learning and teaching opportunities, and thus outcomes, for their students. How this will affect world rankings is still unknown.


What does TEF mean for international students?

Studies have found that international students are confused about how TEF works and if it provides value to them as potential students. TEF’s goal is to change the primary measure of prestige in universities and colleges from research to student learning experience – specifically at the undergraduate level. International students pay a lot of money for tuition, in the range of £10,000 to £35,000 per year. This is a huge investment and TEF could offer international students some reassurance that their money is actually going to result in improved outcomes for them, not just for the university or college’s research fund. 

Many international students incorrectly believe that a bronze award means a university has obtained an ‘unsatisfactory’ rating through TEF. Students should actually think of TEF ratings in the same way as Olympic medals are awarded – to the top tier amongst a pack of high performers. Awards are given only to universities that at least meet expectations: bronze, silver and gold effectively represent the levels of ‘meeting expectations’, ‘excellent’ and ‘outstanding’, respectively. However, the scheme is voluntary, so just like in the Olympics, the absence of an award does not necessarily mean an institution isn’t demonstrating excellence – they may not have even entered the qualifying race.

TEF is just one way of measuring institutional quality – along with rankings from groups such as the Sunday Times, Times Higher and QS – and, particularly in its early stages, should be considered along with the rest.


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