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TEF FAQs

A list of frequently asked questions about TEF and UCL's involvement in the process.

What is TEF?

TEF is the Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework, introduced by the Government in 2016 ‘to recognise and reward excellent learning and teaching.’

How does TEF recognise excellence?

Learning and teaching is recognised by Gold, Silver and Bronze awards to providers. A ‘statement of findings’ from the assessors is published in conjunction with the award.

Gold: provision is consistently outstanding and of the highest quality found in the UK Higher Education sector
  • Provider achieves consistently outstanding outcomes for its students from all backgrounds, in particular with regards to retention and progression to highly skilled employment and further study.
  • Course design and assessment practices provide scope for outstanding levels of stretch that ensures all students are significantly challenged to achieve their full potential, and acquire knowledge, skills and understanding that are most highly valued by employers. 
  • Optimum levels of contact time, including outstanding personalised provision secures the highest levels of engagement and active commitment to learning and study from students.
  • Outstanding physical and digital resources are actively and consistently used by students to enhance learning
  • Students are consistently and frequently engaged with developments from the forefront of research, scholarship or practice, and are consistently and frequently involved in these activities. An institutional culture that facilitates, recognises and rewards excellent teaching is embedded across the provider.
Silver: provision is of high quality, and significantly and consistently exceeds the baseline quality threshold expected of UK Higher Education
  • Provider achieves excellent outcomes for its students, in particular with regards to retention and progression to highly skilled employment and further study.
  • Course design and assessment practices provide scope for high levels of stretch that ensures all students are significantly challenged, and acquire knowledge, skills and understanding that are highly valued by employers.
  • Appropriate levels of contact time, including personalised provision secures high levels of engagement and commitment to learning and study from students.
  • High quality physical and digital resources are used by students to enhance learning.
  • Students are engaged with developments from the forefront of research, scholarship or practice, and are sometimes involved in these activities.
  • An institutional culture that facilitates, recognises and rewards excellent teaching has been implemented at the provider.
Bronze: provision is of satisfactory quality
  • Most students achieve good outcomes; however, the provider is likely to be significantly below benchmark in one or more areas, in particular with regards to retention and progression to highly skilled employment and further study.
  • Course design and assessment practices provide sufficient stretch that ensures most students make progress, and acquire knowledge, skills and understanding that are valued by employers.
  • Sufficient levels of contact time, including personalised provision secures good engagement and commitment to learning and study from most students.
  • Physical and digital resources are used by students to further learning.
  • Students are occasionally engaged with developments from the forefront of research, scholarship or practice, and are occasionally involved in these activities.
  • An institutional culture that facilitates, recognises and rewards excellent teaching has been introduced at the provider.

Bronze status will automatically be given to universities that already have a QAA judgement

What was measured in 2017?

In 2016-17, teaching quality was measured at provider level, and the TEF awards were been based on two bundles of information from each university:

  1. an evidenced narrative of teaching and learning activities that either mark them out as distinctive, or demonstrate how they exceed the established expectations for teaching quality as used by the QAA
  2. institution-wide data that is already collected, such as NSS results, comprising teaching quality, learning environment (including student retention) and student outcomes (Destinations of Leavers from Higher Education (DHLE) survey). This data has been benchmarked by HEFCE so that institutions are flagged in particular categories where students perform above or below expectations for their cohort. This means that universities with high entry tariffs, such as UCL, have been evaluated against other high-tariff institutions, not against the sector as a whole.

How did UCL perform in TEF 2017?

UCL received a Silver rating and a statement of findings from the panel.

How did other universities perform in TEF 2017?

50% of other HEIs across the UK achieved a silver award. 18% were awarded bronze, and 32% gold.

Of the 21 participating Russell Group providers, 3 were awarded Bronze (LSE, Liverpool and Southampton), 10 were awarded Silver and 8 were awarded Gold (Birmingham, Cambridge, Exeter, Imperial, Leeds, Newcastle, Nottingham and Oxford).

Is our teaching quality the same as that of every other silver awardee?

TEF awards reflect how well an institution is performing against expectations for their student intake.

UCL recruits talented and high performing students and is notable for the strong results achieved by its students and for its excellent track record of supporting them into highly skilled employment. However, our award indicates that universities with an intake of students with similar characteristics to our cohort are doing better than us on certain metrics – in particular, student satisfaction with assessment and feedback and academic support.

Are TEF awards linked to tuition fees?

In April 2017, all universities that had achieved the quality threshold to take part in TEF gained permission to raise fees in line with inflation, whether or not they participated in TEF. For 2017-18, this means maximum fees are be £9,250 a year.

However, after a national debate, the Department for Education severed the link between Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) ratings and tuition fees.

What happens next?

TEF is an annual exercise that will be implemented by the Office for Students (OfS).

