TEF appeals ‘won’t be resolved until the end of the year’

Institutions without ratings at a disadvantage during crucial recruitment period as many wrongly assume appeals are due to their being designated ‘requires improvement’

November 21, 2023
Young athlete resting on podium to illustrate TEF appeals ‘won’t be resolved until the end of the year’
Source: Alamy

UK universities that have challenged their rating in the newly revamped Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) are unlikely to have their cases resolved until the end of the year, leaving them at a disadvantage during much of the crucial student recruitment period.

Nearly two months on from the TEF “results day”, more than 50 institutions – including 25 with university status – are still awaiting the outcome of their appeal, with the ongoing challenges threatening to undermine the credibility of the exercise, according to experts.

Times Higher Education understands that universities have been warned not to expect appeals to be resolved until 18 December due to the volume of institutions challenging their initial rating.

The Office for Students, which runs the exercise, said that TEF panels were “carefully considering all representations received, but we hope to publish most ratings before the end of the year”.

The high volume of challenges has hampered the exercise, which is intended to assess the quality of teaching and learning provided by higher education providers and inform student choice. The 2023 edition was the first time participation was mandatory for English institutions.

With the main deadline for applications made via admissions service Ucas approaching on 31 January, the TEF was “running out of time to inform choice for 2024-25 entry”, said Andrew Gunn, lecturer in education at the University of Manchester and author of Teaching Excellence? Universities in an age of student consumerism.

He said that while the 2023 TEF had placed less importance on informing student choice than previous iterations, the OfS has still been encouraging applicants to make decisions using the ratings system, with potential students browsing courses on the Discover Uni and Ucas websites able to see if universities have been designated bronze, silver or gold.

“The longer the results are incomplete, the fewer applicants can use them,” Dr Gunn said.

He added that the delays posed a greater risk to the credibility of the exercise among the wider sector, rather than only potential applicants.

“It fuels speculation about the effectiveness of the processes that produce the results, and the extent to which ratings can be appealed and argued over,” he said.

Nick Hillman, the director of the Higher Education Policy Institute (Hepi), called on the OfS to swiftly deal with the appeals.

He said it was wrongly being assumed by some that those without a rating were originally given the new “requires improvement” designation, introduced where an “absence of excellence” has been identified and this is why they have appealed. No institutions were announced as being in this category when results were first announced.

In fact many of those challenging their ratings achieved a bronze or silver award but have asked the OfS to look again at certain aspects of their submissions in the hope they will be put in a higher category.

Mr Hillman said “vice-chancellors I have spoken to feel this has not been given the urgency they were expecting”, which he believed reflected a “tendency at the Office for Students to take far longer than people expect in all sorts of areas and I think people are losing patience”.

“I am not attacking the OfS staff; I am saying that policymakers may be expecting the OfS to be too all-encompassing.”


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