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Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF): what it means for you

How does the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) affect your university decision and how much you'll pay in tuition fees? We've taken a closer look.

The Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework (TEF) was introduced by the government in 2017 as an assessment of the quality of teaching in universities and colleges, as well as the performance of those universities and colleges in terms of graduate-level employment or further study. 

The last assessments were published in 2019 and, at the time of writing, no further TEF assessments are planned. Providers have been asked not to use their TEF awards in marketing materials from September 2021 - so you shouldn't see this award being mentioned by universities and colleges.

TEF – or something like it – may be used again one day. In late 2021, the Office for Students is due to consult on proposals for a potential new framework. 

This article remains published on The Uni Guide for reference.

What is the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF)?

The Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) is a measure of teaching quality in Higher Education, assessing lots of different information and statistics about how students learn, the type of teaching they receive and how they fare after graduating.

The framework was introduced by the government in 2017. Two hundred and eighty two higher education providers have now received a TEF award (as of 2019), with 78 of whom applied this year.

The end result? A league table of Olympic-style gold, silver or bronze ratings for every participating university or college, to clearly show how they've been rated.

These rankings are just one of many sources to help you research and compare universities - factors such as the detail of the course itself, as well as the location and campus, should be high on your list of things to consider.

TEF results in full for 2019

Take a look at the full TEF university rankings list for 2019 here.

Around 26% hold a gold rating, 46% hold a silver rating and 21% hold a bronze rating.

TEF winners and losers

You might spot some unexpected names in each of the categories, with well-known universities, including London School of Economics and St Georges University of London, receiving bronze ratings.

Liverpool and Southampton were previously in this group, but managed to improve their ratings after resubmiting to the framework (in 2018). That same year, Durham and York managed to boost their rating, to gold.

The Universities of Cambridge and Oxford both scored gold rankings. Some smaller further education colleges providing degrees also achieved the highest score.

We've listed the full TEF scores for universities and colleges so you can take a closer look through the results - read on for our advice on how to make best use of these.


Teaching quality and tuition fees

The aim of the TEF is to raise standards of teaching at universities, reward 'excellent' teaching and help students make more informed choices about what and where to study.

For universities in England, the TEF also links teaching quality with tuition fees, so that only universities that achieve gold, silver and bronze are permitted to increase their fees above £9,000 to £9,250 per year, in line with inflation.

For university providers in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, participation is voluntary and has no impact on tuition fees.


So what do the TEF ratings tell you?

  • Gold = outstanding
  • Silver = high quality
  • Bronze = satisfactory
  • Provisional = The university or college is taking part in the TEF but does not yet have sufficient data to be fully assessed. 

The ratings are awarded by a panel looking at a range of measures centred around 'teaching quality', 'learning environment' and 'outcomes'.

To break this down further, these 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 the 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 uni hasn't scored top marks in one - or more - areas.

What doesn't the TEF tell you?

You'll start to spot TEF ratings being quoted by universities and on the Ucas website, in a similar way that a university will promote where they've ranked in the Complete University Guide, Guardian or Times Good University Guide rankings.

But just because a university has a gold ranking doesn't necessarily mean it's the right one for you - and similarly, a bronze-category uni shouldn't mean you discount it either.

As with other university league tables, use them as one of - rather than the - source of all information. You should bear the following in mind:

Behind the ratings

There's more to the rating system than meets the eye. Each university or college is graded on the basis of its own student body, meaning that each one has a different set of benchmarks to meet for it to be awarded a particular rating - so these aren't a like-for-like set of results where you can directly compare one university against another.

At a uni, not subject level

For now, the gold, silver and bronze ratings are awarded at an entire university level. That's pretty broad; you'll need to delve into the detail of the assessment to find out specifics for your subject or course, which could vary quite significantly.

Not all universities are taking part

Some universities have chosen not to take part in the TEF, which is voluntary.

That could be for a range of reasons - including concerns about the way the rankings themselves have been calculated and their link with future tuition fee increases - not just because they didn't meet the scheme's criteria. So don't jump to any conclusions.

Going forward, any university registering as a provider with the Office for Students, the new higher education regulator in England, will have to take part in a TEF assessment. The scheme will remain voluntary for universities and colleges in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.


The TEF and your uni choices

Thinking about which unis and courses to apply to right now? Here's how the TEF can help and what else you can do as part of your research:
  • TEF ratings can offer a quick insight into how a university or college's teaching has been specifically rated.
  • Alongside each TEF rating will be a summary that explains why that rating has been awarded - worth a read if you want to know more.
  • Cross-reference the TEF ratings with the main league tables to get a further understanding of how different universities compare with each other - you can find these on our uni profiles.
  • Dig into the detail of a course to decide whether it's right for you. Search for a course here on The Uni Guide, and go on to compare student satisfaction and employability scores at this more detailed level and explore the course content, modules and more.

​There are more factors to consider, too, such as location, fees, accommodation, the uni social scene and more. Think about what's most important to you and explore options on that basis, using the TEF ratings to sense-check and assess the universities that are on your shortlist.

Take a look at the full TEF university rankings list for 2019 here

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