TEF awards last for three years, so institutions are not expected to participate annually.

What are the plans to make sure we do better?

Teaching excellence is the second theme of our institutional strategy UCL2034. The Education Strategy 2016-21 gives us the initial road map for change. The TEF relies heavily on data from the National Student Survey (NSS), specifically:

  • Teaching on my course (NSS questions 1-4)
  • Assessment & Feedback (NSS questions 5-9)
  • Academic support (NSS questions 10-12)

Under the Education Strategy 2016-2021, UCL has a raft of initiatives and support for departments to make targeted improvements, including the Annual Student Experience Review (ASER). There is currently a particular focus on tackling weaknesses in assessment and feedback and academic support, and we have been making gains in these areas.

In December 2017, HEFCE will be releasing subject-level metrics for all providers and these data will inform a programme of work to make UCL TEF ready.  

The Office of the Vice-Provost (Education and Student Affairs), together with Academic Services and the Arena Centre for Research-based Education, will be working with departments and faculties to plan for future submissions, as well as ensuring that systems and processes (such as Internal Quality Review and Annual Student Experience Review) support the exercise at it evolves.

When is the next TEF exercise and will it be compulsory?

No Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework exercise will be conducted in 2020.

Instead, the Office for Students appointed Dame Shirley Pearce to conduct an independent review of the TEF.

Participation in TEF 2017 (and the subject level TEF pilot 2018) wasn’t obligatory but nor was it open to every institution.  To be eligible for TEF, institutions need to have an approved access agreement and a judgement of satisfactory teaching quality. The satisfactory outcome of UCL’s QAA Institutional Audit meant that UCL could be part of TEF 2017. 

UCL made a formal response to the Government’s TEF consultation and SMT decided that UCL should participate in order to have a voice in TEF's development. Participating in TEF also shows our commitment to teaching and learning excellence.

How might subject-level TEF work?

The design of subject-level TEF is based on TEF2017, with modifications as a result of ‘lessons learned’ and the subject-level pilot currently underway. 

It has been announced that the weighting of NSS metrics will be halved in 2020, compared with TEF 2017. Nonetheless, the NSS results for the three years prior to 2020 (2017 to 2019) will be part of the submission, meaning that the assessment of teaching and learning has already begun. New metrics for teaching intensity and grade inflation are being tested in the subject-level pilot and will feed into the 2020 assessment.

HEFCE will identify subjects by mapping Joint Academic Coding System (JACS) and Learn Direct Classification System (LDCS) to level 2 of the HECoS common aggregation hierarchy (CAH2).

Metrics are generated and benchmarked at subject-level, and institutions are then asked to respond to these metrics with a narrative submission, providing additional evidence to allow the TEF panel to reach its final rating for that subject. 

The metrics draw from the NSS (how satisfied our students are with teaching, assessment and feedback and academic support), from our continuation rates, as well as levels of employment and highly skilled employment after graduation, and from data around contact hours. All metrics are benchmarked, so that we are comparing satisfaction and outcomes for our students with satisfaction and outcomes for students with similar grade profiles and characteristics.

There are two potential models for TEF 2020 and they were tested in the pilot, in which UCL participated:

  • Model A: assessment at subject level 'by exception'. An initial hypothesis is generated by HEFCE using the metrics. If the metrics for a particular subject are broadly similar to those of the institution as a whole, no submission is required and the subject receives the same rating as the institution. There is fuller assessment (and potentially different ratings) for subjects where their initial hypothesis differs from the provider, for example, where the provider level submission is silver and the subject-level is gold.  The 35 CAH2 subjects are used for subject-level metrics, submissions (where they are identified as exceptions), and subject-level ratings. 
  • Model B: assessment is 'bottom-up': each subject is fully assessed to give subject-level ratings. These feed into the provider-level assessment and rating. The institution must also make a provider-level submission of up to 10 pages, covering the three TEF criteria of Valuing Teaching, Resources, and Positive Outcomes for All. The 35 CAH2 subjects are used for subject-level metrics and ratings. Model B maps the 35 subjects into 7 subject groups, which are used for submissions. There are 7 subject group submissions. 

Each model will be piloted by 19 providers, and 12 providers will use both models. For more information about the TEF subject pilots, visit the HEFCE website

How can I get involved in improving teaching and learning at UCL?

All staff are warmly invited to engage in Connected Curriculum, UCL Arena and UCL Changemakers and to take advantage of the resources and support designed to improve the student experience.

For support and guidance to help improve NSS satisfaction rates in your department, please contact your Arena Centre faculty contact or send an enquiry to arenacentre@ucl.ac.uk  

If you would like to express an interest in UCL’s future activity around the TEF, particularly at discipline level, please get in touch: teaching.learning@ucl.ac.uk.